Should Johnny Manziel Remain the Browns' Starting Quarterback?

Now that Josh McCown has been cleared to play, the Browns are re-inserting him as their starting quarterback. Should they be benching Johnny Manziel?

It’s fair to debate whether or not taking Johnny Manziel in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft was the right move for a franchise that has multiple positions of need seemingly every year. It can also be debated whether or not bringing in Josh McCown -- the literal definition of a one-year wonder -- to be your starting quarterback for 2015 was a smart move.

But now, the absolute worst-case scenario for Cleveland has begun to play itself out just two games into the season.

If Manziel had played poorly last week, the move back to McCown for Week 3 wouldn’t have seemed the least bit strange. But starting in place of the concussed McCown against the Tennessee Titans, Manziel provided enough big plays to get the Browns their first win of the season. And while he still plays a very unorthodox style of quarterback prone to the occasional catastrophic decision, a win is a win.

So does Manziel deserve to be the Browns starting quarterback moving forward even with McCown now cleared to play?

McCown, Pre-Injury

If you looked objectively at Josh McCown’s career body of work, you would assume that he was probably no more than a backup-level NFL player who more than likely bounced around from team to team. McCown holds a career 58.8 completion percentage and a career 61:59 touchdown to interception ratio. His advanced metrics don’t help his cause, either.

Using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, we can see that, with his 2013 season in Chicago as the lone exception, McCown has been a very inefficient quarterback over the course of his career. 

Year Passes Passing NEP Passing NEP/Pass Passing Success Rate Rushes Rushing NEP Rushing NEP/Rush Rushing Success Rate
2002 23 -21.95 -0.95 26.09% 1 1.25 1.25 100.00%
2003 191 -16.33 -0.09 42.93% 28 -2.79 -0.10 57.14%
2004 439 -43.12 -0.10 41.23% 36 10.13 0.28 41.67%
2005 289 -14.16 -0.05 46.02% 28 1.00 0.04 53.57%
2007 205 -6.45 -0.03 44.88% 28 -1.40 -0.05 46.43%
2009 7 -6.01 -0.86 0.00% 0 0.00 0.00 0.00%
2011 62 -4.99 -0.08 45.16% 12 4.23 0.35 66.67%
2013 235 82.21 0.35 55.32% 10 7.00 0.70 60.00%
2014 363 -31.02 -0.09 41.87% 24 6.14 0.26 54.17%

For some context, a negative Rushing NEP metric is not necessarily a bad thing because passing plays are inherently more likely to produce larger gains than rushing attempts. 

But McCown's negative Passing NEP metrics over almost 90 percent of his career is an indication of extremely poor play. So far this season, only 8 quarterbacks among those with at least 50 attempts have a negative Passing NEP per drop back mark. 

Despite looking sharp in Week 1 before his injury, I’m more inclined to believe that McCown will play closer to his career averages over the length of an entire season, even with this new change of scenery. 

But is Manziel really a better option?

The Razor's Edge

For any old WWF wresting fans, that header is for you. But I digress.

For the majority of his football career (including at Texas A&M), Manziel has provided a mixture of the absolutely fantastic with the tremendously disastrous, and such was the case in his Week 2 start against Tennessee.

Sure, the 50- and 60-yard touchdown throws to Travis Benjamin were great, and they were a large reason why the Browns secured the win. But there were also a few instances where poor decision making and ball security could have easily swung the game in the other direction. It’s the fine line between success and disaster that Manziel walks that makes coaches doubt his viability as an NFL starter.

Manziel’s career stats, in a limited sample size, mind you, are even worse than McCown’s: 52.7 completion percentage, 3:3 touchdown to interception ratio.

YearPassesPassing NEPPassing NEP/PassPassing Success RateRushesRushing NEPRushing NEP/RushRushing Success Rate

So far in 2015, Manziel and McCown have posted similar Passing NEP per drop back metrics. But much like 2014, McCown has been much more efficient in terms of Rushing NEP on a per play basis (0.04 compared to -0.38 for Manziel). 

It Comes Down To Expectations

The Browns' coaching staff seems to believe that by going with the “proven veteran” that they are somehow taking less risk, and putting their team in a better (aka less turnover-prone) position. But looking at how McCown has performed over his career from a simple raw statistical perspective, it’s clear that this line of thinking simply doesn’t make sense.

Setting aside the usual coach-speak, if the Browns organization truly believes it has the roster to complete for a playoff spot this season, it probably does make sense to go with he more efficient option in McCown. 

But for a team facing  a low statistical probability of making a playoff run in 2015, it makes little sense to take the perceived “safe route” here. At age 36, there's no realistic shot of McCown being the Browns' quarterback of the future, but the same cannot be said of the 22-year-old Manziel. 

Even though Manziel is the less efficient player, it would benefit the Browns to truly asses his potential before deciding whether or not to move in a different direction. 

Although it goes against every fiber of NFL coaches’ beings, the Browns should swing for the fences, embrace the volatility, and start Johnny Manziel.