As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.
College: Texas A&M
Hands: 9 3/4”
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.68
Vertical Jump: 31 1/2”
Broad Jump: 9’ 5”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.03
Background (College Stats)
After redshirting in 2011, Manziel reportedly considered transferring in the wake of a potential suspension for an off-field brawl. He stayed at College Station, somewhat surprisingly won the starting job following Ryan Tannehill’s departure to the NFL and made the SEC – annually the most competitive conference in college football – look silly for most of the next two seasons. Manziel’s star really began to shine in 2012 moments after he guided Texas A&M to a 29-24 win over Alabama, a game in which he accounted for 345 of his team’s 418 yards and played an instrumental role in handing the eventual national champion Crimson Tide their only loss. Given his performance in that game and the sheer number of school, conference and NCAA records he set along the way that season, voters seemingly had no choice but to make him the first-ever freshman to receive the Heisman Trophy. Manziel’s follow-up sophomore seemed disappointing if only because his Aggies finished with four losses – thanks in large part to a dreadful defense – and the unrealistic expectations placed upon him from the video-game numbers he posted as a freshman. To that end, he wrapped up his college career with an incredible performance (455 total yards and five touchdowns) in a 52-48 comeback win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Of course, no discussion of the A&M star is complete without noting his off-field behavior, which ranged from being at the wrong place at the wrong time (his June 2012 arrest for failure to identify) to an “inadvertent violation” of NCAA rules (the autograph incident in which the NCAA found no proof that he accepted money) to the somewhat irresponsible (reportedly oversleeping when he was one of the counselors at the Manning Passing Academy).
NFL Player Comp(s): Doug Flutie/Fran Tarkenton
- Uncanny ability to escape trouble, make something out of nothing and extend plays; at his best, he will make defenses cover the entire field.
- Improvisational skills, elusiveness in the open field and ability to throw on the run or against his body are top-notch.
- Seems to possess a sixth sense of sorts; has an almost innate ability to feel pressure and enough lower-body strength to get out of the grasp of defensive linemen and/or linebackers.
- Has huge hands for player of his size to effectively pump-fake; possesses plenty of arm strength to throw down the field and complete the deep out to the opposite hash/sideline.
- Ultra-competitiveness shows in his play – he repeatedly displayed the ability to rally his teammates in difficult circumstances.
- Plays with a chip on his shoulder and performs well on the “big stage”.
- Confidence in his ability should play well with supporting cast in crunch time (former teammates rave about playing with him); figures to be lethal in the two-minute drill.
- Can throw from a variety of platforms and arm angles.
- Reckless with the ball, both as a runner and a passer; carries the ball with one hand away from body while running and throws too many balls up for grabs.
- Too many instances of throwing off-balance or off his back foot, which is likely a by-product of the confidence he has in his ability to make something happen on just about every play.
- Has not been asked to work through progressions consistently and, as a result, often gives up on pass plays too quickly; needs to learn a throw out-of-bounds is sometimes the smartest play he can make.
- Does not do a consistently good enough job of protecting his body when he decides to become a runner.
- Stares down receivers too often.
- Has a tendency to throw behind his receivers on short routes and does not deliver a consistent spiral.
- Will inexplicably change his arm angle, particularly on intermediate throws.
Manziel can be a very successful quarterback in the NFL, but much will depend on the flexibility and creativity of the team that drafts him. If a team selects with the hope that he will be a timing-and-rhythm-based quarterback no later than 2015 or 2016, then the chances are great that he will fail miserably. In fact, the odds that he’ll ever be a “normal” drop-back passer at any point in his career are fairly slim. Whereas most teams want their signal-callers to be quick-minded distributors, the organization that drafts Manziel must understand – at least initially – that his receivers and tight ends could often serve as window dressing for its new quarterback on any number of pass plays. The former Heisman winner has a strong-enough arm as well as the competitiveness and scrambling ability to be a big-time star in the NFL, but how many of today’s coaches will tolerate the number of times he loses 15 yards on a wild scramble versus the number of times he blindly throws the ball up for grabs versus the number of times he creates a big play due to his elusiveness or ability to improvise? Teams must be willing to take the (sometimes very) bad with the (sometimes very) good his unique talent will allow him to create. While Manziel’s ceiling is incredibly high, his floor is equally low. In short, he will not be an average player in the NFL; he is the embodiment of a boom-or-bust pick. Manziel is a player that should scare all 32 teams (the one that drafts him and must deal with his unpredictability as well as the 31 other teams that will be forced to defend such an unorthodox quarterback). While his lack of ideal size will likely draw the most criticism throughout the rest of the draft process, teams should be far more concerned with the likelihood that his reckless style will lead to a relatively short and/or injury-plagued NFL career.