Posted April 22, 2014

The SI 64, No. 13: QB Johnny Manziel

NFL Draft, NFL draft 2014, The SI 64
2014 NFL draft top 64, No. 13: Quarterback Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Johnny Manziel brings some special — and scary — attributes to the table. (Robert Seale/SI)

With the 2014 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that, as well. And to that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.

The SI 64 — which can be found in its entirety here — uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and why they’re slotted as such. Holding the 13th spot in our rankings is the quarterback who, for all kinds of reasons, may define this draft when all is said and done.

MORE: 2014 NFL Mock Draft | Top QBs | Top WRs | SI64: Our definitive Big Board

Bio: Johnny Manziel has produced more noise, both positive and negative, than any collegiate prospect since Tim Tebow flew out of Florida in 2010. The point at which it all got away from him may have been when ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, one of the better-educated and well-respected people in the business, famously said that he wouldn’t take Manziel in the first three rounds of the draft, based on Jaworski’s own preferences for quarterbacks who play within the pocket and within structure. This created its own news cycle, of course, and now that Jaws has seen more Manziel tape, he’s backed off his stance and pushed Johnny Football up his board.

Jon Gruden, another current ESPN analyst who crunches a great deal of tape, had a more positive opinion after sitting down with Manziel for his QB Camp series.

“I had more fun with Manziel than I did most guys,” Gruden told USA Today‘s Jim Corbett. “I’d love to have him. It takes courage to pull the ball down and reverse field and do some of the crazy things that Favre and Manziel do. There’s going to be consequences when sometimes it doesn’t work out. But it takes a tremendous amount of guts and courage to go make a play when there’s nothing there instead of throwing the ball away.”

And that’s Manziel in a nutshell. He will make plays other quarterbacks simply won’t, and will try to make plays no quarterback should, and alternately inspire and frustrate in equal measures. But here’s one thing to be sure: Nobody completes 68.9 percent of his passes for 7,820 yards, 63 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, adding 2,169 rushing yards and 30 rushing touchdowns, without something on the ball. The question is, of course, how will this all transfer to the (cue Jaworski voice): “National. Football. League?”

Strengths: With all the folderol about his on-field escapades and off-field persona, it’s quite possible that Manziel is still wildly underrated as a pure quarterback — but he has all the tools to succeed at any level. First, he’s not a run-around guy. He looks to pass first on designed pass plays, even when he’s flushed out of the pocket. He’s very light on his feet in the pocket, and when he has to run, he’s incredibly good at resetting and driving the ball downfield. Has an unusual feel for throwing accurately out of weird positions, which is both a positive and negative. When he drives the ball, he can make any throw from the deep fade to the skinny post to all manner of short and intermediate timing throws. Has a plus-arm, though it’s not a Howitzer, and he’s learned to put air under the ball to help receivers with their timing. He’s a master at extending plays beyond their logical conclusions and directing receivers along the way. Has an innate sense of how to create holes in pass coverage with motion and redirection, and he’s coming into the NFL at a time when this attribute is far more prized than it used to be.

Manziel isn’t just a scrambler, he’s an outstanding pure runner — when he calls his own number on draws, he gets up to speed quickly, reads gaps patiently and has an extra gear in the open field. He’s very quick to set and throw — once he makes his decision to throw, there’s very little delay or wasted motion. Can make deep, accurate throws across his body, even when on the run. In general, he’s a rare thrower when under duress.

Manziel showed specific and impressive improvements at his pro day, which proved that he’s been working hard in the offseason, and taking what performance coaches George Whitfield and Kevin O’Connell are teaching him very seriously. Clearly has the desire to improve, and seems to have an inherent chip on his shoulder when doubted. Despite all the talk about his personality, Manziel appears to be a born on-field leader who can rally his teammates. With words and actions, he seems to inspire belief.

Weaknesses: Manziel’s greatest strength is absolutely tied to his biggest weakness. His improvisational ability, while as impressive as any I’ve seen in a collegiate quarterback, has allowed him to get away with random and unrepeatable plays that won’t have the same shelf life in the NFL. Part of the problem is that he isn’t consistent with his mechanics — when he drives through the throw with his body, he’s as good a passer as there is in this draft class. But there are other times when he’ll miss wildly because he’s throwing off his back foot or off both feet, which limits how much torque he can generate. And though he can go through multiple reads at times, he’ll have to do that more at the NFL level. Right now, there’s a sandlot quality to his field vision that produces compelling results at times, but isn’t sustainable against more complex concepts. At times, his deeper throws hang in the air, which could lead to more picks in the NFL.

Played almost exclusively in shotgun and pistol formations at A&M, and though he displayed an ease with dropping back when playing under center, the NFL team that takes him as a dropback guy would have to cross its fingers at first. Being away from the center gives him a timing edge at the snap and helps him see the field.

