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Fantasy Football: Johnny Manziel And The Robert Griffin III Comparison

Matt Kelley considers whether Johnny Manziel can be a fantasy football force like RGIII and win fantasy championships with his legs in 2014.

Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

In XN Sports’ Fantasy Football: 2013 Quarterback Review – Konami Performance, Rich Hribar outlined a key tactic for mining fantasy quarterback value:

My favorite aspect of standard scoring is that using running quarterbacks can be advantageous because of the heavily weighted scoring for yardage and scores gained on the ground. Hribar went as far to label it as the ultimate quarterback cheat code, standard scoring’s version of the fabled Konami Code.

While running ability does not make or break a fantasy quarterback, Rich, like a samurai master, has illuminated a path to fantasy league enlightenment. “Draft the late-round-running-QB, young grasshopper, and you will find the championship you seek.”

Armed with this insight, I unrolled the scrolls holding the annals of fantasy leagues past. As expected, the late round running quarterbacks that most outperformed their average draft position (via Fantasy Football Calculator) in recent history were also the league leaders in QB rushing:

QB Rushing Leaders (per game):

2011 – Cam Newton – Draft Position: QB23, Fantasy Points Per Game: #3

2012 – Robert Griffin III – Draft Position: QB13, Total Fantasy Points Per Game: #5

2013 – Terrelle Pryor – Draft Position: Undrafted, Fantasy Points Per Game: #26

These quarterbacks all led the NFL in QB rushing yards and outperformed their ADP either as a rookie or their first year as a starter. Following that trend, it would stand to reason that the best place to find this year’s Konami QB Warrior would be within the incoming draft class.

Lo and behold, this year’s QB draft class has a singular name in lights, one runaway Konami QB candidate: Johnny Manziel.

Johnny Manziel, who eviscerated college defenses with both his arm and his feet. Johnny Manziel, who won the Heisman trophy at age 19. Johnny Manziel, who Cleveland Browns Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan has already labeled “very similar” to Robert Griffin III.

That was easy. Draft Johnny Konami. Win your league. Check please.

Hold on…

Just to be sure, let’s head over to PlayerProfiler.com and compare a few players’ advanced metrics:

 

Player A

Height – 6’ 2”

Best full season college total QBR – 80.4

Breakout age – 18.6 (age when first posted a Total 50 QBR or better in college)

40-yard dash – 4.41 seconds

Vertical jump – 39.0’

 

Player B

Height – 5’ 11 3/4”

Best full season college total QBR – 86.4

Breakout age – 19.8

40-yard dash – 4.68

Vertical jump – 31.5’

 

Player C

Height – 6’ 0”

Best full season college total QBR – 90.5

Breakout age – 19.0

40-yard dash – 4.55 seconds

Vertical jump – 35.0’

Player A is Robert Griffin III whose 109.3 PlayerProfiler Athleticism Score was the highest on record for a starting NFL quarterback. Griffin also posted the youngest Breakout Age of any quarterback playing in the NFL today.

He is the most unique athlete in the NFL, and it’s not even close. RGIII simply has no peer at the position, including Player B, Johnny Manziel.

Keeping the teasing to a minimum, Player C is Pat White. For anyone riding the “Manziel is the next RGIII” hyperbole train, the fact that his physical measurables and college productivity more closely resemble Pat White than Robert Griffin III should have you reaching for the hand brake.

While Johnny Manziel is no Robert Griffin III, thankfully, he is also no Pat White.

Manziel’s efficiency throwing the football in college was superior to White. Beyond arm strength and accuracy, Manziel’s scrambling ability, particularly his 10.78 Agility Score (sum of 20-yard shuttle and 30-cone drill times), which is in the 99th percentile for quarterbacks (White posted a 11.48 Agility Score), suggests he will have success scrambling at the NFL level. Indeed, Manziel’s range of fantasy outcomes in 2014 may start well below a 2012 Robert Griffin III but they also end well above a 2009 Pat White.

Manziel’s prospect profile indicates that his true ability lies somewhere between RGIII and White, which will be good enough to meet the expectations of his current 13th round ADP.

If some key events break right for him, such as Josh Gordon’s suspension being reduced to eight games, then his raw talent, coupled with an elite wide receiver (Josh Gordon) and an elite tight end (Jordan Cameron), would position him to crack the top 12 fantasy quarterbacks.

Yet, because Manziel is neither a size/speed/strength freak like Newton, nor an explosive freak like Griffin III, his rookie year will not approach Cam/RG3 top-5 fantasy quarterback status. At his current ADP, Manziel is not worth drafting, because his ceiling is not high enough to overcome the risk of him hitting his filthy-rich-man’s-Pat White floor.

In 2014, the best value running quarterback is not a newly minted rookie, though he was a highly touted No. 1 overall draft pick. The best quarterback to target on draft day is now 30 years old and is frequently mocked by both sports fans and fantasy obsessives.

His name is Alex Smith.

Smith peaked out with an 84.0 College QBR, which was helped significantly by his scrambling ability. His 4.71 40-yard dash time was .03 seconds slower than Johnny Manziel, and his 10.79 Agility Score was a mere 0.1 seconds slower than Manziel.

Smith’s raw scrambling ability is on par with Johnny Manziel, and as a bonus, Smith’s years of in-game NFL experience help him better understand when and where to run. In fact, Alex Smith was the 12th best quarterback in fantasy football in 2013, buoyed by 431 rushing yards and 12 red zone carries.

Smith, as a thrower, is admittedly underwhelming. However, with tight end Travis Kelce back from a reconstructive knee surgery, Dwayne Bowe looking a bit sleeker, and a full year of experience working with Kansas City Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid under his belt, all anecdotal indicators point to Smith improving on last year’s passing yards and passing touchdowns.

Essentially, Smith is a taller, smaller-handed, older, and mellower version of Manziel. Yet his reputation as a ding and dunk game manager has caused his average draft position to fall below Manziel in most fantasy leagues.

Well-positioned to finish 2014 in the QB8-12 range despite a 14th round ADP, Alex Smith is the Konami Chosen One.

Matt Kelley (@fantasy_mansion) is an XN Sports contributor and founder of RotoUnderworld (@rotounderworld) and PlayerProfiler.com, which distills a wide range of advanced metrics into a single player snapshot.

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