It took longer than most people expected, but Johnny Manziel was selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Cleveland Browns took the quarterback with the No. 22 pick.
Despite falling in the draft, Manziel enters the NFL with high expectations. He’s become one of the most popular athletes in the country, and has a good chance to start in Week One. Head coach Mike Pettine has said the rookie will compete for the starting job, but his main competition will come from career backup Brian Hoyer. In three games last year, Hoyer registered an 82.6 passer rating, and he’s never played more than five games in any of his five NFL seasons.
If Manziel is given the reins, he’ll be under a lot of pressure in his first season. Can he lead the Browns to the playoffs in 2014?
Leading Cleveland to the postseason won’t be an easy task. The Browns have been one of the most unsuccessful NFL franchises since they returned to the league in 1999. In that time, they have just one playoff appearance, which resulted in a first-round loss. Only twice in the last 15 seasons has Cleveland produced a winning season.
Playing in the AFC North won’t make it any easier for the Browns to be competitive. It’s one of the toughest divisions in football. Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens had disappointing seasons, but they still both finished at 8-8. The Cincinnati Bengals came in first place with 11 wins, and have shown no signs that they will take a step back in 2014.
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Despite the tough division and the Browns' recent struggles, Manziel is confident that he can help turn things around.
“Obviously, there have been some struggles, but for me, you look at teams around the league that have struggled and a couple years later, they’re in contention to do really good things, win playoff games and get to the playoffs,” Manziel said at a press conference.
“I feel like the pieces they had last year they were a better football team. You have a very good receiver; you have a great offensive line. You have good weapons. You have a great tight end. You have a defense that’s really strong, and we also helped our team tonight, picking up a defensive player, as well, earlier in the round.”
Cleveland only won four games in 2013, but they do have some playmakers. Josh Gordon led all wide receivers with 1,646 yards. Tight end Jordan Cameron added 80 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns, giving Manziel a few viable weapons.
It’s unknown how Manziel’s style of play will translate to the pros, but his success in the nation’s best college football conference can’t be denied. He became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and improved as a passer in his sophomore year, throwing for 4,114 yards and 37 touchdowns.
According to the oddsmakers, the Browns should be improved, but a playoff appearance might be out of reach. At Bovada.lv, Cleveland’s odds of winning the AFC are listed at 25/1. That ranks them 11th in the AFC.