Rams Would Make Mistake by Selecting Johnny Manziel


Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Though we’re getting to the point where all the pre-NFL Draft talk is beginning to become stale following months of rumors and speculation, one particular draft rumor that is heating up over the past few days is more interesting than most, that being the St. Louis Rams’ supposed interest in Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah and Charles Davis both brought strong credence to this rumor on Monday, with Davis slotting Manziel to the Rams with pick 13 in his mock draft, and Jeremiah saying on the NFL Network’s “Path to the Draft” that “(NFL personnel) are saying there’s legitimate interest between the Rams and Johnny Manziel. There’s at least buzz in personnel circles saying do not rule out Johnny Manziel to St. Louis.”

Despite the supposed interest that exists on the part of the Rams, Manziel would seem like a longshot to fit in with the Rams’ plans. First of all, the selection of Manziel would go against everything that GM Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher have been saying this offseason in regards to their faith in incumbent starter Sam Bradford. And really, other than his injury history, there’s no reason for the Rams to give up on Bradford just yet. Through seven games last year, Bradford had his best career completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio, and quarterback rating. There would seem to be additional intrigue for Bradford in 2014 due to the fact that he’ll be complemented by the improved running game created by the emergence of 2013 draft pick Zac Stacy. In today’s NFL, it’s simply not feasible to draft a quarterback and sit him for a couple of years, so the selection of Manziel would start the clock on the end of Bradford’s tenure as the starter.

Besides the untapped potential that the Rams could be letting go of with Bradford, the Rams would have to figure out a way for Manziel to be able to mesh with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Through his 13-year NFL coaching career, Schottenheimer has always run an offense that has relied heavily on pocket passing from the quarterback, with a traditional running game setting up the pass. The closest he ever got to having a running quarterback was when he oversaw Tony Banks, who ran for 152 yards on 47 attempts, as quarterbacks coach of the 2001 Washington Redskins.

Taking Manziel would mean that the Rams would significantly have to adjust their offense. Manziel bases his game on making plays with his feet and getting passes off outside the pocket. Especially in the NFC West, where he’ll have to contend with monsters like Calais Campbell, Michael Bennett, and Justin Smith coming at him, he’ll need to make most of his plays near the sideline. Besides just adjusting things to make sure that Manziel has room to run around and improvise, this would require the Rams getting optimum production out of their big receivers, which hasn’t necessarily been a given over the past few years.

Manziel relied on 6-foot-5, 225-pound Mike Evans to provide a physical presence, especially on long passes downfield. Fellow 6-footer Drew Brees has trusted 6-foot-2 Robert Meachem, 6-foot-4 Marques Colston, and 6-foot-7 Jimmy Graham to help him create plays. Russell Wilson relied heavily on 6-foot-4 Sidney Rice before he gave way to shorter receivers like Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin in 2013. While Wilson’s success proves that it is possible for a short quarterback and smaller receivers to work well together, it’s difficult to bank on Manziel being as brilliant of an offensive mind as Wilson has been during his first two years in the league.

With that in mind, the Rams are going to need to hope that bigger targets like 6-foot-3 Brian Quick and 6-foot-5 Jared Cook become more reliable receivers if they end up taking Manziel. It’s conceivable that smaller options like Stedman Bailey and Chris Givens could still be options as well, but considering the evidence against that being the case, it would not be smart for the Rams to bank on them being major contributors.

Of course, the Rams could always be a bit more conservative and opt to stick with Bradford, draft a less heralded developmental quarterback, and increase their depth at other positions with their two first-rounders. If they take Manziel, they must be ready to start things over and create a brand new organizational philosophy.