The scouts have their hands full with Johnny Manziel, and the process of understanding the most dynamic player college football has seen in some time—and more specifically, how he translates to the next level—became even more complex in Texas A&M’s 34-10 loss against LSU.
If you think that this was the nail in Manziel’s NFL coffin, however, think again.
With that said, the Heisman winner looked human, vulnerable and uncomfortable throughout the entire game. And for the second consecutive season, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis mustered up Johnny Football kryptonite.
Nick Saban would like some.
Manziel completed just 16 of 41 passes for 224 yards on Saturday. He turned the ball over twice, adding to his building interception total for the year, and found the end zone just once. While he found some room on the ground, running for 54 yards on 12 carries, LSU did a superb job keeping him in the pocket and out of sorts.
In doing so, the Tigers likely ended Johnny Football’s run at a second Heisman. Following the game, Manziel provided a synopsis of the effort, via CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman. Quite frankly, there’s not much else to it:
Johnny Manziel: "We got punched the mouth today and it wasn't fun." #LSU— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) November 24, 2013
In a lot of ways, this was an extension of last year’s performance. The Tigers featured new personnel along the entire defense, although the results were similar.
In 2012, LSU beat Texas A&M 24-19, and Manziel had easily the worst game of his career. In these two games combined, he completed less than 50 percent of his passes and accounted for five interceptions and only one touchdown.
Given the video game-like numbers he posts with regularity, these games serve as a breakaway from the norm.
With his NFL future likely inching closer, scouts will have to determine if these were down weeks or a game plan that could be implemented weekly with better athletes (and coaches) at the next level. And they’ll likely have to determine this soon.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin addressed the redshirt sophomore’s future on ESPN Radio’s SVP & Russillo last week, via ESPN. More specifically, he discussed the timeline and when a decision would be made:
We haven’t had that conversation. My job is to get him all the facts that we can get him. We'll have that discussion after the Missouri game, certainly during the bowl preparation. I’m sure the announcement will be made at that time.
Unless something drastically changes, Manziel will turn pro. The turbulent nature of the past offseason—from the tweets to the pictures to the coverage to the autograph saga—is not something he will want to live through again. This much became clear as it was all unfolding, one headline-capturing week at a time.
Although the character of the QB will be examined—and already has been to a ridiculous degree—it’s the ability, his size and the style that will be talked about most in the coming months.
Is his latest performance a blip on the radar, or is this LSU game plan a sign of things to come?
Perhaps, somehow, it’s a bit of both.
Every player is entitled to a “bad game,” 60 minutes of film that would serve best as a coffee table coaster. In the instance of Manziel and his unique skill set, however, performances such as this will create “buyer beware” situations for NFL teams.
It’s assumed that a player with this style will never thrive at the next level, that the speed of the defense and the ability to game plan will limit what he does best: Keep plays alive, run if necessary and make something out of nothing.
What’s lost in all of this, however, is how much better he has become as a passer. While he didn’t show that against LSU (again), there’s plenty of tape against an Alabama defense loaded with future NFL players that paints a much different picture.
Having a player like Mike Evans at wide receiver certainly helps, but assuming that Manziel will somehow lose his magic without him is false. He’s more than a scrambler with a catchy nickname; he’s a quarterback who has completed nearly 70 percent of his throws over the course of two seasons.
It’s easy to pile on someone while he's down, and those waiting to pronounce Manziel inadequate for the National Football League have a window to proclaim such things to be true.
Forecasting quarterbacks is hard enough as is. Projecting quarterbacks who are miles away from the prototypical passer can be that much more challenging.
If we learned anything about Manziel against LSU, however, it’s that he is indeed human. This was a reminder.
It shouldn't change his status at the next level—which will remain a puzzle that experienced scouts will have to try to solve. But if you’re ready to pronounce his NFL stock worthless because of a bad game in one of college football’s most difficult environments, I’ve got plenty of other film to show you.