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Starkey: Manziel would rock AFC North

| Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 10:39 p.m.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel looks to pass during the the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke on Dec. 31, 2013, in Atlanta.
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Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel looks to pass during the the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke on Dec. 31, 2013, in Atlanta.

If you're rooting for the Steelers to continue their domination of the Cleveland Browns — and I'm guessing you are — then you should hope the Browns steer clear of Johnny Manziel in this week's NFL draft.

If you want the Steelers-Browns rivalry resuscitated, then you should hope the latest Browns regime jumps all over Johnny Football — even if it has to move up from pick No. 4 to get him.

The kid's going to be a star. I'm betting his arrival would rock the AFC North and transform the Browns from nobodies to must-see television and quite possibly a contender.

Worst case, the perpetually boring Browns would be entertaining. Dangerous, even. They might learn to like living on the edge. It's a lot more fun than getting your brains beaten in with Bland-on Weeden.

Ben Roethlisberger, speaking to 93.7 FM on Tuesday, wondered if Manziel would hold up over the long haul. A legitimate concern. Roethlisberger said quarterbacks are made in years two, three and four. But he also said of Manziel, “He'll come into this league and probably be a star early.”

Other noteworthy observers have predicted big things for little Johnny. Jon Gruden has made the Steve Young comparison. Steve Young has made the Brett Favre comparison. Gil Brandt and Mike Mayock have Manziel pegged as the best quarterback available. Tony Dungy told KTCK in Dallas, “If I'm committed to winning, I'd take him.”

The Dallas News' Rick Gosselin, one of the country's finest draft chroniclers, made a Manziel comparison more apt than Favre or Young. He believes Manziel could be the next Fran Tarkenton, a prolific passer and scrambler who set the standard for undersized, improvosational quarterbacks.

My comparison is Doug Flutie, which might not seem flattering at first. The truth is that nobody in the NFL — or what was then a nerveless NFL — gave Flutie a real chance until the desperate Buffalo Bills put him on the field at age 36 in 1998.

Look what Flutie did: In parts of three years — well past his athletic prime — he went 21-9 with 45 touchdowns (30 interceptions) and a slew of memorable late-game moments.

Some guys just have that magic. Flutie did. Manziel does. There are legitimate questions about his height (a shade under 6 feet), his pocket presence and his propensity to take on defenders. But he's smart. He's strong-armed. And if he's shorter than Drew Brees or Russell Wilson, it's by a hair.

I'm guessing Manziel would figure out ways to win at this level.

I'm also guessing he'd strut into Cleveland and figure out how to utilize a fabulous receiver (Josh Gordon) and a stud tight end (Jordan Cameron). He'd have a built-in blindside protector in Joe Thomas.

Cleveland's new offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, gets blamed for hampering RGIII in Washington. I don't see it that way. Seemed to me Shanahan and his dad rewrote their playbook to fit RGIII's style and by doing so enabled him to become an immediate star. Then he got hurt.

Blame Washington for the way it handled RGIII's injury, maybe, but not for failing to adapt to his skills. Shanahan would seem an ideal fit for Manziel.

The Steelers are 26-5 against the Browns since Cleveland returned to the NFL, mostly because the Browns keep showing up with joke quarterbacks. They have mangled the most important position on the field, whether by making bad first-round picks (Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, old-man Weeden), signing broken-down retreads (Jake Delhomme, Trent Dilfer, Jeff Garcia) or failing to land potential franchise revivers such as Roethlisberger and RGIII.

Back in 2007, I wrote a column headlined “Browns won't win with (Brady) Quinn” and took all kinds of heat from Browns fans. But I also took Merril Hoge's prediction to heart when he told me, “It's not like you can debate it — he has accuracy issues. Cleveland made a big mistake.”

It's worth noting, then, that Hoge predicts Manziel will be a bust.

This time I disagree.

This will be the first real test for new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. Is he going to make this franchise matter again? There is talk of taking a linebacker. Or a lineman. Or a receiver. Maybe the Browns will amaze us and not just take a quarterback but the right one.

More likely, they'll show up at Heinz Field for the Sept. 7 opener with Brian Hoyer under center. And Vince Young backing him up.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at

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