Tends to arch back when he throws longer passes with arc — not necessarily a problem, but it’s unusual. It may be an adaptive strategy to counter the issue related to his height; at just under 6-feet tall, Manziel has to work his game in the same ways everyone from Fran Tarkenton to Drew Brees to Russell Wilson has. There are simply some throws he will not be able to make in the pocket because he can’t see what’s happening until he either creates line splits by running, or waits for them to open up. And at 207 pounds, there will be legitimate concerns about how well and how often he’ll be able to make plays on the run in designed situations. If that part of his play is reduced, that puts the pressure on him to do more as a passer — which he has the potential to do, but he’ll have to change some things about his modus operandi to make that happen.

Conclusion: Separating Johnny Manziel the media creation from Johnny Manziel the quarterback is hard to do at times, and that’s his own fault as much as anyone else’s. But we’ll end the analyst breakdown with what former NFL quarterback (and possible future Hall of Famer) Kurt Warner said about Manziel after Manziel’s pro day, as it seems to wrap his potential up pretty nicely.

“Most guys can make the short throws. Most guys can make the intermediate throws. How do you make those deeper throws? Do you throw them the right way, and that’s the thing that impresses me — he threw the ball the right way. I don’t care if you just get a completion; I want to see it thrown the right way. His deep balls — great touch. Great trajectory. The deep plays he made on the run, and I know how difficult that is to keep your body balanced while you’re running away from someone and being able to put the ball 45 yards downfield … those things don’t happen every day. Twenty of the starting quarterbacks [in the NFL] can’t do those things. He was doing something consistently that not a lot of guys do.”

And that’s why some NFL team will take Manziel in the first part of the first round of the 2014 draft, red flags be damned: His ability to transcend the norm is special and rare and unusual. If he corrals what he has and manages it to a new level, he could well be a spectacular NFL quarterback in the right system. If he doesn’t, he’ll likely be a spectacular flameout. Johnny Manziel’s NFL future could go either way, but one thing’s for sure … it won’t be boring.

Player comparison: A combination of Michael Vick, New York Jets (1st round, 2001, Virginia Tech, Atlanta Falcons) and Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (3rd round, 2012, Wisconsin)

31 comments
number18
number18

If Johnny Football were another color the media Idiots would be playing nancy pelosi and pope,ie, washing his feet.Have balls enough to say it.

GuyHealy
GuyHealy

This is just a scary situation for a GM.  If you grab him early and he fails you will look pretty bad, but if you pass and he goes "Johnny Football, NFL!" you will never get over it.  All eyes are on this one!

JulieMaier
JulieMaier

I respect Jon Gruden, but his take on Manziel is a little off.  Manziel may make a great NFL quarterback, but saying that it "takes courage to pull the ball down and reverse field . . ." isn't true of Manziel, I don't think.  Courage requires that you have fear and I don't think Manziel or Favre in his youth, for that matter, have fear.  They believe that they are invincible and are highly confident. So, it would be better to say that "it takes a great amount of confidence to pull the ball down and reverse field . . ." Manziel doesn't have courage, he lacks fear.

spazhead69
spazhead69

Johnny Ryall is the bum on my stoop
I gave him fifty cents to buy some soup
He knows the time with the fresh Gucci watch
He's even more over than my mayor, Ed Koch
Washing windows on the Bowery at a quarter to four
Cause he ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
Livin' on borrowed time and borrowed money
Sleepin' on the street, there ain't a damn thing funny
With the hand-me-down food, and the hand-me-down clothes
A rockabilly past of which nobody knows
Makes his home all over the place
He goes to sleep by falling down on his face

Quite A Dude
Quite A Dude

Just ask yourself this.. Is Manziel as quick and elusive as Russell Wilson? NO.......... Is Manziel built as solid as Wilson? NO.... How many more games do you think it will be before a faster more elusive, stronger Russell Wilson will play before he gets slaughtered by an elite defensive end or linebacker? Now take the number of games you think Wilson will last before he gets injured and divide that by 4 and you will get the number of games Manziel will last in the NFL..

badcyclist1
badcyclist1

I can't stand Manziel; he is the poster child of what is wrong with college football and I wouldn't draft him if he was in right in front of me at the Daytona 500.  But what Kurt Warner says here almost makes me believe that I will have a chance to keep hating him for a long time in the NFL.  I hope not, but Warner makes a pretty good case, and one I haven't heard before.  

marbltx
marbltx

The bad part is if you take Manziel, you get his mouth and big head as well.

RayanneDuChane
RayanneDuChane

Manziel is a natural. Watched him get his first start as a sophomore in high school. Detractors will take their shots, but a true football fan looks at performance and stats. Unfounded accusations and petty comments are fodder for gossip circles.

bobdevo
bobdevo

The brightest light since Joe Montana.

DebraJShields
DebraJShields

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petpetdon
petpetdon

ALL the "talking heads" really have nothing to say.

