Heisman Trophy: Comparing Johnny Manziel with Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and RGIII

Lisa HornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterDecember 5, 2012

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel could make history this Saturday by becoming the first-ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, college football's most prestigious award. Manziel, Collin Klein and Manti Te'o are the Heisman finalists.

Naturally, the inevitable comparisons have already started for Manziel because Americans have an odd fascination with the Greatest of All Time (aka G.O.A.T.) debates. Manziel could be one of the greatest because, despite just being a redshirt freshman, he's already equaled or surpassed some of his peers' accomplishments.  

Manziel's stats for the 2012 regular season are remarkable. He passed for 3,419 yards and averaged 284.9 yards per game—that ranks him as No. 20 among the most productive passers of 2012. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is 24-8 and his passer rating is 155.85.

Manziel also rushed for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaged 98.42 yards per game and is the 32nd most productive rusher this year. Naturally, Johnny Football became a household name.

See Johnny pass. See Johnny make defenders bite on a quarterback draw. See Johnny run. See Johnny juke with ankle-breaking moves. (See Johnny below)

Former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III are all past Heisman winners, and like Manziel, were dual-threat quarterbacks. They all could burn a defense with the deep pass or turn a sure-sack into a scramble for 15 yards. 

So how does Manziel stack up against each one of them? 

2007 Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow captured the nation's attention with his gritty work ethic, unassuming personality and a seemingly "wouldn't hurt a fly" persona. There was "The Promise" (which is now immortalized on a campus plaque) in 2008 and Tebow tears in 2009. Tebow didn't just act like his team's leader on the field, he considered it his full-time job. Tebow was the guy that most every mom and dad wanted their daughter to date and/or marry. 

Tebow's 2007 stats: He passed for 3,286 yards and averaged 252.8 passing yards per game, making him the 28th most productive passer in 2007. He rushed for 895 yards, 23 touchdowns, averaged 68.85 yards per game and finished No. 81 among the most productive rushers. 

2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton, like Manziel, was a more balanced runner and passer. While Tebow did rush a lot, he usually did so on short-yardage plays—Tebow wasn't nearly as dangerous in the open field as Manziel and Newton were. Newton played against some of the toughest defenses in the country week after week and beat them all.

Newton was a confident young man—even during the NCAA's probe of him and his father—and unfortunately that was perceived as a sign of arrogance by some of his detractors. Nonetheless, his mega-watt smile and good looks made him a shoo-in for future endorsements and television commercials.  

Newton's 2010 stats: He passed for 2,854 yards, averaged 203.9 yards per game and finished with a 30-7 ratio and a 182.05 passer rating. Newton was ranked as the 56th most productive passer.

Newton also rushed for 1,473 yards, 20 touchdowns and finished as the 15th most productive rusher, averaging 105.21 yards per game.

2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III was a sneaky good rusher—he didn't have the gaudy numbers like Newton and Manziel, but he used his running ability to avoid sacks and give his receivers more time to break off and get open. Defenders had to respect both Griffin's arm and legs. What makes Griffin so special is that he was such a prolific passer, yet his accuracy (72.4 percent) was equally impressive.

Griffin seemed a little more reserved than his Heisman predecessor Newton, but he, like Newton, certainly had a playful side to him. On the day he won the 2011 Heisman, Griffin showed off the Superman socks (complete with capes) he wore underneath his suit. 

Griffin's 2011 stats: He passed for 4,293 yards, averaged 330.2 yards per game and held a 37-6 ratio and a 189.47 passer rating—he was ranked No. 7 among the most productive passers last year. Griffin also rushed for 699 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Manziel seems to have a little bit of each of the three previous Heisman winners' traits in him. He's a great runner and, like Cam Newton, gets big chunks of yardage on designed plays rather than just trying to not lose yardage under a tremendous pass rush.

Like Tebow, Manziel appears unassuming and a little overwhelmed at all the attention he has received. But unlike Tebow, Manziel doesn't submarine himself into the trenches on short-yardage plays. Manziel weaves his way through an entire defense never taking the easy slide to avoid contact. 

Finally, Manziel's arm is very accurate. When Manziel is flushed out of the pocket, he has great field awareness and, like Griffin, is always looking down field while dancing around the pocket and avoiding the sack. Like Griffin, Manziel can also juke very well and seems to enjoy running through the middle of the field rather than heading toward the sidelines (like most pocket passers are trained to do). 

My goodness. We may get three more years of Johnny Football. 

How lucky can we get?