Johnny Manziel hasn't declared for the NFL draft just yet, but all indications are that he will soon throw his name into the ring.
Speaking to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Manziel recently stated: "In my mind, I think I am [ready]...I feel like I’m playing, for the most part, at a really high level of football. I’m putting the ball where I want it to be and I’m throwing it with a lot of velocity.”
Manziel references his velocity due to the fact that arm strength has been a topic of debate when it comes to his NFL future. While he certainly doesn't have the arm of Joe Flacco or Aaron Rodgers, Manziel has improved his mechanics and boosted his arm strength this past season.
But there are other reasons to questions Manziel's NFL readiness.
When evaluating NFL draft prospects, I chart their performances against their top competition. Charting games forces you to watch each play closely and takes away the natural tendency to focus on the highlights.
These charts also allow you to break down the performance on a more detailed level.
Stats are a minor part of the scouting equation, but advanced statistics produced from charting games can shed some light on a prospect's skills.
What stood out most in an evaluation of Manziel was the degree to which he relied on wide receiver Mike Evans.
Against Missouri, Alabama and LSU, Manziel completed just over 60 percent of his pass attempts—a perfectly respectable rate.
However, on passes thrown more than 10 yards down the field, he completed just 47.1 percent (24 out of 51)—an unacceptable rate for a supposedly elite college quarterback.
To further put that number into perspective, consider the fact that Geno Smith has completed 46.8 percent of his passes 10 or more yards down the field this season, nearly the exact same rate as Manziel against his toughest competition.
While that number raises some doubt about Manziel's NFL future, a closer look brings a terrifying fact to light: Manziel is nothing without Mike Evans.
When targeting Evans, Manziel completed 67 percent of his passes thrown beyond 10 yards, but when targeting any other receiver, that number plummeted to 38.9 percent.
A fair response to that stat might be to point out that Manziel will be surrounded by more talent at the next level, thus making his potential closer to the Evans portion of that statistic. But this is where stats and scouting need to blend together.
When Manziel targets Evans, the vast majority of the throws are simply jump balls. These take only a marginal amount of skill to throw and any quarterback on an NFL roster should be able to loft one up for an elite receiver to pluck from the sky.
Take this heave down the field to Evans against Alabama as an example.
While Manziel's maneuvers to escape pressure are impressive, the throw does nothing for Manziel's draft stock. He simply heaves it down the field and allows one of the best receivers in the college game to come down with it.
More than likely, Manziel won't have the luxury of a Mike Evans-type receiver at the next level. They're a rare breed and only a handful of NFL quarterbacks are blessed with such a talent to bail them out.
If Manziel is thrown into the fire in a place like Minnesota, Jacksonville or Oakland, he'll quickly learn just how much Evans meant to him at College Station.
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