The Incredible (and Perhaps Impossible) Expectations Facing Johnny Manziel
The most remarkable statistic from Johnny Manziel’s preposterous 2012 season wasn’t the gaudy touchdown numbers. It wasn’t the yardage totals, which shattered SEC records, or his 229 rushing yards in the team’s Cotton Bowl win against Oklahoma. It wasn’t the endless amount of box score destruction he amassed, although we’ll certainly get to that.
The most impressive number in a seemingly endless list to pick from was the near 70 percent completion percentage he finished with—68 percent to be exact—in his first season as a college quarterback. Only seven quarterbacks in the entire country connected on a greater percentage of throws.
The highlights ingrained in your brain undoubtedly feature Manziel making would-be tacklers look horrid in their efforts, although this was only a portion of his greatness.
When evaluating the areas of improvement for Manziel, his arm is where most scouts and wannabe couch scouts would go first. And while there is certainly room for growth in this department and his mechanics could use some fine-tuning—after all, we have to talk about something—no number better captures the outlandish and potentially unfeasible expectations that will be heaped upon him next season.
Well, it's not impossible. After all, he's done it before. But matching it would be a gargantuan feat.
The sheer ridiculousness of Manziel dawned on me (again) while shooting an over/unders statistical video for 2013 with our SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee. Oh, I’m well aware of Manziel’s talents by now, as we all are, but when you dive back into the numbers and the season that was from an individual and team standpoint, it’s still somewhat difficult to process.
Playing the role of odds maker, I set the appropriate numbers for yardage, touchdowns, completion percentage and, of course, celebrity photos. The appropriate numbers felt, well, ridiculous, but this is the bar that has been set.
To the surprise of no one, the NFL talk has already started to surface, and there’s a distinct possibility that 2013 will be the last we see of Johnny Football at the collegiate level.
It’s impossible to predict what the future has in store, but if he comes close to replicating the 2012 season, he’ll likely take his talents elsewhere. Given his celebrity status and marketing potential alone, who can blame him? At that point, it’ll be time to cash in.
In a recent sit-down interview with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, Manziel didn’t shy away from the NFL talk and certainly seems to have his eye on the next level. Again, this is far from a surprise given what has transpired in the past nine months.
2013 could be it, and our expectations when it comes to his performance will be higher than pretty much any college player in recent memory. Manziel conquered history by winning the Heisman as a freshman, he conquered the “Heisman jinx” in the Cotton Bowl, he conquered much of the SEC and he even conquered Nick Saban in his own building—a feat very much worthy of being recognized on its own.
With the hardware handed out and the celebrity encounters relayed through Twitter in the rearview (for now, because there will be plenty more), how does Johnny Manziel possibly follow up what he accomplished in his one season at quarterback? What does he have in store for an encore?
This much we know: His left tackle is gone and will likely be a top-five selection in the upcoming NFL draft if not the first pick overall. Even with the loss of Luke Joeckel, however, the offensive line should still be more than serviceable thanks in large part to the return of the talented Jake Matthews, who will move over to the left side.
The schedule, by SEC standards, isn’t as troublesome as you might expect. An early game against Alabama in College Station will be telling in either direction, and it could very well turn out to be the game of the year. Outside of this, A&M will travel to LSU late in the season, with other road games on tap against Missouri, Arkansas and Ole Miss. All in all, it could be much, much worse.
Although Ryan Swope is NFL-bound, the team’s leading wide receiver, Mike Evans, is back after a tremendous freshman season. A&M also brings in a solid group of wideouts with this recruiting class, some of whom could see the field early on.
Both were unknowns heading into 2012, although my how things have changed. The scenario looks mighty different once you’ve done it before, especially when video game numbers are brought to life. Now, we’re waiting for more. More specifically, we’re expecting more.
Teams have gotten a look at the great Johnny Football. A full season of film now exists, tendencies will become more apparent and there will be no player in the country with a bigger target on his back.
If the ridiculous numbers aren’t matched or the team somehow falls short of its lofty goals, Manziel will seemingly have fallen short. His 2012 season was so spectacular, so historic, that the thought of an encore seems unfair and perhaps unreachable.
But even with these unthinkable expectations in mind, who's jumping in line to bet against him? At this point, how could you?
This is what he's up against and also what comes along with the celebrity status that he acquired overnight. He'll be held to a higher standard in 2013 because he was able to do some truly remarkable things. Things you rarely see at the position. We're a demanding bunch, and once we get a taste, we only crave more.
Manziel, if healthy, will certainly deliver that, although improving on a nearly perfect season won't be easy. Well, perhaps he can improve on one aspect of his game if called upon again.
Other than that, though, nothing would surprise me. No matter how ridiculously high we set the bar.
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