As Johnny Manziel’s pro day approaches on Mar. 27, sports fans and critics alike anxiously await another date that looms a little farther in the near future; Thursday May 8 and the start of the NFL draft, a day that promises to be must-see TV for no bigger reason than Johnny Manziel.
Manziel has been the most polarizing amateur athlete in recent times, if not ever. His penchant for drama on the field is rivaled only by the theatre that surrounds him off of it. His 2012 arrest for possessing a fake I.D., the autograph-signing controversy, the gamesmanship and all the cockiness have made Johnny Football a larger than life commodity. Manziel’s skill set, however, might just minimize all the baggage he comes with.
At last month’s NFL combine, Manziel performed about as expected. Everyone thought the former Heisman Trophy winner would run well and he ran a respectable, 4.68, but he didn’t drop any jaws like Robert Griffin III did when he posted a time of 4.41 in the 2012 combine, which is absolutely blazing for a quarterback. But the former Texas A&M star’s elusiveness in the pocket is his calling card and it’s always been much more about lateral quickness and agility than straight-line speed.
Manziel’s lack of size has invited the most criticism. At 6-0 and 215 pounds, Manziel came in far short of the prototypical size that’s generally sought after in an NFL quarterback these days, legitimizing concerns about his ability to withstand the punishment he would surely face at the professional level. But his penchant for improvisation could trump his small stature and promise that Johnny Manziel is must-see TV this season. His rare blend of quickness and creativity meant he was able to escape the big hit, at least at the collegiate level.
Manziel’s affinity for abandoning the pocket has also become a talking point. At A&M, rather than stand tall between the tackles and go through his progressions, Manziel was much more likely to start scrambling at the first sight of a blitzing defender. With today’s read-option offenses, however, the NFL is a more welcoming place for the mobile quarterback. In fact, mobility at the position is more attractive than ever. The recent success of Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin the III are proof positive that an athletic quarterback with running ability just offers another dimension that with today’s bigger, faster lineman is a welcomed addition.
NFL experts are as divided as the public when it comes to predicting what will come of Johnny Football. Former University of Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer said that despite his off-the field “embarrassments,” Manziel is the most dynamic quarterback he’s ever seen. Former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who played 18 seasons in the NFL and led the Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances, called Manziel a “quarterback savant.” But former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski was far less complimentary, saying that after studying tape on Manziel he “wouldn’t take him in the first three rounds.”
Whatever the popular opinion about Manziel’s future, he’s more an unknown at this stage of the draft process than anything else, a gamble at perhaps the highest level. If anything at all is certain at this point, however, it’s that Johnny Football promises to be must-see TV.
Opinion By Rick Sarlat