For one to have never heard of Johnny Manziel it would require having lived inside a subterranean cave somewhere in Eastern Oman for the past two years. Now the Texas A&M quarterback may have never slung a pigskin in Muscat, but he did plenty of damage to opposing SEC defenses while quarterbacking at College Station. The first ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Manziel set the football world ablaze on the field with stellar play-making ability, as well as off of it, evidenced by his exploits on the celebrity news site TMZ. The man they now call Johnny Football exploded into a super-stardom of Tim Tebow-like proportions, possibly even beyond. And that, among other reasons, is why Johnny Manziel presents a draft day dilemma for many NFL franchises.
Manziel, fresh off a pro day performance that had former MVP quarterback Kurt Warner gushing, proved to the naysayers that he can make all the throws. What Warner seemed to appreciate most was Manziel’s ability to throw on the move, explaining how “20 of the starting quarterbacks (in the NFL) can’t do those things.” By the end of the workout, the All-American quarterback had completed 61 out of 64 throws during the passing segment. Even though it is scripted, the pro day can often provide a more accurate depiction of a player’s throwing ability than the Scouting Combine due to familiarity with the receivers on hand. After all, an NFL quarterback will not throw to complete strangers every week, they will go through many repetitions and build rapport with the receivers on the roster. And just in case the number of completions was not enough, the Aggies’ star performed in full shoulder pads and helmet, leaving no doubts about him connecting on those throws in a game situation.
But nobody questions Manziel’s level of athleticism, or his desire to compete. He has showcased his immense talent and his ability to lead a team on multiple occasions. Instead, the real quandary lies in whether or not he can fit into the pro game. Whether or not he can handle the pressure on and off the field, and whether his smallish frame can hold up from the pounding he may take from his improvisational style of play, is of question. Essentially, NFL teams are wondering whether he is the next Russell Wilson, a quarterback who can lead an offense and successfully improvise within the offensive system, or the next Michael Vick, a player that often turns game day into a head-to-head out on the sandlot.
Now, that is not to take away from Vick’s abilities as both a quarterback and a superstar in the NFL. He has always been an exciting player, and granted he has never had the luxury of a defense quite like Wilson currently has with the Seahawks, but all circumstances aside, Vick has never been to the Super Bowl, and he has only made it through a full NFL season once in his career. He is as dynamic a quarterback as the NFL has ever seen, but his smallish frame combined with his playing style has led to many injuries that have cost his teams dearly in the past. With Johnny Football sustaining several injuries this past season–though, none forced him to miss significant time–it has some team executives pondering whether he is destined for a similar fate. In pro football today, so often the fortunes of a franchise depend on getting the draft right, and with so much talent, yet so many uncertainties surrounding Manziel, he presents a draft day dilemma for teams on the clock.
However, for every comparison that can be drawn between Vick and the A&M star, there are just as many differences. Manziel is a much more accomplished passer as evidenced by an incredible 7,820 yards and 63 touchdowns through the air in just two collegiate seasons, whereas Vick was more comfortable doing damage with his legs in his early career. Some might say that the Aggie quarterback’s numbers are inflated due to playing in Head Coach Kevin Sumlin’s spread offense, but Manziel was able to showcase superstar performances on two such occasions against Alabama, a team that fields an abundance of NFL talent on the defensive side of the ball. He has also shown a propensity to come up big when the game is on the line, scouts call that the ‘it’ factor. It is that indefinable ability some athletes have to shine in the most opportune moments on the big stage. Every team is looking for that in their quarterback, and one franchise will hope to find it in Manziel.
However, the question each and every interested franchise must first answer is ‘are we prepared for the publicity that comes with selecting the star of the draft, and can we survive if he does not pan out?’ Because this is the high profile type of player that either ignites a team into stardom, or eventually breaks them to pieces. There is no halfway, it is all in or nothing, especially if he is selected in the first round. The Falcons chose to go all in on dynamic Michael Vick back in 2001, and though he had some stellar performances, it did not quite work out they way they envisioned. If a team with quarterback needs is on the clock and the star from Texas A&M is still there, will they go ahead and pull the trigger, or will Johnny Manziel present a draft day dilemma?
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky