2014 NFL Draft: Full Breakdown of Johnny Manziel's Game

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2014 NFL Draft: Full Breakdown of Johnny Manziel's Game
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After going through two years as the most polarizing player in college football, Johnny Manziel is now expected to shift his sights toward the NFL.

He dealt with a lot of criticism this summer after becoming the first ever freshman to win the Heisman, and then went on to actually post better statistics in his sophomore campaign.

His perceived small size and running-dependent style of play have caused a lot of people to say that he won't be successful in the NFL. 

Manziel's style is certainly unorthodox, but his talent is undeniable as well. Let's delve into some film analysis and statistical breakdowns of Johnny Football. 

 

Footwork and Mechanics

Manziel worked with quarterback guru George Whitfield this past offseason, and his mechanics were noticeably better this season. His springy athleticism allows him to bounce and run around to make plays, but in 2012 he would often resort to poor mechanics unnecessarily.

These two plays show his bad habit that has led to more than a few interceptions, but has been improved a lot in 2013.

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Notice how he's blurry in the first picture. This is because he's falling off to the side after he releases the ball, which means he had his weight on his back foot and didn't re-set his feet before making the throw.

Sometimes rushing to get the ball out is necessary when a quarterback is throwing as he's about to take a hit, but Manziel obviously had plenty of space on this play.

Manziel does have a compact throwing motion when he stays with good fundamentals, however, and his throwing motion in general is pretty smooth when he does it right. But he has to stay consistent with his motion.

There are other times when he waits and decides to force a ball, which is never a smart decision.

But Manziel makes it worse at times by trying to get the throw off as quickly as possible and throwing either off his back foot or just opening up his body and heaving it.

The second picture shows this mistake, which leads to an interception against Ole Miss even without any immediate pressure in front of him.

Instead of stepping into his throw, staying balanced and having his momentum moving forward behind his throw, Manziel's weight is on his back foot, his left knee is practically locked, and his body is wide open. He was trying to squeeze a ball into a tight window here, and the throw predictably lacked velocity and was picked off.

He doesn't have that high release point and pretty overhand motion that Tom Brady employs to perfection, but is more of a slinger who gets the ball out quickly and is useful for a quarterback who improvises as much as Manziel.

He simply needs to consistently drive through his throws and make sure to re-set his feet and shift his weight when he's prepared to throw the ball. His bad throws almost always occur when he doesn't use proper mechanics, although his arm is still underratedly strong.

 

Arm and Anticipation

One of the biggest critiques of Manziel is that he does not have the arm to make throws in the NFL.

It's true that he doesn't have a cannon like Colin Kaepernick, but he doesn't need to throw 50-yard bullets to be successful.

His throws can flutter sometimes as well, but that's often due to his mechanics and trying to improvise and throw on the move instead of an actual lack of arm strength. 

He is also more than capable of placing the ball along the sidelines and down the field, and he has shown the ability to get on top of the ball and drive it into small windows. 

There's a lot to like about Manziel's arm, and while people say that it's gotten "stronger" since last year, I really think his mechanics and the way he approaches things are better, which allows him to showcase his arm.

This throw shows Manziel's ability to put the ball on a rope and also anticipate when this tight window will open.

Manziel steps into his throw, sees he has some space before the safety gets over to help the corner and delivers a perfect throw right to his receiver's chest along the sideline.

He isn't always a fantastic deep-ball thrower, however, which can impact what teams look at him and how they will use him in the NFL.

But when Manziel is feeling confident, stands tall in the pocket and locks in on his receiver, he can deliver a strike. On this throw, Manziel is strong in the pocket and shows his ability to hit a small and rapidly closing window down the field.

His touch is really impressive here because it's a far throw and he needs to put it in a spot where only his receiver can catch it. Gary Danielson goes crazy because it really is one of the more impressive throws you'll see from a college quarterback.

Defenses are often pretty spread out to try to stop Texas A&M's offense, so Manziel isn't often forced to make those ultra-tight window throws on slants.

But he does show great timing with his receivers, especially when he gets them one-on-one down the sideline. 

This throw is a perfect example of that. Manziel showed great anticipation and placement here, throwing this ball roughly 30 yards downfield and all the way to the sideline.

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Mike Evans adjusts and turns at just the right time, and the corner doesn't have a chance to make play. Manziel keeps the throw high and right on Evans' back shoulder. 

Manziel's arm certainly shouldn't be looked at as a negative at all.

It's more than strong enough at this point, and he's only 21 years old. There's plenty of time to continue developing, but he already throws a great ball when his mechanics are solid. He just needs to stop letting his mechanics break down when he has plenty of time to throw properly. 

 

Pocket Presence

This is one aspect that people don't really talk much about in regards to Manziel, but he really has to improve maneuvering WITHIN the pocket and not breaking down any time he feels a little pressure.

