2013 Heisman Trophy Finalists' Pro Comparisons

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2013

2013 Heisman Trophy Finalists' Pro Comparisons

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    A field of six finalists was announced for the Heisman Trophy earlier this week, the largest group of candidates since 1994.

    College football diehards know all six of the players well, but to NFL fans who simply skim college news for draft research, a couple of names might be head-scratchers. Everyone knows Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston; not everyone has heard of Andre Williams and Jordan Lynch.

    In order to familiarize people with these six deserving candidates, here's a look at who they might compare to at the next level. These parallels should help contextualize each player's skill set but not necessarily predict how successful he will be.

    NFL draft season, after all, is not as far away as it seems.

Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois

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    NFL Comparison: Tim Tebow, Free Agent

    I love Jordan Lynch just as much as the next guy. By every means imaginable, he deserves to be one of the Heisman finalists. He's earned his place in New York.

    But let's get real: As a pro prospect, Lynch is a poor man's Collin Klein, who made the trek to New York for the Heisman ceremony last year. And as a pro prospect, Klein was a poor man's Tim Tebow, who was run out of the league—despite having won a playoff game—and might have been the worst mechanical quarterback to ever cash paychecks from the NFL.

    If he opts to continue down the path of quarterbacking, Lynch would be lucky to have Tebow's career at the next level. But neither Tebow nor Klein is even currently in the NFL. Hopefully, Lynch can learn from their mistakes and embrace the idea of a position switch, which scouts will almost certainly ask him to make.

    The NFL could use a big, strong, versatile athlete of his nature in some capacity, but that capacity is not crouching down under center.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

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    NFL Comparison: Jeff Garcia, Retired

    Johnny Manziel is usually compared to Russell Wilson or Drew Brees—the two current NFL stars who were once termed "too small" for the position. But Wilson has a tighter, sounder throwing motion than Manziel, while Brees, in addition to that, has better footwork and accuracy.

    Garcia is the undersized NFL quarterback who reminds me the most of Manziel, and if Johnny Football can have a similar type of career, it would be nothing to scoff at. In 11 seasons, Garcia threw for 25,537 yards and 161 touchdowns, rushing for over 2,000 yards as well.

    Manziel is faster than Garcia and better in open space, but both possess the same uncanny knack for moving their feet in the pocket and searching for throwing windows. Neither has as many passes batted down as you'd expect just by looking at them. 

    You'd also be hard-pressed to find two better competitors than Manziel and Garcia. Their passion is evident on film and is contagious in the locker room. 

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

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    NFL Comparison: Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals

    Ellington has been a revelation for the Arizona Cardinals as a rookie this year, returning their investment in a big way after the team selected him in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft.

    There was a time when people thought that was impossible. Ellington was a speedy, home run threat at Clemson, but he disappointed with a 4.61 40-yard dash time at the combine, which severely hurt his stock.

    Like Mason, though, Ellington has functional speed that may not show up in a non-football environment. My hunch is that Mason's 40 time is disappointing too but that he is still able to thrive the way Ellington has in Arizona.

    Both backs make strong, decisive cuts and accelerate from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye. The tape speaks for itself in both cases.

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama

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    NFL Comparison: Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

    In college, AJ McCarron was wrongfully labeled a "game manager." His Alabama teams didn't just "not lose in spite of him," they often won in large part because of his performance.

    At the next level, though, McCarron will likely be more of a game-managing quarterback, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Even if he can't single-handedly win games for an NFL team, he's good enough to still win a lot of games on the right one.

    Just like Alex Smith, McCarron is smart with the football and doesn't make stupid mistakes. In their last 79 starts, the duo has combined to throw 29 interceptions, good for an average of 0.37 picks per game.

    They've also played their best football in big games—McCarron en route to a couple of national titles, Smith in the 2011 NFL playoffs.

Andre Williams, RB, Boston College

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    NFL Comparison: Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins

    Andre Williams (6’0", 227 lbs) has a little more size than Alfred Morris (5’10”, 218 lbs). That should work to his advantage, making him a higher-upside version of the Redskins back who's started his career with 2,640 rushing yards on 553 carries in 29 games.

    What's best about both Williams and Morris is a willingness to own their identities. Football becomes more obsessed with speed (over size) each season, but that just means smaller players to run over, into and through.

    Williams' stock might fall after the NFL combine, since he doesn't appear to have top-end speed. Some won't touch a back who can't break certain 40-yard-dash thresholds. There's a reason, after all, that Morris lasted until the sixth round in 2012.

    Regardless of what he runs, Williams will make whatever team takes him happy that it did. Even if he doesn't end up as a bell cow like Morris, at the very least he'll be part of a timeshare—the thunder to someone's lightning—and a valuable threat near the goal line.

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

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    NFL Comparison: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

    Jameis Winston and Andrew Luck both have big, stocky frames with strong legs and wide shoulders. Both are deceptively fast—never appearing to sprint on rollouts but always moving fast enough to outrun defenders—and patient after a play breaks down.

    That is why both excel at passing outside of the pocket.

    Both players also have huge, strong arms and an ineffable sixth sense, like they were born to play the position. Winston makes certain plays and reads that no other college player could make; just like Luck makes certain plays and reads that no other pro could. 

    Winston doesn't yet have Luck's accuracy, which could be seen when he missed a couple of throws in the first quarter of Saturday's ACC Championship Game, but he's close enough and way ahead of the curve at such a young age.

    The only college quarterback in recent memory who was this advanced both mentally and mechanically as a 19-year-old was...well, Andrew Luck.