Johnny Manziel is one of the most exciting college football players in recent memory. Like Tim Tebow before him, he's the kind of player you turn the TV on to watch play.
But also like Tebow, he comes to the NFL with serious questions about how his game will translate to the next level.
Last night, I had an email exchange with a good friend who was one of the first members on our site and who helped us test everything. Here's our discussion, unedited. I think it captures the issues facing Manziel as an NFL Draft prospect well, and I'll bet the same discussion is taking place in personnel departments around the NFL...
Me: btw, I’m starting to think my downgrade of Manziel from R1 to R2 might be an insufficient drop. I don’t see his skill set translating to the next level. Plus, you’ve got all the maturity red flags.
Dave: I'd be shocked if I even get to pass on Manziel, but i'll keep doing it as many times as I have to.
Me: Well, if you see him that way, what makes you think that the 32 NFL teams don’t see him that way, too?
The one thing I’ve learned since starting this crazy adventure is that you have to trust what you observe above what the masses are saying. Perfect example: last year, I stood next to EJ Manuel and a couple of other QBs watching a coach talk with them at Senior Bowl practice. He stood out. I can’t even tell you why; just something about him.
Yet, like a lemming, against everything my gut told me, I ranked Geno Smith higher. I’m never doing that again. I’d rather be wrong on my call than on everyone else’s. That same thing has happened many times over the years. Which is by no means to say I’m a scouting genius. I loved Christian Ponder, and had him projected to SF at #7 in 2011, five spots before he actually went to Min. That one isn’t looking great right now, and I’ve had a lot more Ponders than Manuels over the years.
Point being, I’m trusting myself, sink or swim, from here on out.
I have two problems with Manziel. Lesser one is all the stuff about him being arrogant, the fallout from the Peyton Manning QB camp, etc. Some kids mature, some don’t. Cam Newton scared me off with all of his nonsense, and I’m happy to have been wrong about him.
More significant is that I’m thinking of him more and more as the cursed (not “cursed,” but “curse-ED”) great college QB. The guy whose unbelievable college game – and his was – simply doesn’t translate to the NFL.
Pat Kirwan posted on CBSSports.com about this today. He was watching tape of the Alabama game, and he noted one play where Manziel gave up 21 yards before heaving it up, hoping something good would happen. When you have Mike Evans, that’s a sound strategy on the college level. In the NFL, that's getting picked off.
He relies on the appetizer of the broken play as his main course. Who has ever been successful doing that? NFL defenses should figure him out after a few games.
And if an NFL team designs an offense to fit his skill set, it will necessarily involve lots of running by Manziel. Haven’t we learned from RG3 that running simply must be a second (or fifth) option for NFL QBs. Especially a guy Manziel’s size (I shudder at the memory of the diminutive Dolphins wildcat QB Pat White getting knocked senseless by Steelers CB Ike Brown as he went out of bounds.
This ain’t easy, is it?
Dave: I can only think of one scenario where he succeeds, and Russell Wilson already occupies that throne. Seahawks could take on the whole Manziel package, but, hopefully anyway, aren't looking Johnny Football's way.
He needs that though. Where his attitude can play, with a run-heavy approach (with him being the third run look) and a deep enough WR corps to be able to find an option on most plays.
As you say, he only has so many NFL hits in him. Can't go using them all up in one year.
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As an amateur (but passionate) scout/GM, I have always tended to be skeptical about prospects. Philosophically, I'd rather miss on a player who ends up being successful than draft a bust. I'd rather miss on Russell Wilson than draft JaMarcus Russell.
So I'm officially bearish on Johnny Manziel. Hope I'm wrong, because I'd love to see more of his game on Sundays.
One thing's for sure: Manziel is your classic polarizing NFL Draft prospect. What do you think of him?