People also don't talk enough (as usual) about his offensive linemen, or specifically his tackles. In 2012, he had two of the five best tackles in the nation in Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews.

Matthews has slid over to the left and become the undisputed best tackle in college football this year, and Cedric Ogbuehi has been outstanding on the right side and will warrant first-round consideration if he declares.

That talent, plus the fact that defenses usually leave linebackers back to prevent big scrambles, leads to a lot of pockets like this one.

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Manziel will not get anywhere near this much space and time in the NFL, but he's used to having it regularly in college. He needs to show more confidence standing tall when the pocket collapses a little.

That is something he's improved on this season, but he still rarely "climbs the ladder" and steps forward into a collapsing pocket in order to deliver a throw.

As I've highlighted already, he can let his mechanics break down way too easily, which leads to some errant throws. He also looks to scramble too quickly, although with his athleticism, that's not always a bad thing. 

 

Athleticism 

As pretty much everyone knows, Manziel's athleticism is his best attribute. There are few players who have his unbelievable escapability and breakaway speed.

He has made some jaw-dropping runs like this one against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl that showed how he can take a set draw play and make multiple guys miss in the open field.

But even more impressive than his quickness and speed is his ability to juke, change directions and accelerate out of trouble in the pocket. This ability to improvise may not come around quite as often in the NFL, but it's still a very special talent nonetheless.

Manziel is more than just quick and elusivehe's a smart runner who sees lanes, avoids taking big hits and endures relatively little punishment for a mobile quarterback.

Other than the one hit when he uncharacteristically ran up the middle into trouble against Auburn (and subsequently hurt his shoulder), he usually avoids contact and is very good at sliding.

He may have a tendency to look to escape and run too often, but sometimes you just have to let a kid go when he's this talented. There hasn't been a college quarterback who can make plays like these in a long time. 

Both of these plays show Manziel's ability not only to escape and accelerate out of trouble, but also to keep his eyes up the field and find the right throw. His ability to throw on the run is underrated, which will serve him well at the next level.

His NFL coach will rein him in somewhat, but I fully expect him to still be successful with this in the NFL because he's not just scrambling errantly—he's a smart runner who doesn't take big hits and has very good vision.

 

Measurables and Intangibles

Manziel certainly has a lot of naysayers.

These people claim that he's too small, relies too heavily on running, is injury prone because of his running and has a bad attitude that will make him a team cancer.

I guess I can see where a shallow analysis of him would cause people to feel this way, but I don't see these problems.

First off, he's bigger than people think. Some compare him to Russell Wilson, who is a short but solidly built guy. Wilson, who was 23 years old when he was drafted, was listed at 5'11", 204 lbs. Manziel, just 21 years old, is currently listed at 6'1", 210 lbs.

Others compare him to Doug Flutie, who was listed at 5'10", 180 lbs. Wilson, Flutie, and Drew Brees have proven that shorter quarterbacks can succeed in the NFL.

Manziel also has also missed just a little bit of time during the aforementioned Auburn game when he hurt his shoulder. He was starting the next week, however, and if he can run as much as he does all over SEC defenses, there's no reason to think he'll suddenly become any more injury-prone than RGIII, Wilson, or any other mobile quarterback.

There's also absolutely no way anyone can question Manziel's heart and desire to win.

We can't make any assumptions about what happens in the locker room, but his teammates seem to be behind him and there haven't been any serious reported issues despite his immense fame.

He makes tons of plays like this, and is incredibly fiery on the field. I love watching his intensity, and it's clear his passion rubs off on the rest of the team.

And everything that happened this past offseason was overblown by the media. There's no doubt Manziel didn't handle everything perfectly, but you can't expect a 21-year-old to flawlessly handle the sort of immediate fame which rushed his way.

At the end of the day, he may have made some old-school people mad and definitely made a lot of guys jealous, but he didn't actually do anything illegal, didn't get in trouble, and prepared like crazy to come back and have a successful season, which is exactly what he did.

 

Projection

There's one word that perfectly describes Manziel on the field: fearless. Nobody really mentions that, but it's that fearless quality that allows him to make some of the incredible plays that he does.

So many quarterbacks have all the talent in the world, but are too unconfident and hesitant, and never make full use of their potential. Manziel will definitely not have that issue in the NFL.

I also think that in a way, this past offseason, along with his growing up with money, should actually help him transition to the NFL. Few college players have come into the NFL with this much fame and notoriety already.

Manziel has already done a lot of the adjusting and growing that other rookies go through once they've gotten into the NFL.

There are too many examples of guys who came from nothing, got everything as soon as they signed that first contract and promptly crumbled. Manziel is more ready for that than anyone else.

Manziel is a phenomenal talent who could be an incredible NFL player if he gets the right coaches and system. He's locked in to a first-round grade for me, and I think he can continue elevating his stock if he tests well. Haters gonna hate, Johnny.



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