The phenomenon known as "Johnny Football" took the college football world by storm in 2012, when he led his Texas A&M Aggies to a win over eventual national champion Alabama last November in Tuscaloosa. It would be the Crimson Tide’s only loss of the season.
In December, Johnny Manziel became the first freshman in NCAA history to win the Heisman Trophy.
Manziel’s legend continued to grow in January when the Aggies throttled Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl. The game was played at Cowboys Stadium, where Manziel put on a show. He ran for 229 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for 287 yards and two more scores.
After that performance, fans and media alike began to wonder: Could Manziel do this in the NFL?
Some might question the type of offense Manziel is in and wonder if he is just a product of head coach Kevin Sumlin’s system, like so many others before him. One thing is for sure, Manziel is a playmaker and much more than just a system quarterback.
With the NFL slowly adapting to concepts such as the pistol formation and zone read, Manziel suddenly became an interesting commodity to NFL personnel evaluators.
Manziel is far from a finished product, however, and here are four things Manziel must improve in order to make a successful transition to the NFL in the future.
We all know Manziel is a terrific athlete, but to make it in the NFL, he will need to make all the necessary throws. The question is, can he at this point?
Head coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense doesn’t feature a lot of downfield throws. That is generally by design—not because of the quarterback’s limitations.
While arm strength isn’t everything, NFL teams at least want a quarterback who can threaten every area on the field. Stretching the field with a deep passing game is a perfect complement to a strong running game.
Manziel’s ability to run could only enhance a downfield passing game, as everyone witnessed last year with Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.
Texas A&M lists Manziel as 6’1” and 200 lbs. If we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that those numbers are often generous in favor of the player.
In all likelihood, Manziel is probably finished growing. However, he will need to add some weight. His style is built around running the football, and he will not be able to do that in the NFL as much as he does in college.
In order to withstand the physical toll of the NFL, Manziel will need to add more muscle mass. He doesn't want to add too much because it can take away his speed, but for now, he is too slight.
The read-option game entered the NFL last season and was very successful. However, its long-term sustainability at the pro level is in question. This offseason presents NFL offensive coordinators their first opportunity to dissect the offense and determine if it is a viable part of a team’s offense going forward or just a fad.
The NFL game is primarily played from the pocket. Whether it is Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Eli and Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are pocket passers.
At some point in the future, this may change. As athletic as Colin Kaepernick is, he is a tremendous passer from the pocket.
In many of Manziel’s games last season, he does appear to have a good pocket presence. It remains to be seen if that is because of his outstanding athletic ability or if he possesses the innate ability to sense pressure before it happens. The great quarterbacks possess this trait.
For as much criticism as he receives, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has terrific pocket presence. He has an uncanny ability to evade even the most athletic defenders. Aaron Rodgers is overall a much better quarterback than Romo, but his pocket presence isn’t quite as good.
It may be hard for Manziel to develop this trait in college due to Texas A&M's style of offense. NFL coaches and scouts will no doubt want to see if Manziel can hang in the pocket and make tough throws with bodies “muddying” up the area around him.
Manziel’s style is what makes him the player he is, and it would be a mistake for him to change. Texas A&M surely doesn’t want Manziel to tone down his style if it means making less plays.
As seen with Robert Griffin III last season, the NFL is a much tougher game and quarterbacks need to be more judicious when they scramble. This goes on the coaches, too. Sumlin is worried about Texas A&M first and foremost, not Manziel’s NFL future, but it would be wise to protect his star quarterback at times.
At some point, Manziel will need to show teams that he won’t tuck the ball and run every time his first read is covered. Most quarterbacks aren’t taught to go through their progressions in college, and it leads to a steep learning curve in the NFL.
The earlier Manziel adjusts his reckless style, the better he will be once he adjusts to the next level. Quarterbacks don’t the run the ball 10-plus times a game in the NFL, and if they did, they would not last.