The Armchair Quarterback's Guide To The NFL: Johnny Manziel

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Aug 31, 2013; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) celebrates throwing his first touchdown of the season against the Rice Owls during the third quarter at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

The Armchair Quarterback’s Take Of The Week

Johnny Football Is Worth The Risk For Any Team Needing A QB

There is no more polarizing figure in football than Johnny Manziel. “Johnny Football” appears to have picked up the media torch left behind by Tim Tebow when the NFL finally caught on to the fact that he couldn’t actually play. Now, ESPN and all the other sports media outlets have found someone new to overexpose the masses to. No draft prospect has been discussed or over analyzed more, not even Jadeveon (He’s lazy! / No, he’s the next LT!) Clowney.

It seems everyone and their mother has an opinion.

“He’s too small!”

“He’s a winner!”

“He’s a distraction!”

“He’s got IT!”

Depending on who you choose to listen to, Manziel is either going to be the next Tim Tebow, Michael Vick, Jeff Garcia, or Fran Tarkenton. To make matters worse, “Johnny Football” has only added to this over exposure. There was autograph-gate, the “show me the money” touchdown celebrations, trademarking every possible name/phrase that could be slapped on a t-shirt, hobnobbing in commercials with LeBron James, and the over the top pro day complete with custom outfit that was then immediately for sale to the public.

I’m sick of him.

You’re sick of him.

The guy hasn’t even taken a snap in the NFL and he’s already one of the most over exposed players in the league. So that’s why every general manager should just take him off their draft board and look elsewhere, right? I mean, he’s just not worth the headache, right? He’s all hype and no substance . . . right?

In the words of the immortal Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friends!”

While there have been many players in the history of the league who’s value was over inflated by media hype, I actually think Manziel may be starting to slide the other direction. People are so tired of the “Johnny Football” hype machine that some have begun to dismiss his abilities. It’s almost as if the fact that the media is obsessing over him somehow means he HAS to fail, like no player that has ever been hyped by the media has ever panned out.

Could Manziel fail? Sure, any player could, but if he fails it won’t be because the public was tired of hearing about him.

I actually believe you can make a much stronger case for why he will succeed than why he’ll fail. First off, I think one of the reasons that many quarterbacks taken at the top of the draft fail is because they simply can’t handle the pressure and spotlight that come along with being a first round draft pick. While nothing is certain, it is safe to say that the spotlight doesn’t bother Manziel. In fact, he relishes it. He’s drawn to it.

As a Chiefs fan, I suffered through the Herm Edwards era. While I’ve blocked out most of that period of Chiefs history, there was one thing Edwards said that I always remember at draft season. He said that he liked to draft players that came in and started right away as college freshman because it showed that the game wasn’t too big for them. They could handle the challenge of a major jump in competition and they weren’t intimidated by it. Not only did Manziel come in and start as a freshman, he won the Heisman Trophy. Not only did he win the Heisman Trophy, he did it playing in the SEC against the absolute best defenses in college football.

The stage won’t be too big for him. He won’t crumble under the pressure.

Another reason many quarterbacks that are high draft picks struggle is because the teams that draft them don’t have a supporting cast in place to set them up for success. I think this year the teams that may be drafting a QB early on actually have some pieces in place to help them out. The Texans were considered a Super Bowl contender a year ago and have a solid running game and defense in place.

The Browns actually have a really solid young roster that just needs a QB to lead it. The Vikings have the best running back in the NFL and an explosive young WR. The Jaguars took a positive step forward last season (despite QB woes) and their defense should be even better next season. They need more play makers on offense, but this is a good draft to add WRs in the mid rounds.

The Raiders now have several veteran players on their roster that could provide some leadership and stability for a young QB.

So there are actually several possible destinations for Manziel where I think he could find some success right away. I especially like how he would fit in with Houston, Cleveland, and Minnesota.

Then there is the most obvious reason for QB failure in the NFL, they just aren’t good enough. This is where things get much more difficult to discuss with any certainty. I believe Manziel has the abilities needed to succeed in the NFL, but I’m sure some of you reading this don’t agree. It’s not an argument either of us can “win” until he actually takes the field and plays games in the NFL.

I’m no professional scout (hence the “Armchair Quarterback” name for this column). I have watched and studied a lot of football and a lot of football prospects. So here’s my short Armchair Quarterback scouting report on Manziel. He has a strong enough arm to make the necessary NFL throws. He can throw the deep ball, but he needs to put his whole body into it so if a team can’t give him the time/protection needed he may not be able to get those deep throws off.

He does have enough arm strength to get the ball outside the hashes on out throws before the DB can close on the WR. That’s the real test for NFL caliber arm strength in my opinion. While he gets in trouble with his Favre-ian “gunslinger” throws, that same fearless playmaker attitude is also what has enabled him to make some amazing comebacks.

You hear a lot about how his small stature for a “running QB” will lead to injuries in the NFL. While that thought process is valid, Manziel already showed an awareness of this issue in his Sophomore season. As a Freshman, he rushed for over 1,400 yards and 21 touchdowns, but as a redshirt sophomore those numbers dropped to about 750 yards and 9 touchdowns. Manziel made a conscious effort to be more of a throw first QB and when running he was quicker to step out of bounds or slide to avoid contact.

That will be key to him holding up in the NFL and the fact that Manziel showed an understanding of that while still in college shows that he is ahead of QBs like Michael Vick and RGIII in that regard because they both came into the NFL still trying to make plays with their legs on a regular basis.

The real advantage that Manziel’s athleticism gives him is the ability to escape when things break down. He has as good of a sixth sense when things are closing in as any college player I’ve seen. I’ve read three different scouting reports that used the actual phrase “eyes in the back of his head” when trying to describe his ability to see pressure coming and find a way to extend the play. The biggest improvement he made in his second season was in keeping his eyes down field while scrambling and finding open WRs instead of running it himself.

You may be tired of hearing about “Johnny Football”. You may not like the off the field choices he’s made. The bottom line is that he wins. He makes plays. He’s accurate. He shines when the bright lights are on. He’s incredibly smart and despite what his critics would have you believe, he has always been completely diligent in preparing for games every week.

A team needing a starting QB would be foolish to pass that up. The fear of media over-exposure is not a reason to take a player off your draft board. If Manziel does prove to be a winner at the NFL level that media attention will quickly turn into a major plus. No owner will be complaining when the stands are full of fans wearing “Johnny Football” jerseys.

Plus, given the new rookie wage scale, if Manziel did bust (which I don’t think he will) it’s not the franchise deathblow that missing on a first round QB used to be. With the new salary structure I would argue that the benefit of hitting on a franchise QB greatly outweighs the potential pitfalls of missing on one.

Johnny Manziel may not be my favorite person in the 2014 NFL draft, but you know what I hate infinitely more than the Manziel media blitz?……my favorite team losing. If Manziel could help my team win I’d quickly get on the bandwagon. If I’m being honest, if Johnny Manziel came in and lead my beloved Chiefs to wins over Peyton Manning and the Broncos I’d probably be dancing around my living room doing the “show me the money” celebration at the TV as they showed camera shots of an upset Manning on the sideline. That excitement is exactly what the fans of one NFL team will have this fall when he takes the field for their team. The only question is how many teams will be kicking themselves for passing him bye?

Now onto the Armchair Quarterback’s Odds and Ends of the Week……….

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  • SmartThinking

    Yeah. Manziel’s all those negatives you listed. Plus, his ego rivals big Jones’ without the dollar signs … yet. But, as much as I hate to give credit to the kid, he’s also one more thing … a bonafide winner!