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Heisman Finalists 2012: Assessing NFL Potential for Each Top Player

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08:  (L-R) Heisman finalists quarterback Collin Klein of the Kansas State Wildcats, quarterback Johnny Manziel of the Texas A&M University Aggies and linebacker Manti Te'o of the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish pose with the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award after a press conference prior to the 78th  Heisman Trophy Presentation at the Marriott Marquis on December 8, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2012

The Heisman Trophy is meant to celebrate the best players in college football. However, it is never too early to question the future professional careers of these top players.

Past winners like Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton already look like elite quarterbacks in the NFL and could be with their teams for years to come.

On the other hand, players like Eric Crouch and Jason White were never really considered for jobs at the next level after winning college football's top award.

This year's group of finalists has a nice mix of potential NFL stars and potential insurance salesmen. Here is how each player stacks up as a pro prospect.

 

Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame

Over the last three seasons, Manti Te'o has shown that he is one of the best tacklers in the country.

He topped 100 tackles for his third year in a row and continued to prove that his speed and strength would help him defend the run at any level.

This year, however, he extended his range and started to improve against the pass. He finished the regular season with 11 passes defended and an amazing seven interceptions.

While he was used less frequently as a pass-rusher, his ability to drop back in coverage will make him more valuable at the next level.

Finally, he showed leadership on a team that started the year unranked but ended with a chance to play for a national championship.

He should be a top-10 pick in next year's NFL draft and should be a star in the league for a long time. 

 

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State

Like other run-first quarterbacks of the past, Collin Klein simply does not have the game to be successful at the next level.

In his two years as a starter, the quarterback has only completed 61.6 percent of his passes despite playing in an offensive league.

Comparatively, Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden each completed over 72 percent of their passes last year in the same conference.

Klein simply is not a big-time passer, and was rarely asked to throw more than 30 attempts in a game. The one time he did ended in a blowout loss to Baylor.

As a runner, the senior was only able to manage 4.6 yards per carry, up from 3.6 a year ago. He is a strong runner, but does not have the speed to be successful at any other position. 

The quarterback is a great leader for Kansas State, but he does not have the ability to succeed in the NFL.

He should go undrafted, but might make a team as a fullback.

 

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

It is much more difficult to predict the rest of Johnny Manziel's career after just one collegiate season, but so far things look good.

He has already proven that he has the accuracy and decision-making ability required to be a top passer, which are things that usually improve with experience.

In addition, he was third among quarterbacks with 1,181 rushing yards.

Still, there are a couple of things to keep in mind before labeling him a first-round pick.

He plays in a very fast-moving offense, which allows him to build up his statistics. He still was very efficient, but his total yards do not mean much.

Manzeil needs to continue to keep a high completion percentage while also building his touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

Also, he had the distinct advantage of being protected by one of the best left tackles in the country in Luke Joeckel. If the junior decides to enter the draft, Manziel has to prove he can still be effective without him.

There is a good chance the Texas native can become a solid NFL quarterback, but there are too many question marks at this time to make any sort of guarantee.

 

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