Like him or not, Johnny Manziel was one of the most exciting players to watch in all of sports in 2013, and he figures to be taken among the top-10 picks in the 2014 NFL draft in May.
Several years ago, Manziel's NFL outlook wouldn't have been nearly as bright as it is in this day and age. However, the influx of dual-threat quarterbacks throughout the NFL (see Kaepernick, Colin and Newton, Cam) means the league now lends itself to QBs who can make plays with their legs and their arms.
But if you followed football in 2013 (and 2012 and 2011, for that matter), you know this to be true. The biggest question now is whether the most dynamic quarterback (heck, most dynamic player) in college football during the last two seasons can make a seamless transition to professional football.
Breaking down Manziel's chances of NFL success is difficult because of his rather unconventional style of play. A big portion of his value comes from his ability to make plays with his legs, but don't count him out as an ineffective pocket passer.
In fact, Johnny Football showed great improvement in that department in 2013, when one of his biggest knocks was his lack of pocket-passing proficiency heading into the season. That development is showcased by simply looking at some of his highlights from the season.
At :23, :31, 1:14, 1:19 and 1:27 in the following video, Manziel shows off his ability to make plays downfield from the pocket, in addition to his superb passing accuracy.
Part of what makes Manziel such an elite draft prospect is his accuracy, but his improved proficiency in the pocket is what really makes him an exciting (and potentially dominant) prospect in the NFL.
But when Manziel can't afford to stay in the pocket is when he shines most. His ability to make plays downfield while scrambling and facing heavy pressure will translate to the NFL, and it will have to, as he'll almost certainly be drafted by a team with a below-average offensive line.
Granted, NFL linemen and linebackers possess quite a bit more speed (and strength, of course) than do college linebackers, so Manziel won't be able to get away with as many of his scrambling antics that helped him keep so many passing players alive at Texas A&M.
But does anyone really expect Manziel to match his 2,169 rushing yards in 26 games (83.4 per game) when he transitions to the NFL? Of course not. He'll certainly be asked to rely more on his pocket-passing ability than his scrambling to make plays, but if his aforementioned improvement in that category is any indication, the threat of Manziel's rushing ability becomes even scarier.
Furthermore, none of the top-rushing quarterbacks in the NFL matched Manziel's college rushing prowess (with the arguable exception of Colin Kaepernick). Perhaps most importantly, none of them played in the SEC either, which features many of the best linebackers in college football (e.g. C.J. Mosley, Antonio Morrison, Lamin Barrow).
However, Manziel's value as a quarterback also goes beyond his measurable tools, such as speed and accuracy, which are nonetheless impressive as well. His instincts, for one, might be the best of any quarterback in the draft.
"You talk about instincts and playmaking ability -- I've never evaluated anybody at the quarterback position better in those factors," NFL media analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah said this week, according to NFL.com's Dan Parr (via the Peter Schrager Podcast). "He's the most creative quarterback playmaker that I've scouted in 10 years."
But the real question on many NFL teams' minds is whether Manziel is mature enough to be successful in the NFL. When he becomes a millionaire on draft day, will he suddenly turn his attention to partying and women?
Anyone who thinks so simply hasn't followed Manziel during 2013.
Can you remember a Manziel controversy since his half-game suspension to start the season? That incident was as good of a wake-up call as any, and his reaction to it looks like a sign that he's finally learning to control his off-field antics.
That doesn't mean Johnny Football will be a goody two-shoes in the NFL. But what doesn't get enough consideration is the fact that wherever Manziel plays football in 2014 will be an entirely different environment than what he experienced in college.
But what really indicates that Manziel may put a stop to his troubles is shown in his will to win, as evidenced perfectly by his late-season heroics in 2013 that resulted from his determination to go out on top, despite an overall disappointing season.
''I want nothing more than to win these next two games and to get into a good bowl game and go 10-2 in another regular season,'' Manziel said in November, when his team stood at 8-2 on the season, according to Yahoo! Sports (via the Associated Press). ''I can't even put into words how bad I want that for seniors on this team and for this team in general.''
His performance in Texas A&M's gritty, come-from-behind win against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl proved just that. It can't be overstated how difficult it must have been for Manziel to see Texas A&M's defense allow 38 first-half points in that game.
But he swallowed his frustration and went on to lead his team to 21 fourth-quarter points—35 total in the second half—to cap off his incredible two-year career.
That game was a great indication of how polished Manziel's game has become. He's had numerous long passing plays from the pocket, in addition to the collection of jaw-dropping rushing plays that have become almost inevitable by now.
Finally, it's worth noting that Manziel's success could hinge upon where he ends up in the NFL. It's one thing to have the tools and intangibles to succeed in the NFL, but being on a team with a poor offensive line and no viable wide receiver options means even an incredible skill set can only carry one so far.
Perhaps the most likely scenario for Manziel is that he winds up with the Cleveland Browns, who select fourth overall. With Manziel generally regarded as the third best quarterback in the draft (behind Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles) and the St. Louis Rams' lack of a quarterback vacancy, Manziel falling to the Browns is a decidedly likely scenario.
What does Johnny Manziel's NFL future hold?
That would be a great match for Manziel, who could form deadly connections with All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon and breakout tight end Jordan Cameron.
Don't forget, the offensive line isn't too shabby in Cleveland either. They allowed a lot of sacks in 2013, but that can mostly be attributed to having immobile quarterbacks. (Browns quarterbacks combined for 32 rushes in 2013—that's two per game.) Left tackle Joe Thomas is one of the best in the business.
Of course, it's premature to delve into this too deeply, as Manziel has a good chance of not even being drafted by Cleveland. But if he is, he'll be thrust into a situation that at least gives him a legitimate chance of success in his NFL career.
We'll see if he can deliver.