Johnny Manziel Needs to Declare for NFL Draft After Strong Chick-Fil-a Bowl

Alex EspinozaCorrespondent IIIJanuary 1, 2014

Dec 31, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) celebrates defeating the Duke Blue Devils during the 2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Texas A&M won 52-48. Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports
Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

Was that Johnny Football's final act for Texas A&M?

In a span of two seasons, Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel has captivated the college football world with his high-wire act and gunslinger mentality under center. On Tuesday night, Manziel turned in a vintage Johnny Football performance while guiding Texas A&M to a wild 52-48 comeback win against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Manziel tossed two second-half touchdown passes and rushed for another, finishing 30-of-38 for 382 yards and four scores while rushing the ball 11 times for 73 yards and a TD.

But the box score hardly does justice to the display Manziel put on in Atlanta. Throughout his career, Manziel made a habit of improvising out of bad situations and making jaw-dropping plays, and he delivered another instant classic highlight against the Blue Devils.

With his team trailing 38-17 early in the second half, Manziel turned in this gem that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown pass to Travis Labhart.

That's an incredible display of athleticism and pure instincts that you can't teach, and it's what makes Manziel so great.

As a redshirt sophomore three years removed from high school, Manziel is eligible to declare for the 2014 NFL draft. Together with others like Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Fresno State's Derek Carr and Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Manziel is considered one of the top draft-eligible prospects at quarterback.

On Wednesday, Bridgewater made news by declaring through the Cardinals' official site that he would be leaving school early to pursue an NFL career, ending months of speculation surrounding the talented signal-caller.

With Manziel's stock so high following his performance against Duke, he should follow Bridgewater's lead and declare for the draft.

Bucky Brooks of was on hand in the Georgia Dome to see Manziel's latest masterpiece and was clearly blown away:

In a glowing column about Manziel's NFL prospects, Brooks gushed about the quarterback's abilities on the big stage while also addressing some of Manziel's most pressing questions.

Does he have NFL arm strength? Can he handle the mental demands of NFL playbooks and defenses? Will his athleticism be compromised at the next level? Brooks is convinced Manziel has the right answer to all of those doubts and will thrive at the next level.

There's no way to simulate the intensity of the NFL, but Manziel got the next closest thing by playing in the SEC. The entire conference has been littered with first-round NFL defensive talent over the past two seasons, but it couldn't slow down the 2012 Heisman winner from making history:

Earlier this year, Nick Saban watched Manziel pile up 464 passing yards, 98 rushing yards and five touchdowns against his vaunted Crimson Tide defense. The respected Alabama coach told Sports Illustrated's Greg A. Bedard that Manziel is a "unique player" with an "NFL future."

I'm on board with Saban's assessment and think the time is right for Manziel to test his skills against the best.