OK
OK

The Houston Texans will select Johnny Punkzeil as the number one overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Top 10 Reasons Why Houston Texans Will Pick Johnny Punkzeil:

1. Johnny Punkzeil is white;

2. Johnny Punkzeil is a native Texan;

3. Johnny Punkzeil will sell tickets for Texans' owner, billionaire, Bush Pioneer, and Governor Oops! Pray for Rain at Reliant Stadium sponsor Bob McNair;

4. Johnny Punkzeil is white;

5. Johnny Punkzeil is a native Texan;

6. Johnny Punkzeil won the Heisman;

7. Johnny Punkzeil beat 'Bama;

8. Johnny Punkzeil is a scrambler;

9. Johnny Punkzeil is white; and,

10. Johnny Punkzeil is a native Texan.

Now, with these undeniable facts so noted, Johnny Punkzeil will be:

Involved in numerous bar fights;

Chase tail from one end of Texas to the other;

Write so many air autographs that J.J. Watt and Andre Johnson break his hand by week eight of the 2014 season;

Fight with and be repeatedly beaten by his teammates; and,

Fail more spectacularly than JaMarcus "Gimme My Money" Russell.

But the Texans will pick Johnny Punkzeil. Never in doubt.

Johnny Punkzeil is white.

Johnny Punkzeil is a native Texan.

Johnny Punkzeil is Bob McNair's Pray for Rain Man.

Sportsredo
Sportsredo

@Quite A Dude  I guess you know more about football than Adrian peterson who says in the video on SI right now that Manziel will be successful. Your quite a dude as you know more than a star running back that's n the NFL. You're just a person putting down a guy that will make a lot of money and his ashtray change will be more than your annual salary.  Maybe that's why you're so bitter?  

Shane Mac
Shane Mac

@Quite A Dude  On what factors do you base your opinion on the abilities of quickness, elusiveness and strength of Wilson  over Manziel?  It's just that - your opinion.

number18
number18

@badcyclist1 don't worry YOU will NEVER be in position to have ANY input concerning Johnny Football.

JonathanKlement
JonathanKlement

@marbltx  You only know Manziel from the media's perspective.  You should of came to the games, practices, or talk to him on campus.  He is very Humble and definitely doesn't have a big head.  You will not find a single person that has met him face to face say anything bad about him.  The only game he ran his mouth was the first game against Rice.  He spent the whole first half getting taunted from the sideline.  There was some really bad things said to him that most people would not been able to keep from blowing up about.  You probably weren't at the game like I was so all you have is the media telling a story to make their ratings go up.  If you would of watched when he got pulled from the game, you would of saw the Rice player running his mouth.  All Johnny did was point at the scoreboard to put the other player in his place.  So you opinion is based solely off TMZ AKA ESPN and other like them and not off the facts.

BY
BY

@RayanneDuChane  Amen.... What do your eyes tell you after watching Manziel carve up elite defenses? This guy is a player. Remember how nobody really liked Russell Wilson and how all the "experts" questioned Pete Carroll for picking Wilson as the starter?

diecapsule34
diecapsule34

@OK Well....?

How much of a complete racist tool do you feel like now that you have been proven wrong?

Oh right! Silence.

You my dark skinned bigot brother need to keep yo mouth shut the next time you think you have anything of substance to share with the rest of the class which I'm sure will be soon, because now you are not only a blatant bigot, but a blatantly dumb bigot. Not that there is any other kind.

number18
number18

@OK And it's apparent, like the Idiots in the media, you can't stand the fact that Johnny Football is White and scored 50% higher on the IQ test than "one of yours." Eat yo hart out,fool{eubonics}

pirate
pirate

@OK Boy, you think you're4 really clever with the "Punkszeil" thing. You're fellow third gradfers are probably in awe of you.

GuyHealy
GuyHealy

Hey!  So glad I ran into you!  Lost my calendar!  When is the next KKK meeting?

marbltx
marbltx

@OK  I hope you're wrong.  I've been a Texan fan since startup, but that will end if I have to put up with the big mouth.

PocketVeto
PocketVeto

@OK  LOL, you just made a fool out of yourself. And you don't even realize it.

BPotts
BPotts

@JonathanKlement So Johnny talking back is acceptable? Oh, ok... Yeah, because two wrongs always make a right. If Johnny had any class, he would have walked away without saying anything. That takes class and smarts. Clearly Johnny has neither.

OK
OK

@number18

Yeah, the color of Johnny Punkziel's Permanent Tan and his score on the Wonderlic is just keeping me up nights. I've chewed my fingernails right down to the bone.

(belch)

JarameyHam
JarameyHam

@OK @BY @RayanneDuChane  

Guess you didn't watch either of the games against Alabama, one of the most elite defenses in college football.  Nick Saban to Kevin Sumlin: 'You took 10 years off my life!" Manziel has the "it" factor.