If there were an official poll for which NFL player fans dislike the most, Johnny Manziel would seem to be around the top of the list. In fact, in fact, it's no surprise to see Manziel's name high up on these types of lists for several attributed reasons. He’s flashy. He’s overrated. He’s immature. These compounding factors that were first brought to light during his years at Texas A&M have seemed to damage his reputation more than help it now that he's a pro. An NFL.com article that ran last year ranked him as the third-most disliked college football player in history. That’s certainly not a list any player wants to be on. However, Manziel flourished in college, and that bad boy reputation propelled him to the national stage.
When Manziel fell to 22nd and was picked by Cleveland in the 2014 NFL Draft, many basked in this moment, believing this is what he deserved. While Browns fans may have rejoiced that he might be the quarterback they had hoped for after years of inconsistency, questions and concerns immediately arose within the organization. There were rumors of discord and controversy over drafting him, but in the end, the team's leadership truly hoped he would be a franchise savior.
Then the season came around, and Manziel had a lackluster, disappointing debut. Many NFL fans seemingly could not have been happier about his limited production. He started only two games late in the season, including a 30-0 blowout loss against the Bengals and an injury-shortened loss against the Panthers. He finished the season with only 175 passing yards, two interceptions, and one touchdown (rushing). Not the type of numbers any Browns fan would hope for.
But people often look into rookie seasons too much, especially at quarterback, especially one whose role was mostly to be the backup. Brett Favre’s rookie season was much worse, as he threw two interceptions in four passing attempts. At least Manziel completed a pass to his own team. Not that Manziel is anything like Favre, but there’s no reason to give up now on him, especially when many analysts predicted that he would need time to grow and learn.
With NFL training camps set to open the end of this month, it will be a key start to Manziel’s second year. He’s not even the supposed starter, as veteran journeyman Josh McCown is currently atop the depth chart. That’s not to say that Manziel can’t be the guy come Week 1, but it will only make it more difficult for him to attain. However, even if he doesn’t begin as the starter, it seems highly likely that he’ll get plenty of significant snaps, given McCown’s track record, both injury- and performance-wise. Fans in Cleveland want to see Manziel start; they want to see what he did in college on the pro field.
There is no doubt that Manziel needs to step up, arguably more than any other player in the NFL. The focus will be shifted away from him for some time, especially as Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota make their highly anticipated NFL debuts. But when Manziel does get his chance, the spotlight will surely be placed back on him. Cleveland fans are anxious about his stardom, while NFL fans probably cannot wait to see him struggle more.
Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther stated that he believes Manziel can have a productive future, and he needs to be more like Drew Brees. The nine-time Pro Bowler has fought his career over his 6-foot stature, about the same height as Manziel. Prototypical quarterbacks stand around 6-foot-4, as it allows them to stand behind the offensive line and still have good vision. Smaller quarterbacks, like Manziel and Brees, don’t have the luxury and often have to move around the pocket to get a better look at what's happening in front of them.
Manziel’s feet and speed gained him plenty of notoriety in college, as his scrambling abilities were very much a part of his game. However, the NFL is full of bigger and faster players, looking to hit the quarterback. He thus needs to focus on being more committed to the pass, while his running could help bail him out. Manziel needs to remain in the pocket more so, even though his height may hinder that. But if Brees can do it, there is no reason why Manziel can’t. He probably won't make much of a career as a scrambler, unless he develops a knack for making plays outside of the pocket, a la Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson, and to a degree, Ben Roethlisberger. The bottom line is Cleveland needs a complete quarterback, one that can also pass effectively and efficiently, and electrify the crowd in the process. This season will be critical for Manziel, as it really could be a make-or-break campaign.