Things couldn’t get much better for Johnny Manziel.
After unexpectedly snatching up the starting quarterback job at Texas A&M, “Johnny Football” rose to celebrity status while leading the perennially underachieving Aggies to national prominence. Concluding the season with a 41-13 trouncing of former Big 12 brother Oklahoma, he mesmerized the nation—slashing school and conference records, beating No. 1 Alabama and eventually winning the Heisman Trophy.
Oh yeah, and that was all as a freshman.
Of course, the question now is, “Where does Johnny Football go from here?” He’s achieved more in his first year than most college players do in their whole careers. Amassing 4,600 yards of total offense in 2012, he surpassed Cam Newton’s SEC record.
He also topped Archie Manning’s 43-year old conference record (shared by Rohan Davey) for most yards of total offense in a game, twice, with 557 against Arkansas and 576 against Louisiana Tech.
With Manziel at the helm, Texas A&M could be in position for a BCS bowl appearance next season. Heck, the Aggies might even have a shot at an SEC title.
However, the other side to the coin is that if Manziel continues to impress, he may not stay in college long enough to make good on those dreams. While the gridiron wizard still has three years of eligibility left, he can declare for the draft as early as spring 2014, and he would do so with good reason.
The NFL is filled with more mobile quarterbacks than ever before, with breakout rookies Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III both making cases for the 2012 Rookie of the Year award—not to mention athletic second-year players Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick, who are making noise in the league. Kaepernick, of course, will be leading his team in the Super Bowl this Sunday.
And while some of Manziel’s success might be credited to his involvement in head coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense, according to ESPN’s draft expert Mel Kiper Jr., “Manziel isn’t just a product, he’s a prospect.”
In Kiper’s November breakdown of the 2012 Heisman candidates, he showered the QB with compliments:
I think Manziel has potential to be a first-round pick, and more than a Sumlin creation… In terms of the scouting profile, Manziel’s strengths are his accuracy and ball placement, pocket awareness and maneuverability and command of the system.”
The biggest knock Kiper gives is Manziel’s size (6’1”, 200 pounds). “He’ll be dinged on height, but he’s no shorter than Drew Brees, who could be a good comparison at some point.”
Obviously, Mr. Football’s athleticism can’t be denied, but he’d be smart to start tweaking his game in preparation for the physicality that awaits him at the next level.
Take Washington’s RG III for example.
At 6’2”, weighing 217 pounds, Griffin is much less suited to be taking on NFL hits than 6’5”, 245-pound Cam Newton. However, the dazzling runner continued to take on big hits, many coming on designed QB running plays.
There was a toll for Griffin’s heavy hit count, as a frightening blow from the Baltimore Ravens’ Haloti Ngata resulted in Griffin’s sprained LCL. That injury would come back to haunt the Redskins in their first playoff game, as Griffin tore both his ACL and LCL in a 14-24 losing effort against the Seattle Seahawks.
Somebody Manziel might do well to observe is Seattle’s 5’11”, 206-pound Wilson. Wilson, who modeled much of his game after Brees, played all 16 games this season.
While Wilson still used his fleet feet to extend plays, his strategy centered around creating time for his receivers to get open, rather than racking up tons of rushing yardage. When Wilson did decide to run, his tendency was to slide in front of defenders, rather than barrel forward in Tim Tebow-like fashion.
There’s no doubting that Johnny Manziel has the talent to take his career as far as he wants. However, if he wants to last, he’ll have to become more like Wilson, and less like RG III.