The Johnny Football Era in Cleveland is going to have to wait. For now, make way for Johnny Clipboard and Johnny Headset.
The Browns sent an adrenaline shot to Twitter on Wednesday morning, unveiling their starting quarterback. Veteran retread Brian Hoyer gets the call for Week 1, tabbed over first-round pick Johnny Manziel.
"[Hoyer] was the clear leader from the beginning," head coach Mike Pettine said in a prepared statement. "We've maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room."
The training camp battle hasn't been Clash of the Titans by any means. Hoyer and Manziel both played poorly Monday at Washington, after reasonable debuts in Detroit the previous week. No one took this job and ran with it. (And good luck taking on the nasty Rams defense this Saturday.)
But the full body of Manziel's work, on and off the field, essentially forced the Browns into the Hoyer decision. Manziel's regular partying became a news item. He was late to a recent practice. He flipped off the Washington bench during his second preseason game. If Manziel is going to grow into the starting quarterback position — a gig that requires all sorts of things past the play on the field — first he has to grow up.
The schedule also comes into play. Cleveland opens with three challenging games — at Pittsburgh; home against New Orleans; home against Baltimore. The Browns could easily be 1-2 or 0-3 when the Week 4 bye week hits.
Unless Hoyer has the month of his life — and remember, he's a 28-year-old journeyman with four starts and 192 pass attempts on his NFL resume — I'm thinking Manziel emerges after the bye. The middle portion of Cleveland's schedule (starting Week 5) is reasonable: at Tennessee; home against Pittsburgh; at Jacksonville; home against Oakland and Tampa Bay.
I also expect Manziel to lead the team in starts over the balance of the season. Nonetheless, I won't bother selecting him in any of my non-keeper leagues. "Play for Today" is my credo when it comes to fake football — I want the leverage that comes with a quick start, and I hate wasting an early bench position on someone who might have value later.
Sure, Manziel might step into the job at some point and go on a tear (notably because he's such a willing runner), but all sorts of unknown talent will also come into the league, changing the fantasy landscape. The NFL is the ultimate reshuffle league. I don't like tying myself to a slow-developing stock, and I'm not going to play a man short while Manziel learns on the job.
You need a Fearless Forecast to set your watch, and here's mine for Manziel: 11 starts, 2347 passing yards, 11 touchdown passes, 13 interceptions, 299 rushing yards, three ground touchdowns. I've moved him down in my ranks (essentially into the do-not-draft area) but I didn't adjust any of the other Cleveland skill players. (Full disclosure: I did give Ben Tate a healthy jump forward in my Tuesday ranking sweep, unrelated to Cleveland's QB situation.)
It takes a village to raise a fantasy football champion, so let's get the entire Yahoo Fantasy Crew to chime in on the Manziel situation. Starting in alphabetical order, here's Doc Behrens:
• Andy Behrens: Well, you can't say Johnny Football didn't have a fair shot to win the opening week starting QB gig for Cleveland. Brian Hoyer really did nothing notable in the preseason game that was supposed to serve as the final audition, going 2-for-6 for 16 yards. But Manziel was equally unimpressive against Washington's varsity defense, so here we are.
Hoyer gave us a pair of solid performances last season before the knee injury, so this isn't necessarily bad news for Browns skill players — in fact, two of Jordan Cameron's biggest weeks were assisted by Hoyer. Still, the idea that the dude with the NFL's best-selling jersey could spend a full season on the sideline, with clipboard, is ... well, that ain't happening. No way. Cleveland opens the regular season with games against Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore, so the Browns are a strong candidate for an 0-3 start. After a bye in Week 4, I'm guessing Johnny draws his first start in the Tennessee game on October 5.
He wasn't my favorite QB in this year's rookie class, but we all see the dual-threat potential here. If you need a Manziel forecast, put me down for 12 games, 2625 passing yards, 15 TDs, 410 rushing yards and three scores via the ground.
• Brad Evans: It seems a bit premature to anoint your starter just hours removed from a second preseason game that instilled zero confidence in either option. Why not give Hoyer/Manziel another quarter each in the dress rehearsal? What happens if Hoyer stinks up the joint again with the first-team or is completely owned by Manziel? However, Pettine sided with the veteran presumably because of the rookie’s maturity issues. Angry birds aren’t his bag. Still, Hoyer is a journeyman quarterback with minimal upside who played well in only three games last year.
Manziel will watch and hopefully learn from the sidelines, but overtaking the starting gig post-Browns bye Week 5 (at Ten) is logical. If Cleveland stumbles out of the gate, it could come much sooner. When he does seize the moment, expect an appreciable fantasy return akin to what Terrelle Pryor accomplished last year. Recall, the then Raider was a top-16 asset as a starter. How? Rushing stats. Manziel, who I feel has more polish, could threaten the position’s top-12 because of his scrambling ability and zone-read execution. For now, pencil me in for 12 starts, 3,000 combined yards and 20 total touchdowns (4 rushing). Let the circus begin.
• Dalton Del Don: It makes sense considering the Browns are playing for the future without any expectations to make the playoffs this season, although the decision is still a bit surprising, especially for conspiracy theorists, as CBS had recently assigned its No. 1 announcing crew (Jim Nantz and Phil Simms) for the Cleveland game in Week 1.
Brian Hoyer certainly didn’t earn the job, as he’s 8-20 for 108 yards this preseason. Obviously, it will only be a matter of time before Johnny Manziel takes over, with the likeliest path being after the team’s Week 4 bye, especially considering the Browns’ rough schedule to begin the year. I’d forecast JFF for something like 2,500 passing yards, 400 rushing yards and scoring a total of 18 touchdowns.