There have been plenty of great college quarterbacks who have not panned out in the NFL. Since the turn of the century, Heisman trophy winners have failed more often than they have succeeded. In fact, of the 13 QBs that won the Heisman in that span, only one has become a superstar: Cam Newton. That list doesn’t even include highly-touted busts like JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young and Mark Sanchez. With that said, it shouldn’t be so irksome that Johnny Manziel has flamed out, too. But it is.
Of all the recent college QBs pegged for NFL stardom, Johnny Manziel was the most entertaining. The extroverted Texas A&M gunslinger played with a swagger seldom seen from the typical, buttoned-up white QB. He wore an arm sleeve and a visor, hung out with Drake and flashed the money sign after touchdowns. He was small in stature, which only made his dominance of SEC defenders that more impressive. On the ground, through the air — he did it all. His cocky attitude on and off the field was polarizing, but you couldn’t deny his talent.
The Cleveland show
After tearing apart SEC defenses, Manziel entered the 2014 NFL Draft with a fair amount of hype. Sure, scouts ripped his reckless play, size and pocket presence, but his proponents noted none of that had stopped him in college. While far from a sure thing, his competition — Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr — wasn’t either. With a little less on the line than earlier in the draft but with a lot to gain, the Cleveland Browns rolled the dice on Manziel with the 22nd overall pick. It seemed as if the Browns might have finally found their franchise QB. Unfortunately for Manziel, the organization never treated him that way.
In his two years in Cleveland, Manziel was undoubtedly a constant headache. Every week, a new Instagram photo or video surfaced of the QB partying it up. It appeared that he was more interested in living a celebrity lifestyle than working on his game. He certainly wasn’t the only one doing it, but the magnifying glass was all over number two. While you can’t blame the Browns for Manziel’s decisions, the organization did not support him enough.
For Cleveland, of all franchises, to not give Manziel a fair shot was moronic. But that’s what happened. In flashes, he showed the potential to be a good NFL quarterback. He scored a 32 — the average score is 20 — on the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability test. He made plays in limited action that deserved an extended look in a starting role. Instead of letting their horse loose, the Browns reined him in at every opportunity. Head coach Mike Pettine stuck him on the bench and told him to watch and learn from accomplished veteran QBs like Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown. With nothing to lose, the Browns should have thrown Manziel into the fire and let him learn on the job. Instead, Pettine played it safe and still got fired.
Off the field, Cleveland said all the right things about helping Manziel, but the organization did not handle him correctly. Even with what we all knew about him, the Browns did not have a proper protocol set in place to check him. While we now know Manziel has a drinking problem, the Browns stood by as he was vilified for acting no differently than Rob Gronkowski. It was as if Cleveland had expected Eli Manning to walk in the door. Without knowing all the details, you certainly can’t knock the Browns too much, but it’s fair to say they greatly mismanaged him off the field, too.
The potential was there, but Manziel may be damaged goods now. His reputation is no longer on life support, but it would take a great leap of faith from a franchise for him to get another legitimate shot. For all the bravado he showed at TAMU, you wonder if he even has the confidence to play his style of QB anymore. That’s a major problem too, because the only way he will ever be successful in the NFL is by being himself: “Money” Manziel.