Johnny Manziel, System QBs, and The Ghost of Case Keenum

Image via wikimedia commons
Image via wikimedia commons

Stay tuned all season as we examine the top quarterbacks of the 2013 college football season to find out if they are “system QBs” or special talents.  Other articles in the series include:

Is Oregon’s Marcus Mariota just another Chip Kelly System QB?

Comparing AJ McCarron to Alabama QBs of the Nick Saban era

This article is going to make me unpopular.  Proceed at your own risk.

In preparation for the 2013 college football season, I was researching the best quarterback prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft.  When it came to Johnny Manziel, I was a bit surprised to find him outside my top 10 after using my evaluation method.  I decided to dig a little deeper and find comparable seasons to help put his 2012 in context.  Interestingly enough, I found Case Keenum as a comparison.  As you may recall, Manziel’s current coach, Kevin Sumlin, was Keenum’s coach at Houston from 2008-2011, so I became very curious about these similarities.  Upon further review, it has become clear to me why Manziel is a system quarterback and why he SHOULD BE outside the top 10 QB prospects for the 2013 season and beyond.

Your first objection is likely to be “Case Keenum played in Conference USA and Johnny Manziel played in the SEC.”  Astute observation.  To reduce your concerns about the level of competition, we will focus solely on the games in which Keenum lead his CUSA team against BCS level talent (read: he was overmatched).  Over the course of 44 games in which Keenum was on the field with Sumlin as head coach, seven came against BCS competition.

2008 @ Oklahoma State

2009 @ Oklahoma State

2009 vs Texas Tech

2009 @ Mississippi State

2010 @UCLA (torn ACL in this game, so it will only count as .5 in the average calculations)

2011 vs UCLA

2011 vs Penn State

Case Keenum played 6.5 games vs BCS foes with Sumlin as his head coach.  Now, let’s look at Manziel.

To get the best idea of Manziel’s talents, we will look at his performance against bowl eligible teams from the 2012 season; we learn nothing by seeing what he did against South Carolina State or Sam Houston State.  In total, he played against eight bowl eligible teams in 2012.  This works out nicely since Keenum’s sample size is 6.5 games, so they’re in the same ballpark.

The Passing Game

The first things that jumped out to me were the similarities in passing efficiency between the two players.

Player Comp % Pass Y/A TD% INT% TD:INT AY/A
Case Keenum 66.6% 7.4 4.9% 1.7% 2.8 7.6
Johnny Manziel 65.4% 7.5 4.2% 2.4% 1.7 7.3

Across the board the stats are strikingly similar.  I’d probably argue that Keenum is the more talented passer.  This leads me to wonder: if case Keenum was considered a system quarterback with insufficient arm strength to play in the NFL, why are some praising Johnny Manziel as a revolutionary quarterback?  On two different occasions Keenum passed for more than 400 yards per game in a season and finished in the top eight in Heisman voting both times.  However, he never stood a chance at winning because he earned the system QB label that had loomed over Andre Ware, Colt Brennan, and many others from small school, high octane programs.  However, when a big school decides to run “a system” and it works in a BCS conference, all the sudden it is legitimate?  Why the double standard?

The Running Game

Where Manziel makes most of his hay is when he takes off on the ground.  No doubt that he is a productive runner, but let’s see how he compares to Keenum.

Player Rush Att/Gm Rush Yds/Gm Rush TD/Gm Rush TD% Rush Yards/Att
Case Keenum 6.2 34.2 0.3 4.8% 5.5
Johnny Manziel 17.8 121.4 1.4 7.9% 6.8

Ok, you got me, Manziel is a better runner than Keenum.  That said, Keenum’s 5.5 YPC isn’t too shabby and his rush TD% is respectable.  It’s interesting to me to think that Manziel’s rushing prowess may actually diminish my thoughts about his passing efficiency.  If defenses are truly scared of Manziel’s legs and are playing to stop his rushing efforts, wouldn’t that create more favorable matchups in the secondary?  Just a thought.

The Overall Game

Keenum was more of a passer and Manziel was more of a runner, but overall, they both saw about the same number of total touches per game. And what did they do with those touches?

Player Games Touches/Gm Total Yds/Gm Yds/Touch
Case Keenum 6.5 59.1 424.6 7.2
Johnny Manziel 8.0 53.9 393.9 7.3

The numbers tell a story that Manziel and Keenum have performed similarly in Kevin Sumlin’s system.  Strikingly, they posted almost identical yards/touch numbers.  Despite the variations in run/pass balance, the bottom line is that the run/pass efficiency metrics look very similar.  Now, consider that they are almost the same size (6` tall, 210 lbs) and that they are both products of the Kevin Sumlin system.  Now, ask yourself this: why does the mainstream media (I’m looking at you, Mel Kiper) think that Johnny Manziel is a first round quarterback, but Case Keenum went undrafted?  It seems to me that we are being sold down the river on Johnny Manziel’s status as a high end prospect.  I’m not buying it.

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