Johnny Manziel flashed promise in the Cleveland Browns’ preseason opener against the Washington Redskins, and he followed up that performance with a solid showing Thursday night in an 11-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Here’s how the 2014 first-round pick’s stats shook out during the third and fourth quarters:
Recap and Reaction
First-string quarterback Josh McCown totaled 57 yards and two interceptions on 7-of-10 passing during the first half, but Manziel trumped that production on a 14-play, 96-yard drive that culminated with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Shane Wynn.
The NFL’s official Twitter account provided a look at the go-ahead score:
Prior to slinging the touchdown, Manziel used his wheels to roll left and escape Buffalo’s pass rush before firing a strike 37 yards down the field to Darius Jennings, as the NFL Network noted:
Former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen was among those impressed with Manziel’s mechanics on the big pickup:
ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler took note of Manziel’s improved poise in the pocket:
The Bills took an 11-10 lead with just over 90 seconds remaining following an EJ Manuel touchdown pass and two-point conversion, but Manziel couldn’t lead the Browns down the field for a game-winning field-goal attempt.
However, it should be noted a 17-yard pass that came on the heels of a nice scramble in crunch time was nullified by a penalty, per the NFL:
Ultimately, Manziel’s increased level of comfort under center was the biggest positive that emerged from Thursday’s contest. Big plays aside, Manziel picked his spots and delivered balls on time with sufficient accuracy, as his 75 percent completion rate (9-of-12) prior to Cleveland’s last-gasp final drive indicated.
Now the question facing the Browns is whether Manziel has earned a shot at the starting gig.
As CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora opined, head coach Mike Pettine is facing a tough decision entering next week’s clash with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
After the second-year quarterback told reporters Tuesday that his primary aim against the Bills was to “do better than last week,” according to ESPN.com’s Pat McManamon, it’s safe to say he achieved his goal.
Manziel’s fantasy stock is directly tied to his status as a starter, so it’s likely going to be another couple of weeks before owners have clarity on that front.
However, if Manziel is able to eventually eclipse McCown on the Browns’ depth chart, he’ll be an intriguing play to stream against weaker defenses.
The key, though, will be how much value he can offer as a rusher.
Since Cleveland’s go-to receivers are Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins and Travis Benjamin, Manziel and the Browns likely won’t be burning opponents with aerial assaults. Therefore, Manziel’s upside as a passer is capped.
Given the team’s absence of legitimate downfield threats, Manziel’s legs could entice owners—particularly if Cleveland turns to him as a primary red-zone option in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
But prospective buyers should beware. The possibility of rushing yards and touchdowns will make aggressive fantasy players salivate, but those tend to be volatile and unpredictable numbers owners can’t count on week-to-week.
Manziel’s raw physical talent will always make him intriguing fantasy fodder, but until he establishes a track record of proficiency in the pocket and is surrounded by more dynamic receivers, he’ll remain a backup option at best.
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