Johnny Manziel’s first challenge in the National Football League will be to help bring stability to a franchise that’s had 19 different starting quarterbacks since returning to Cleveland in 1999.
With the 22nd overall selection, the Browns last night used the second of their two first-round picks to select Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s best player in 2012. Manziel, known as “Johnny Football,” was the second quarterback taken in this year’s draft.
Manziel received the loudest cheers at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and brings excitement to a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002 and last won a postseason game in 1994. Marketers say Manziel has the off-field flair of Joe Namath while NFL analysts say he possesses the on-field creativity of another Hall-of-Fame quarterback in Fran Tarkenton.
“Manziel can win in this league,” former San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci, now an analyst for the NFL Network, said during the draft. “He’s won in the past and Johnny Manziel is going to bring hope and excitement to the city of Cleveland.”
Manziel, 21, was among three quarterbacks taken in the opening round of the draft last night and the Browns were selling his jersey on their website minutes after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the pick. Blake Bortles of Central Florida went third overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Teddy Bridgewater was taken by the Minnesota Vikings with the last of the first round’s 32 picks.
The Browns, coming off a 4-12 season, had the fourth selection last night and traded out of the spot. After taking cornerback Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State at No. 8, Cleveland later made a trade to move up four spots and take Manziel, who had been projected as a possible top-five pick.
“There are a lot of teams that did pass me up,” Manziel said of his 2 1/2-hour draft day wait. “You do grow a little bit of a chip on your shoulder.”
The Browns have been here before.
In 2007, they took quarterback Brady Quinn with the 22nd pick. In 2012, quarterback Brandon Weeden was also the 22nd overall selection of the Browns. Quinn had a 3-9 record as a starter over three seasons in Cleveland and Weeden went 5-15 the past two years before being released.
Other starting signal-callers for the franchise in recent years include Jason Campbell, Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Derek Anderson, Ken Dorsey and Charlie Frye.
While Manziel faces questions about his size -- officially listed at 5-foot-11 and 3/4 -- his maturity and his celebrity, he had a 20-6 record at Texas A&M. In 2012, he became the only player in college football history to gain 5,000 total yards and 1,000 yards rushing in a season and the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Manziel finished his college career with 63 touchdown passes and another 30 rushing scores.
“I’ve been a winner everywhere that I’ve been,” said Manziel, who has more than 850,000 Twitter followers. “I’m going to work extremely hard to put myself in the best position to continue that trend of being a winner.”
Manziel enters the NFL backed by the marketing team behind LeBron James, a four-time National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player and the second-highest earning athlete in North American sports. Ahead of the draft, Manziel signed endorsement contracts with McDonald’s Corp. (MCD:US), the world’s largest restaurant chain; Nike Inc. (NKE:US), the world’s biggest sporting goods maker; and Panini America Inc., the world leader in officially licensed sports and entertainment collectibles.
“What accompanies him isn’t really him,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said at a news conference. “He’s a competitor, he’s a great teammate, he’s passionate about football. What follows him for us wasn’t really a big factor.”
Manziel is positioned to have the best endorsement potential of any player in this year’s draft. He may also find himself well positioned in a Browns offense that has Josh Gordon, who led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards last season, and new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who favors a West Coast style of offense defined by short, precise passing routes.
“I do like the fit, the weapons on offense,” said Super Bowl-winning quarterback Kurt Warner, who’s now an NFL Network analyst. “I like the fact that they have a solid defensive roster as well. There’s some pieces there to help him out.”
Manziel will probably compete with Brian Hoyer as the Browns’ starting quarterback. Hoyer had a 3-0 record as a starter last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
“I’m going to take a very aggressive mindset into it,” Manziel said. “I’m going to work extremely hard to get what I want, and I know what that is. I want to win, and I want to be successful. The amount of time and the heart I put into this, which I know I’m capable of doing, will tell the tale.”
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