Johnny Manziel is among the most entertaining, and to some controversial, quarterbacks to ever play in the modern BCS era. In his freshman season at Texas A&M, he was named starting quarterback and ended the year with 3,706 passing yards and 47 total TD's, on his way towards becoming the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
In his second season at College Station, Manziel was yet again one of the most talked about players in college football. But not now as just a college football quarterback, but as an NFL quarterback prospect. Manziel will likely be one of the most talked about prospects in the entire draft, on both the media and league scale. He is a unique evaluation, because there are simply not many quarterback prospects like him. He made huge strides as a passer in 2013 compared to 2012, but just how huge?
Where Johnny Manziel Wins
Thriving in chaos: It is what makes Johnny Manziel what he is. He is a unique athlete, in and outside of the pocket. He thrives on broken plays with free rushers, with upper echelon escapability and spatial awareness and instincts that are rarely found in quarterbacks.
He does not have RG3 type speed but he is an above average athlete for the position who is able to gain as many yards as he does outside the pocket because of how smart of a runner he is. He can find small creases in defenses, whether running past the line of scrimmage or evading rushers in the pocket, and sets up defenders well enough to where he can gain as many yards as possible.
Whenever leaving the confines of the pocket from the edge, he is a smart runner who knows his limitations as he almost always heads for the sidelines. He single handedly causes almost every defense he played to keep their best athletes in prevent defense instead of attempting to penetrate the line of scrimmage, making his offensive line's job easier and opening up the game plan.
Manziel is obviously a mobile quarterback, so rationally he has an itch to leave the pocket and make plays on his own. But I think in 2013 he reined himself in some and used his mobility to open up the passing game more. A&M's wide receivers had a lot of trouble gaining separation in 2013 on a consistent basis, but Manziel helped make up for that deficiency quite a bit. When his mental timer went off, he was able to flush to the outside of the pocket too extend the play, but instead of tucking it and running, he showed the ability to keep his eyes upfield while on the move with defenders in pursuit, the ability to work to multiple reads outside the pocket, and most importantly the ability to deliver and accurate strike to all levels of the field while outside the pocket. Manziel helped his skill players make plays that they simply could not make on their own, showing the ability to elevate the talent around him.
While Manziel gets a lot of credit for his running ability (and rightfully so) he is a very capable passer, which is obviously more crucial to his NFL success. He does not have a cannon for an arm, but his arm strength passes the "threshold" for an NFL quarterback by a good bit, and he displays good velocity to the intermediate and boundary portions of the field, plus the ability to fit the ball in tight passing windows.
His ball placement as a whole is very, very good (when his mechanics are right). He can lead receivers in stride across the middle or display downfield touch and accuracy. He has the placement and arm strength to threaten defenses on every level of the field. Manziel is also not afraid to test single high coverages or give his receivers a chance to win 50/50 passes.
Where Johnny Manziel Needs to Improve
Composure and discipline inside the pocket: Too many times, Manziel will get impatient in the pocket waiting for the play to develop, and he will leave clean pockets to scramble when he has open reads. He can sometimes get flustered before pressure actually approaches and needs to learn how to work better in the pocket with bodies around him. While he has a good feel for edge pressure, too many times he will drop his eyes to interior pressure and get himself in more trouble. He needs to rein himself in from leaving clean pockets so early, and prove that he can in fact win from the pocket.
Lower body mechanics: Manziel's mechanics were extremely inconsistent throughout the course of the season, specifically in his lower body. He struggles stepping into his throws and driving on a consistent basis, many times flying open his hips instead of staying square to the
Line of scrimmage: This forces him to throw passes with only his arm, limiting both his accuracy and velocity. He also had a habit of throwing from off balance platforms and off his back foot, which are bad habits he will need to have worked out.
Taking the small play: Manziel has created a large abundance of "explosive plays" (plays over 20 yards) in his career, and his big play mindset is clear when he goes through his progressions. Too many times, however, he will completely avoid the checkdown, or underneath read, in hopes of creating a bigger play. This occasionally led to poor decisions, such as throws into double, or even triple, coverage. He needs to learn to take what you can get and the big plays will come with patience.
I came away much more impressed with Manziel than I anticipated I would be. The concerns on him are obvious: He has a unique style that is not a lock to translate to the NFL. He has a thin frame that makes him subject to large hits and durability concerns, and he has less than prototypical height. And the biggest question of them all, can he consistently win from the pocket as an NFL quarterback?
I think he has flashed the ability to do so a number of times, but he needs to take the next step and do more than "flash". He has the instincts, arm, accuracy, and athleticism, to thrive in the always adapting NFL, but he will need to rein himself in more and become more disciplined in most aspects of the position. Overall, I think he is an NFL caliber quarterback, with a high ceiling, but understandably questionable floor.
In short, I understand the risks on Manziel, but consider me a fan.
Grade: 7.50 - Day one pick
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