First Down: West, Manziel mania about to take over Fantasyland

Brad Evans
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Tony Romo, Eastern Illinois. Joe Flacco, Delaware. Marques Colston, Hofstra. Victor Cruz, Massachusetts. Julius Thomas, Portland State. Rashad Jennings, Liberty.

Despite playing in dinky venues smaller than most Texas high school stadiums, each of the above former-FCS standouts has shined under the bright lights of the NFL, following in the footsteps of small-college-prospects-turned-professional legends Steve McNair (Alcorn St.), Walter Payton (Jackson State), Brian Westbrook (Villanova), Terrell Owens (Chattanooga) and, of course, Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State), to name a few.

The next big thing at RB in fantasy, Terrance West, may come from a similar unlikely location.

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The pride of Towson, a moderate-sized university just outside Baltimore best known for cranking out the likes of Amy Schumer, Stacy Keibler and ‘Dirty Jobs’ host Mike Rowe, will soon bask in fantasy fame and fortune. He’s compact (5-foot-9, 225-pounds), nasty between the tackles, a solid pass blocker, adequate receiver and highly coachable, a RB comparable to one of last year’s breakout performers St. Louis’ Zac Stacy.

The former walk-on is also coming off one of the greatest single season performances by an athlete in human history. And that’s no exaggeration. Heck, Michael Jordan would probably agree. Check out this line:

413 carries, 2,509 rushing yards, 6.1 yards per carry, 26 receptions, 258 receiving yards, 42 total touchdowns

Those aren’t the stats your self-created Madden character accomplished on rookie level. That’s what West totaled last season with the Tigers. Yes, in ONE year. No matter the level – high school, intramural flag, Pop Warner, backyard – those are galactic numbers that should stir the blood of even the most conservative fantasy owner.

This offseason the Browns shelled out starter-worthy money – in this day and age – for Ben Tate (two years, $6.2 million). The ex-Texan, who played exclusively in a zone-blocking scheme while in Houston, fits well with Kyle Shanahan’s identical system. During his time alongside Arian Foster, he averaged 4.7 yards per carry gaining 59.5 percent of his yards after initial contact. However, as evidenced in his 24 games missed in four years, he would probably dislocate a hip hula-hooping, a harsh downside that greatly complicates his projected worth. Already dinged in minicamp, an absence which paved the way for West to work with the first team, he is very much a high-risk rusher.

According to most, Bishop Sankey is the undisputed frontrunner to lead rookie RBs in fantasy points. His clear path to carries – Shonn Greene is recovering from knee surgery – and balanced skill set are very attractive qualities, but don’t be surprised if West steals the show. His plow-forward style, cutting ability and excellent vision will thrive in a one-cut-and-go setting. As the Plain Dealer reported early last week, the youngster has impressed with his “power through the first level and quickness when eluding defenders. “ Slated to take on a “major role” right away, presumably 10-12 touches per game at a minimum, he should be a centerpiece in Shany’s run-heavy offense, regardless if Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel is under center Week 1. More durable than his fragile counterpart and higher in the pecking order than fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell, he is THE Browns back to own. It’s no stretch to think he earns the bulk of the carries in multiple games this year, or from the onset.

When asked Thursday whether West was a threat to win the starting job Tate cockily responded “nobody in that room scares me.” However, based on the greenhorn’s bevy of college records and across-the-board talents, the veteran may soon consider him the Boogeyman.

Currently going at pick No. 122.8 (RB37) in standard Yahoo snake drafts ($1.8 AAV in auctions), the bulldozing back is one to watch.

Fearless Forecast (7 starts): 214 carries, 933 rushing yards, 17 receptions, 117 receiving yards, 5 total touchdowns

Continuing to drive rivets along the assembly line in the Factory of Sadness, our friends at Pro Football Talk reported Friday "all signs point to" Manziel being under center Week 1 in Pittsburgh. It only makes sense. Though Hoyer performed sensationally prior to a season-ending knee injury last year, he is journeyman backup, a classic pocket passer who lacks pizzazz. He and Manziel couldn't be more different.

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Johnny Football was far from mistake-free during Browns minicamp, but he often displayed the improvisational skills, strong downfield arm and brimming swag that made him famous at Texas A&M. Mike Pettine will continue to serve him heaping slices of humble pie, but it's all a ploy to keep the kid grounded and hungry. The head coach will crumble under the pressure applied by Cleveland ownership and a desperate fanbase to start JFF. Unless Manziel is a complete disaster in his first couple preseason games, I fully expect him to be named the opening week QB by mid-August.

In terms of fantasy value, yours truly is clearly in the minority when it comes to ranking the rookie. According to Fantasy Pros, I'm the only fanalyst in the business willing to define him as a QB1 in 12-team leagues. And my bullish stance isn't some scream for attention. It's a true belief.

As previously stated, with or without Josh Gordon, the former Heisman winner is a shoo-in for top fantasy honors among rookies. He's a contemporary passer who meshes perfectly with Shanahan's ground-and-pound offense, a system which RGIII excelled in during his rookie season. Overall, his track-record against the beasts of the SEC, most notably Alabama (907 combined yards, 7:2 TD:INT in two games), mobility, deception, strong arm, fearlessness and execution under the spotlight are very attractive qualities. Last year, Terrelle Pryor, largely because of his rushing contributions, was a top-16 QB prior to his benching. Manziel, a more developed thrower with a much higher ceiling, merely needs to average 200 passing yards, 50 rushing and a little over a TD per game to reach my lofty expectations. Even with sketchy weapons outside Jordan Cameron and possibly super sleeper Andrew Hawkins, that's quite attainable. And, despite his small stature, I'm not overly concerned about his durability. He played all 26 games in his two years with the Aggies.

When compiling your cheat sheets later this summer, view Manziel as you did RGIII two years ago. If you choose to invest in a Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers early on, he makes for the ideal late-round target (126.8 Yahoo ADP, QB18). If he sets the world on fire in September, he will be a lucrative trade chip. The constant media attention, splashy plays and his fantasy scoring duality will have your leaguemates drooling.

Fearless Forecast: 3,659 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 740 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns

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