As they approach an important offseason that will need to comprise of John Idzik putting together a winning team built to contend for several years, the New York Jets must be smart, efficient and careful about every decision they make.
Being timid, however, is not an attitude they should ever embrace, especially when it comes to addressing the all-important quarterback position.
If Johnny "Football" Manziel is available when the Jets select 18th overall in the first round, they should not hesitate to pull the trigger.
Of course, drafting a player of Manziel’s stature as a pop culture fixture would make any team at least a bit nervous. Since the Jets seemed to have finally started shaking the "circus" label that has been following them for the past few years, it would seem as though they are much better off just sitting this one out and taking the "safe" pick.
As tempting as it is to use, the simplistic math of "Manziel + Jets = Circus Part II" is simply jumping to conclusions without considering all of the angles. As big of a risk as Manziel is in the eyes of many, passing up on a potential superstar could be an even riskier move.
However, before the Jets can even consider the off-field risks, Manziel needs to pass the on-field test, proving to scouts that he is capable of transforming his record-breaking college production into the professional ranks.
On the Field
"Johnny Football" became a household name after Manziel's Heisman-winning campaign in 2012, but he was far from a finished product to NFL evaluators. For every mind-blowing play he would make to feed the cameras, he would raise another question from NFL scouts.
The biggest issue following Manziel from a scouting standpoint was his tendency to leave the pocket much more quickly than he needed to, even though he was armed with the two best offensive tackles in football, including Luke Joeckel (drafted second overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012) and Jake Matthews (considered a top-10 pick in this year's draft).
NFL quarterbacks dream about the caliber of protection Manziel received. Check out how much space he has to maneuver in the pocket and make throws through wide-open throwing lanes in this still from a 2012 game:
Still, for some reason, Manziel finds an excuse to run out of the pocket far before he needs to.
Fast forward to 2013, and Manziel has grown by leaps and bounds in this area.
On this play against Alabama, Manziel starts out looking to his left, noticing that his primary target is covered:
When he sees that his primary receiver is taken away, he goes to his secondary read, which is Mike Evans running a go route:
As you can see with the play in motion, the ball is perfectly placed for the huge gain. The most important thing to take out of this play is that Manziel did not panic and run out of the pocket when his first read was not there. Instead, he took his time, made the correct decision and made a perfect throw on which only his receiver could make a play (play starts at 0:27).
Manziel was already an accurate quarterback with excellent mobility. Adding improved arm strength (also shown in the previous example) and more patience in the pocket shows that not only is Manziel a better player than he was a year ago, there is no telling how much more polished he can become in those areas.
Manziel may be more disciplined in the pocket now than he was a year ago, but he still has his trademark knack for making timeless, mind-boggling plays that can change the outcome of games:
While one cannot bank on Manziel being able to rip himself out of sure tackles and turn dead plays into dramatic touchdowns on every play, especially in the NFL, there is no doubting the fact that on game day, Manziel competes with the best of them.
Manziel is not a perfect prospect by any means. His size is his biggest detriment; he is listed at 6'1", slightly below where most NFL teams would prefer their quarterbacks to stand. His relatively wiry frame could make him an injury risk, as well.
Still, it is not as if flawless quarterback prospects grow on trees. Manziel's ratio of flaws to strengths still makes him a first-round prospect—if teams are willing to buy into his character.
Weighing the Off-the-Field Risk
Manziel comes to play on Saturdays, but the question is whether or not he brings the same type of commitment to the weekdays in preparation for Sunday.
NFL scout on Manziel: "He's Favre. On Sunday, he's going to play his ass off. The rest of the week, he's going to do what he wants to do."— Jason Cole (@JasonPhilCole) January 1, 2014
It is no secret that Manziel carries a reputation even beyond the sports realm as a...well...college kid who likes to have fun. After winning the Heisman, he took full advantage of his newfound stardom, partying with celebrities and embracing the fact that he was the most famous amateur football player in the world. For a kid who is destined to be an accountant or a lawyer, his actions would be, for the most part, perfectly normal and acceptable for a 21-year-old.
Most 21-year-olds, however, are not on the doorstep of becoming the face of an NFL franchise.
Manziel's brush with fame hit a wall this summer. He skipped out on a Manning Passing Academy appearance because he was allegedly too hungover to attend. Soon after, his 2013 season was in jeopardy when he was found to have sold autographs for money (he would be suspended for one half against Rice in the season opener).
These stories got plenty of run on social media outlets, but it's important to keep in mind that these infractions are far from heinous. Every year, numerous athletes wind up on arrest reports or are caught with DUIs, but Manziel's partying habit and him selling his signature for a few thousand bucks gets more publicity because, well, he's Johnny Football.
Should the Jets take a deep dive into these transgressions to ensure that Manziel is not the awful character he is portrayed as sometimes? Certainly. But such stories cloud the fact that while Manziel is certainly a flawed character who has made his share of mistakes, there is another side of Manziel that is seldom discussed because it does not generate nearly as much attention.
Why don't they publicize Johnny for stuff like this? pic.twitter.com/BPl60ZTBzk— Mason James Duncum (@mduncum) November 18, 2013
There is reason to be legitimately concerned with Manziel off the field, but to brush him off as a some prankster who happens to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football would be an ignorant mistake.
Act Without Fear
If Manziel passes the Jets' personality tests and they like him enough on tape to take him in the first round, it would be an embarrassing and colossal mistake to refuse to pull the trigger on him simply because it would cause a stir.
Every general manager or coach talks about the great player they liked or almost drafted. The great executives and coaches just go ahead and draft them. They don't think "what if things go wrong"; they embrace the possibility of what can happen if it all works out.
Former Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney faced a similar decision on Cam Newton in 2011. Like Manziel, Newton found himself in the cross hairs of a lot of questions about character and whether or not his skill set would translate to the NFL.
Hurney was eventually fired because of the team he surrounded Newton with, but having the willingness to roll the dice on a potentially great quarterback was arguably his finest move as general manager.
Jets general manager John Idzik cannot afford to listen to the outside noise Manziel to New York could cause in the media. If a general manager is willing to alter his plans because of what the media might say or do, he has no business being in charge of an NFL team in the first place.
Of course, if the Jets do not like Manziel as a player or person, then they have all the right to turn him down. However, if they are wrong, it will be just another "could have, should have" moment in Jets history.