Is Starting Johnny Manziel the Right Choice for the Cleveland Browns?
I hate being captain obvious, but let's face it: the Cleveland Browns are bad.
At 2-8, they are already eliminated from playoff contention according to our algorithms.
With no chance to make the playoffs, the question revolves around who the quarterback should be for the team. Do you go with Josh McCown, the career journeyman, or Johnny Manziel, your first round pick from a year ago?
The obvious answer at this point, with no hope for the year, would seem to be Manziel, so you can find out what you have in him.
That's exactly what the Browns decided to do.
As competitors, no matter the situation, players want to win, so in order for Manziel to be the right choice as the starter, he needs to bring the best chance for success to the team.
According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, the Browns actually boast the 10th best Adjusted Passing NEP (60.09) this year, but is there any chance the team improves on this mark with Manziel leading the way?
Let's dig into this.
Josh McCown: Career Journeyman
In his 12 years as a professional, McCown has played for seven teams and boasts a career 59.6% completion percentage.
For the year, McCown is way above his average, posting a 65.0% completion percentage on 254 passes.
In the six games McCown played from start to finish, the offense posted a 31.54 Adjusted NEP, which is adjusted for schedule strength and indicates how many points above expectation-level the team secured.
In those games, the team posted a 48.57 Adjusted Passing NEP and a -16.36 Adjusted Rushing NEP.
On average, the offense posted a 5.26 Adjusted NEP per game, 8.10 Adjusted Passing NEP per game, and -2.73 Adjusted Rushing NEP per game with McCown at the helm.
McCown currently has the 20th ranked Passing NEP (27.00), which comes out to 4.5 Passing NEP per game. He has done so in a rather inefficient manner, as his Passing NEP per play (0.098) ranks 18th among the 33 quarterbacks with at least 142 drop backs (McCown has 276 drop backs).
McCown worked wonders for the two biggest receiving threats in the offense. 30-year-old surprise breakout tight end, Gary Barnidge posted a 53.8 Reception NEP over this time (8.97 per game), and the equally surprising breakout receiver, Travis Benjamin, posted a 26.01 Reception NEP (4.34 per game).
Meanwhile, McCown's presence does not bode well for the running game, as Isaiah Crowell posted a -11.00 Rushing NEP (-1.83 per game) when he was the quarterback. Duke Johnson also saw negative production, as he posted a -5.05 Rushing NEP (-0.84 per game).
The numbers surrounding McCown do not bode well, so let's see how they stack up compared to the team with Manziel playing quarterback.
Johnny Freaking Football
To view him separately from McCown, we need to look at the three games he has started (against Tennessee, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh).
In these games, the offense has stagnated. The Adjusted NEP only improved by 2.52 (0.84 per game), the Adjusted Passing NEP improved by 12.86 (4.29 per game), and the Adjusted Rushing NEP dipped by 3.74 (-1.25 per game). Only the rushing game has looked better with Manziel running the offense.
On Manziel's 142 drop backs, he has accrued the 27th highest Passing NEP (3.65) of the 33 quarterbacks with at least as many drop backs as himself. His efficiency is barely better, as his Passing NEP per play is 26th out of 33 (0.026). While McCown is not good, Manziel is worse by our metrics.
While Manziel is viewed as a dual threat, he has 17 carries on the season. This is viewed as an element McCown does not have, but he actually is a better athlete than Manziel, even if it has dropped off some since he was younger.
On Manziel's 17 runs, he has gained 90 yards for a -1.97 Rushing NEP; McCown has taken 18 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown posting a 1.51 Rushing NEP. While Manziel rushes more times per game, the only difference in their rushing is that McCown has a touchdown to go along with three fumbles (two lost) while Manziel has neither.
Looking at the supporting cast, Benjamin has almost equaled his Reception NEP (20.75) in half as many games (6.92 per game) with Manziel as he did with McCown. However, this is completely opposite of the effect that Manziel has on Barnidge. In the three Manziel starts, Barnidge has a 9.37 Reception NEP (3.12 per game), far less than what he has done with McCown at quarterback.
While McCown holds Benjamin back, the combined work he does for Barnidge and Benjamin is better than what Manziel does for them.
Crowell has rushed for a 0.61 Rushing NEP (0.20 per game) in Manziel's games, and Johnson has produced a -3.76 Rushing NEP (-1.25 per game) in these games. As a runner, Crowell is better with Manziel while Johnson is better with McCown.
Are the Browns Right?
With the Browns naming Manziel their starter for the rest of the year, they are making the wrong decision based on our metrics; however, with having no reason to win, it is an understandable choice.
Going forward, the Browns play four teams in the top-13 for Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP, and neither quarterback should be viewed as a good option for your fantasy team. According to our projections, Manziel is the 33rd best quarterback going forward while McCown is one spot behind him.
This should help Benjamin, even though he sits 33rd in our projections, but it is a detriment to Barnidge, even though he is ranked as the fourth best tight end going forward.
Neither quarterback is worth a spot on your roster, but at least we now get to see if Manziel has any chance to succeed in the NFL, even if the metrics do not support the Browns' decision.