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Not only is Johnny Manziel basically the second coming of Tim Tebow in terms of his status as a media darling, but he's also proving to be nearly as polarizing among fans, and fantasy experts.
In the Yahoo preseason fantasy QB rankings, Manziel's rank range among the five pundits stretches from a high of No. 10 to a low of No. 25. With such a wide variance, we figured it was worth digging deeper into the mindset of the Yahoo fantasy crew as it pertains to Manziel's '14 projection. Is he the next Russell Wilson? Or is he the next, well, Tim Tebow? Here's what the Yahoo experts have to say:
Brandon Funston (Manziel preseason QB rank No. 17) — Have legs, will travel in the fantasy arena. Among the six quarterbacks that rushed for at least 400 yards last season, only Terrelle Pryor failed to finish among the top 16 signal callers in fantasy points per game (min. 10 games). Manziel averaged more than 1,000 rushing yards in his past two seasons at Texas A&M, so it's an easy leap to expect that he can rush for at least 400 yards for Cleveland in '14. He also finished with the third-best QB rating in the country last season, and averaged a 31.5/11 TD:INT split in his past two seasons. The point being that he's not a run-only commodity like Tebow.
Certainly there are things to worry about with Manziel. He's an undersized mobile QB, so the injury risk is enhanced. He relied on his scrambling ability and a lot of help from the uncoverable tower of receiving power that was the 6-foot-5 Mike Evans to compile a big chunk of those gaudy passing numbers. The size and speed of NFL defenses will road block a lot of those types of plays. Manziel is going to have to adjust to life in the pocket much more than he's had to in the past. But certainly there's enough upside here that I'd give him preferred backup status among the fantasy QB class. After all, you might as well swing for the fences when it comes to your fantasy bench. That's how a lot of championships are made.
Fearless Forecast: 3,150 passing yards, 19 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 600 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns
Brad Evans (Preseason QB rank No. 10) — By all means doubt Johnny Freakin' Football. He's a contemporary passer who meshes ideally in the current pass-happy era of the NFL and Kyle Shanahan's offense, which RGIII excelled in during his rookie season. 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. Manziel, merely needs to average 200 passing yards, 50 rushing and a little over a TD per game to flirt with QB1 status. And if Josh Gordon ends up being suspended for the season, bank on Manziel to run like crazy, potentially threatening RGIII's rookie rushing record. Assuming he fends off Brian Hoyer in training camp and doesn’t get zipped up in a body bag by Week 8, a top-10 output isn’t out of the question.
Fearless Forecast: 3,659 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 740 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns
Andy Behrens (Preseason QB rank No. 20) — Manziel does not belong in the fantasy conversation in standard 10-team leagues. Please, have a little respect for the depth of talent at quarterback in the NFL. Go look at the Yahoo! consensus QB ranks for 2014. The position is loaded, to a ridiculous extent. Tom Brady, one of the all-time greats, is our No. 9 QB. Tony Romo, coming off a 31-TD season, ranks No. 11. Super Bowl champ Russell Wilson is No. 14. Ben Roethlisberger, who just passed for 4,261 yards, is ranked No. 16.
There is basically zero chance that Johnny Manziel — in his first pro season, with Josh Gordon facing suspension — can deliver the stats necessary to match any of those players. And, again, those guys are strictly second and third-tier QBs for fantasy purposes. If we don't view Manziel as a top-16 player at his position, then he doesn't belong on cheat sheets in 10-team formats. Remember, in a league of that size, there's no obvious need to draft backup QBs.
Some of you might think I'm underrating Manziel's rushing potential, and thus his fantasy upside. OK, fine. Do you think Johnny is going to be a substantially more productive runner than Wilson, who rushed for 539 yards last season? Or how about Colin Kaepernick, who ran for 524? Well, those guys finished No. 14 and No. 18 among QBs in per-game fantasy scoring, just so you know. Cam Newton was the only dual-threat quarterback who ranked among the position's top-10, and he benefits from serving as his team's goal-line back. You can't convince me that the 5-foot-11, 207-pound Manziel has the same rushing upside as the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton. No way. If you're drafting Manziel in a Yahoo! public league, you're wasting a pick.
Fearless Forecast: 3,040 passing yards, 19 TDs, 18 INTs, 485 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns.
Dalton Del Don (Preseason QB rank No. 25) — Manziel is clearly the rookie QB with the most fantasy upside, but he’s still barely worth drafting even in 2-QB leagues. There's potential because of his rushing ability, but the loss of Josh Gordon (and subsequent lack of addressing the WR position in the draft) hurts. It’s also interesting to watch just how aggressively the Browns’ brass has tempered expectations through the media. I’ll say Manziel gets 14 starts, resulting in something like 2,500 passing yards, 16 passing TDs, 18 interceptions, 375 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground. There’s upside for more, but the downside is much greater (not that his downside matters given that he's likely to be drafted as a backup).
Fearless Forecast: 2,500 passing yards, 16 passing touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 375 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns
Scott Pianowski (Preseason QB rank No. 19) — First things first: if you see Johnny Football Hero in the hall, tell him he played a great game. Tell him you liked his article in the newspaper.
We're a long way from drafts that matter, but I suspect Manziel might be a little too famous for me, a little too buzzy, a little too popular – and a little too pricy. I try to stay away from the shiny new toy when I can (sometimes with disastrous results; Masahiro Tanaka and George Springer wave hello). I also worry about Manziel staying healthy with his devil-may-care rushing style; he needs that ground production to be a significant fantasy contributor (at least in 2014 he'll need it), but it's not easy absorbing those kill shots at an NFL level. Michael Vick has played in 16 games once, and he's got a similar build to Manziel. Keep that in mind.
Fearless Forecast: 13 starts, 3045 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 418 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns.