As a quarterback, Johnny Manziel is a playmaker and risk taker, the definition of a gambler. Sometimes that’s a problem. But even the cynics can see his entertainment value is a sure thing.
Manziel is the most intriguing risk-reward proposition in this week’s NFL Draft. He might not be the top pick, but he’s the No. 1 reason to watch.
A playmaker with the potential to boost a boring franchise, Manziel also is a bust risk. Most gamblers have a dark side, and Manziel’s undisciplined style of play and personality raise the stakes.
“I think you roll the dice with Manziel,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said. “It’s not going to stun me if he goes No. 1.”
A week ago, Esposito said he was going “back and forth” on Manziel, but now he’s moving forward on the former Texas A&M quarterback who is a “gunslinger like Brett Favre with the scrambling ability of Fran Tarkenton.”
It’s the difference of opinion that makes horse races, and the draft is no different. The Houston Texans hold the No. 1 pick Thursday, when Jadeveon Clowney, a dominant defensive end from South Carolina, is the favorite to go first. Still, Clowney has critics, too.
“The Texans need a quarterback,” Esposito said, “and they don’t seem to be in love with Clowney.”
Manziel is the most likely rookie to impact a team’s regular-season win total. But he puzzles NFL scouts, who offer drastic differences of opinion.
ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay agree on one point in their latest mock drafts: Manziel to the Cleveland Browns at No. 4.
Instead of Kiper and McShay, I went to Bernie Fratto and Joe Fortenbaugh for evaluations of the draft’s most-debated player. Fratto (BernieFratto.com) formerly covered the Detroit Lions and is an ESPN Radio host in Las Vegas. Fortenbaugh writes for NationalFootballPost.com.
Fratto: “Who is Johnny Manziel? Yes, he was a prolific highlight reel at Texas A&M, but who is Manziel at his foundation? Is he merely an improvisational playmaker? Or, is he potentially an NFL-ready pocket passer who’s able to make read progressions and execute within the framework of a complex offense?
“Additionally, is he durable enough and smart enough to avoid contact from linebackers who run as well as he can? Does he possess the hunger and work ethic his future organization will crave and his teammates will expect? Can he improve his footwork to an NFL-level status?”
Fortenbaugh: “Every quarterback in this draft class carries a level of risk significant enough to justify a fall outside of the top 10 selections. This isn’t 2012, when can’t-miss prospect Andrew Luck was coming out of Stanford. From Teddy Bridgewater to Blake Bortles to Manziel and down, this year’s crop possesses more than enough talent to make a serious splash, but each falls outside the realm of ‘sure-thing status’ due to at least one perceived flaw.
“In regards to Manziel, those detriments range from a lack of height — although that criticism has been softened a bit due to the success of under-6-feet quarterbacks Drew Brees and Russell Wilson — to leadership and character concerns to durability issues. Most seem hell-bent on emphasizing all the reasons why Manziel can’t or won’t succeed at the next level, but in my opinion, he’s the top quarterback in this class.
“Strong arm, accurate, able to avoid the rush and extend plays with his feet and a history of winning can all be checked off in the ‘Yes’ column. The skill set and intelligence required to succeed as a starting quarterback in the NFL are both present, but the big question is whether or not Manziel has the mentality and the focus to take the next step in his development.”
Fratto: “I expect Manziel to have success in the NFL. For how long, who knows? I also expect the Browns to draft him No. 4. Why? He has the best chance for success under Kyle Shanahan, whose offensive scheme requires a mobile quarterback with play-action capabilities.
“In the end it’s not about flash or selling tickets. In the NFL, it’s all about winning games. Period. Frankly, Manziel would improve Cleveland’s offense on Day One.”
Fortenbaugh: “How many 19-year-olds possess the personality traits necessary to engineer a historic upset win at Alabama en route to snagging the Heisman Trophy without enjoying the newfound fame and celebrity status that comes with such success? Manziel was a college kid who had the world by the tail. Of course he was going to party. But when everyone talked about his off-the-field distractions last summer as the possible catalyst for a regression in 2013, all the guy did was come out and post even bigger numbers in every single statistical category.
“The bottom line when it comes to Manziel is that in order to fully maximize his potential, he’ll need to land in the right spot with the proper coaching. All the talent in the world is rarely enough to overcome a flawed system with average personnel, as history is littered with talented prospects who busted out of the league in three years or less. I predict Manziel to go No. 4 to Cleveland, but forecast he will not fall past No. 8 Minnesota.”
Esposito, who is hosting a draft party for Thursday’s first round inside Club Madrid at Sunset Station, said, “The draft has become a prime-time event, and we want to make it a prime-time event here. People will want to see where Johnny Football is going to go.”
If given the shot, the Browns, boring and irrelevant for years, should roll the dice on Manziel. Win or lose, it’s a good gamble.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.