Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston isn’t eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft. As a redshirt freshman only two years removed from high school, that’d be against the rules.
Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel is eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft. In name, Manziel is only a sophomore, but, having exercised a redshirt year (like Winston), the defending Heisman Trophy winner is now three years out of high school and would be eligible to pursue the NFL at the end of the season, should he so choose.
However, rules, no matter how asinine, can’t protect you from a bored columnist transfixed on a hypothetical world–one where such rules weren’t in place to hamstring conversation regarding which of the two leading Heisman candidates in college football right now (sorry, Bryce Petty) is a better NFL prospect. And, despite the fact this argument for argument’s sake may take years to draw any definite conclusions, it’s still an interesting conversation to have for several reasons.
For one, the rule itself, which was designed to protect players who aren’t physically and mentally mature enough for the druthers of life in the NFL, has come under recent scrutiny. Last year, Jadeveon Clowney would have almost certainly been the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft had he been eligible.
A physical freakshow, Clowney arrived at South Carolina from Rock Hill with an NFL-ready body, and considering that his initial role with any NFL roster would have been to line up at the edge of the line of scrimmage and go and get the quarterback, it’s hard to make an argument that he wasn’t mentally prepared either.
Granted, given the way he’s handled the spotlight this year at South Carolina, you could probably question how he’d handle the money and fame that come with No. 1 overall, but who are we to dictate how and when people are ready to experience wealth in any regard?
Jameis Winston is a goofy teenager, who routinely jokes with reporters, teammates, coaches, opponents and anybody else within earshot, as evidenced by this story due out in ESPN the Magazine’s Nov. 25 issue. In that sense, Winston is about as far away from ready for the “no-nonsense” NFL as anybody.
Johnny Manziel was the Heisman Trophy-winning party-boy a season ago, and multiple outlets reported sources within the NFL scouting ranks that stated they were so concerned with his off-the-field behavior that they wouldn’t have taken him in the NFL Draft.
However, that being said, if somebody is willing to take either Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston, regardless of how many years removed from high school they are, they SHOULD be eligible to do exactly that, provided either of the two college stars wished to declare. That’s one reason that gives an otherwise pointless hypothetical conversation some weight.
If I’m looking at Johnny Manziel, who could be anywhere from a third round draft pick to a Top 10 caliber prospect, depending on who you listen to, and then I look at Jameis Winston and I think he’s a better football player and he’s ready to test his merits in the NFL, who’s to say that I shouldn’t be able to pick Winston.
Winston might be a goofball, but he’s got the prototypical size, the arm strength and the athleticism that you build franchises around. Even if you put stock into his boyishness and an alleged off-the-field incident (one we won’t discuss at length here due to the tenuous nature of that investigation as a whole), it’s impossible to deny the game-changing talent this gregarious young man has.
Jameis Winston could very well be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, were he declared eligible.
Meanwhile, Johnny Manziel is fighting another battle in regards to his standings as an NFL prospect entirely. Manziel is eligible now, so there’s nothing to stop an NFL team from taking a shot on this uber-talented young playmaker. However, there are legitimate concerns over whether or not he’s thick-skinned enough to handle life in the National Football League.
ESPN’s Wright Thompson painted a picture this offseason of a kid on the verge of mental breakdown, and while Johnny Football has responded with an even better season (so far) in 2013 than he had in his Heisman Campaign, folks still wonder if he’ll ever be able to survive under the microscope of the NFL media, given the way he’s handled the SEC and Texas A&M’s media.
Then, there’s also concerns with how Manziel’s game translates to the next level. He’s undersized, and for as electrifying of a playmaker as he is, people question whether or not he has the arm strength to make every throw on the route tree against bigger, faster defenders in the NFL.
Needless to say, I think most would say that Jameis Winston is a much better NFL prospect than Johnny Manziel. The younger Winston has the measurables, he now has the game-tape to reinforce the hype and he’s got a locker room full of older, more experienced players at FSU unquestionably naming him the official leader of the nation’s second highest-rated football team.
And he is doing all this with the sort of charisma on the field and in the dressing room that makes Cam Newton (college’s last great physically-dominant, million-dollar smile quarterback) look about as personable as Philip Rivers.
Both may eventually make great pros, but Johnny Manziel certainly comes with more risk, leading me to believe that Jameis Winston is the guy I’d build my franchise around. It’s just a shame we won’t get to see him in an NFL uniform til 2015 at the earliest, although I’m sure you won’t hear any FSU fans complaining.