No matter what happens regarding the eligibility of Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy-winner still has to focus on playing college football.
The NCAA is investigating Manziel after he reportedly took money for signing autographs, according to Darren Rovell and Justine Gubar of ESPN.com. It’s been a rough offseason for the quarterback, as he’s found himself in the news frequently, and he could now find himself suspended, per Rovell and Gubar.
That wouldn’t bode well for Manziel’s future as a collegiate quarterback, so the thought of forgoing his eligibility to focus on the 2014 NFL draft could cross his mind. While it may seem like a good option—assuming the NCAA comes down hard on him—he has to refrain from pulling the trigger.
Manziel was fantastic for the Aggies last season. Throughout the course of the year, he completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,706 yards, threw 26 touchdowns and was only picked off nine times. He constantly made plays with his feet too, running for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Texas A&M did lose a pair of games last season—against No. 24 Florida and No. 6 LSU—but the Aggies were the only team to upend eventual national champion Alabama. The Aggies wouldn’t have beaten the Crimson Tide, won 11 games (including the Cotton Bowl) or been one of the best teams in the country without Manziel on the field.
Manziel could probably get away without playing college football next season. He’d still likely be one of the top quarterback prospects to enter the draft in 2014, assuming he would continue to train and improve his already-strong skill set. But it’s not all about what you do on the field in this day and age.
What you do off the field matters a great deal to NFL front offices.
That being said, Manziel likely wouldn’t be atop the big board for many professional organizations. As Ashley Fox of ESPN.com writes, NFL evaluators have been keeping an eye on the quarterback this season and have not liked what they’ve seen from him. Here’s what one AFC general manager told Fox:
To me, it is success coming too early to a young man who’s not ready to handle success. Is he talented on the field? Yes. But I think when you win the Heisman Trophy, you have a responsibility to uphold the honors of that trophy and what it represents. All of this is allegedly what he’s done, but if he’s done it, he hasn’t upheld the values of what that trophy represents.
A front office executive also questions “his maturity and leadership right now,” according to Fox.
Manziel won’t be able to improve those qualities—or make them known to the country—if he’s training at home by himself throughout the year. Even if the NCAA rules him ineligible for 2013, Manziel has to return for the 2014 season.
By doing so, Manziel can help prove that he’s still one of the top players in the country, and not a one-hit wonder. He can also show that he can handle the pressure of being a Heisman Trophy-winner. He needs to show NFL evaluators that he can be a model teammate both on and off the field. He can’t just be strong on the field.
Right now, Manziel should be planning on entering the NFL draft in 2015, not 2014. The quarterback’s time in college isn’t over yet and he still has a lot of growing and maturing to do.
Did he screw up? We’ll certainly find out soon. But no matter what happens, he needs to stay at Texas A&M and focus on playing for the Aggies.
Manziel needs one more college football season before entering the NFL draft.
All statistics in this article were obtained via ESPN unless otherwise noted.