- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Johnny Football is in the news. For football, no less.

Johnny Manziel, everyone’s favorite Heisman Trophy-winning party boy, finally gets his first NFL start this Sunday when the Browns face the Bengals.

I don’t see Manziel as a capable NFL quarterback for the long haul, but I also thought Russell Wilson would be out of the league in three years, so what do I know about short quarterbacks?

I do know that plenty of fantasy owners will be paying close attention to the Browns the next few weeks. A number of them have probably already scrambled to the waiver wire to pick him up in keeper/dynasty leagues.

Obviously, I think that’s premature. Manziel can be exciting, and he has a knack for making “Wow!” plays that give SportsCenter anchors a chance to practice their sayings. But that also was the case with Michael Vick pre-prison, and Vick was never a consistent fantasy producer. There’s a similar erratic nature to Manziel’s game.

Quarterbacks can succeed without height (Wilson, Drew Brees), arm strength (Joe Montana) or good decision-making (Brett Favre), but Manziel lacks all three. His best attribute, his speed, will be neutralized against NFL defenders. He won’t make his living on the edge at this level.

To his credit, Manziel has taken his backup fate until this point better than most assumed he would. And it appears he has been listening to what his coaches say regarding on-field matters. If you watched him in limited duty late in a loss to the Bills two weeks ago, you saw that he has been working on his throwing mechanics (holding the ball high during his dropback).

Manziel also has the luxury of an offensive coordinator who knows a thing or two about getting the most out of a young, athletic quarterback. Kyle Shanahan won’t hesitate to utilize Manziel’s running ability. Of course, much like Robert Griffin III in Washington, it’s a big risk to put a small quarterback in harm’s way as part of the game plan.

Assuming Manziel doesn’t get broken in half, I think he’ll do fairly well these next three games — Cleveland’s not making the playoffs in a crowded AFC — and make a play or two each game that will make Browns fans and overly smitten fantasy owners more hopeful than they should be.

The risk, from a fantasy perspective, is reading too much into early returns.

We’ve seen with Griffin and Colin Kaepernick that freakish athletic ability can blind people to flaws in one’s game and leave those athletes struggling to adapt once the honeymoon period ends. If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on Manziel eventually suffering much the same fate, as defenses figure out ways to force him to play from the pocket. That may not happen for a while, though, so if Manziel builds up enough confidence heading into the offseason — and stays far, far away from Vegas on his off days — it’s certainly possible that he can be a fantasy factor next season.

No matter which side you come down on regarding Manziel, this should be fun to watch.

Week 14 Lineup Crime: I am living a charmed life. A week after Joique Bell had his best game of the season on my bench, he topped it. In addition to sitting a productive Bell for the second straight week, I also erred by playing Rivers over Cutler. I was saved by Julio Jones, Eddie Lacy and Mike Evans. I’m leaning toward Cutler this week against the Saints and I hate myself for it a little bit.

Week 15 Lineup Time: The Rams defense/special teams has been on a roll; the unit is a great play against Drew Stanton and the Cardinals … If you have to go deep into your receiver corps, it’s good to have a Steeler or Falcon. Guys like Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Harry Douglas will get more opportunities than usual against woeful secondaries. … Joe Flacco has had an under-the-radar rebound season and he’s due for one of his big games this week against the Jaguars. … Green Bay’s defense is not good. The Packers are a great matchup for Sammy Watkins. … Kelvin Benjamin is still a safe play against the Bucs even if Cam Newton doesn’t play post-car crash. … Josh Gordon is too talented not to play, but he’s struggled the past two weeks, and a rookie making his first start is not what he needs right now. … If you’re playing anyone in the Jets-Titans game, you’re obviously in your league’s consolation bracket.

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