Leading up to the NFL draft on May 8-10, Shutdown Corner will examine some of the most interesting prospects in the class, breaking down their strengths and weaknesses.
5-foot-11-3/4, 207 pounds
2013 stats: 300-of-429 (69.9 percent), 4,114 yards, 37 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 144 rushing attempts, 759 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns
40-yard dash: 4.68 seconds at pro day (official time at combine)
The good: I like Johnny Football, and think he's going to be an excellent NFL quarterback.
It has to be one or the other, right? You can't ride the fence on Manziel. Either you're Camp Johnny or a Johnny Hater, who thinks the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy is going to be a colossal NFL flop. No in-between.
Here's why I'm in Camp Johnny: If he was 6-5 he'd be one of the most can't-miss draft prospects in recent years. And Russell Wilson and Drew Brees have shown that quarterbacks of Manziel's size can make it in the NFL, so what's holding him back? Manziel has a fantastic arm, can throw on the move, put up incredible numbers against the NFL's junior varsity known as the SEC, is a great athlete and has a tremendous feel for the game. He's also tremendously competitive and, despite the sideshow around his off-field activities, has shown the desire to get better. What struck me about Manziel was when I watched him put up 516 yards at the Cotton Bowl was he was playing on a different level than everyone else on the field that day. Whatever he wanted to do, he could do. You don't see that very often on the major college or pro level. And while that Oklahoma defense wasn't anything Sooners fans want to remember, it's not like Oklahoma doesn't have top-flight athletes. Manziel just made them all look two steps slow. It was phenomenal.
College success doesn't always translate to the NFL, of course. But there's nothing in his skill set that indicates he can't be an impact player on the next level.
The bad: He's short. That's where this conversation has to start. Manziel measured 5-foot-11-3/4 inches at the combine, and 207 pounds. Michael Vick and Rex Grossman are the only quarterbacks in the modern era to be drafted in the first round at 6-1 or shorter, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Manziel would be the shortest, a record held by Vick at exactly 6-0. There are reasons the NFL prefers tall quarterbacks, and players like Brees, Wilson and Vick are exceptions. There's the concern that Manziel won't be durable enough in the NFL, and that's valid considering his playing style. He'll have to be smarter in the NFL with his running if he wants to survive. There's also the worry if he can transition from relying on his scrambling to operate as a pocket passer, which all NFL quarterbacks have to do if they want to succeed.
The other criticisms of Manziel typically center around the attention he has gotten off the field. He had one incident before his redshirt freshman season in which he got into a fight and giving a fake ID to police. That's not ideal but in the grand scheme of things, it's fairly minor. The rest has basically been about Manziel posting photos of himself seemingly drinking champagne in a club before he was 21 or flashing a stack of cash at a casino, or sitting courtside at basketball games and hanging out with Drake or LeBron James. Is any of that stuff really that bad? It seems to be more of a modern-day mania of the 24/7 news cycle than a character issue. ESPN's in-depth profile of Manziel revealed he saw an alcohol counselor during the 2012 season, and that's something teams have surely asked him about. Aside from an autograph-selling hullabaloo last year that NFL teams don't care about, Manziel hasn't done much off the field to make any headlines since last summer. But, people will point to Bill Parcells' old comment about not wanting a "celebrity quarterback" and make no mistake, Manziel is as much a celebrity as almost anyone already playing in the NFL. He has shown he's willing to work on his game, most notably with quarterback guru George Whitfield and also speed coach Ryan Flaherty before running a great 40-yard dash at the combine, but there will be questions about if he's willing to dedicate himself to being great.
The verdict: Has there been another draft prospect quite like Manziel? The gap of opinions on his NFL future are wider than anyone before him. For every analyst you find who thinks he'll be a star, you'll find another that doesn't think he deserves to be anywhere near the first round. He's obviously turned some off with his act, but there are legitimate reasons he might fail other than the nonsense over him sitting front row of a Heat game. Maybe he is too short to be a franchise quarterback, and his desire to tuck the ball and run won't work in the NFL. Perhaps the spread offense he played in at Texas A&M won't prepare him for what he faces in the pros. But I'd be willing to gamble on him transitioning from one of the best college quarterbacks ever to a very good NFL quarterback. I don't think he should go any later than No. 2 to St. Louis. The same reasons he was great in college are the ones that will make him a very good and exciting pro, health willing.
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