Amid rampant speculation about his level of maturity and off-the-field antics, Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported that several NFL teams have reportedly deemed Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel "undraftable."
Their scouting departments apparently feel otherwise.
In separate interviews with Charean Williams of The Star-Telegram, four of seven NFL scouts polled said that Manziel would not only get drafted but would also be a first-round pick. One particularly bullish scout, who spoke anonymously because of NFL bylaw that prevents team representatives from publicly discussing college underclassmen, even speculated he'd hear his name called in the first 10 picks.
“I think Johnny Manziel is that good,” the scout said. “I think the guy is unique, and guys like Russell Wilson have paved the way for him.”
Despite his undeniable collegiate success, there have been numerous concerns raised about whether Manziel can thrive in the NFL. His throwing motion and lack of size have been chief among those concerns.
As pointed out by Williams, Michael Vick and Rex Grossman are the only two quarterbacks 6'1" or shorter drafted in the first round since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Teams have historically favored larger players because of their ability to see over the offensive line (the average lineman was 6'5" in 2011) and handle the physical rigors of playing the position.
Russell Wilson, who dropped to the third round of the 2012 draft mainly because of his diminutive nature, is often seen as the catalyst of a new era in today's NFL. With the proliferation of the read-option, quarterbacks are on the move more often than ever. The less stationary they become, the less standing behind massive linemen becomes a problem.
That way of thinking has begun trickling down to scouts, who are starting to emphasize production over prototype physical traits more and more.
“I keep hearing about why this kid can’t succeed [in the NFL],” said another scout. “I want to ask: ‘What are you judging these guys on?’ Are you telling me he’s not better than [recent first-round picks] Christian Ponder, than Blaine Gabbert, than Jake Locker? Just look at his stats."
Manziel is listed at 6'1" in the Texas A&M program. In Williams' piece, he notes that the Aggies quarterback insists vehemently he's 6'0" without shoes on.
A redshirt sophomore, Manziel will be eligible for the 2014 NFL draft. The NFL prohibits players from entering the league until three years removed from their high school graduation.
Last season Manziel became the first freshman in NCAA history to win the Heisman Trophy. He threw for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions, adding in 1,410 yards and another 21 scores on the ground. He set multiple records in leading Texas A&M to an 11-2 record, including the NCAA freshman mark and SEC record for total yards (5,116).
This season he's been off to another excellent start. He's thrown for 984 yards and 11 touchdowns against three interceptions in Texas A&M's first three games despite sitting out the first half of Week 1 due to a suspension. After last week's game, a heartbreaking loss to No. 1 Alabama, Manziel made particular note of the work he's done to improve as a passer:
Manziel: I worked this offseason to be a better passer and better in the pocket. You can look at today and say that that happened.— TexAgs.com (@TexAgs) September 15, 2013
As for the question on everyone's mind, a scout who spoke with Williams disagrees with King, who reported that Manziel had been deemed undraftable for some teams.
“There is a difference between being a criminal and being a knucklehead,” one scout said. “He’s a knucklehead. We have a lot of knuckleheads on our team.
Manziel's Texas A&M squad plays host to SMU this Saturday.
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