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Johnny Manziel Has Everything to Prove in NFL Scouting Combine Interview Process

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Johnny Manziel Has Everything to Prove in NFL Scouting Combine Interview Process
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Of the players that the Houston Texans are considering with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft, none has generated nearly the amount of speculation and hype as Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Such is the life of Johnny Football.

He has made it clear he wants to stay in Texas, telling The Houston Chronicle (h/t NFL.com):

I want everybody from the janitor at Reliant Stadium to the front office executive assistant all the way up to (owner) Bob McNair to say, 'This kid is 100 percent, can't miss. This is who we want being the face of our program. We want the Texas kid staying in Texas and leading the Texans.'

However, if Manziel is going to assuage any misgivings that the Texans may have about making the former Heisman Trophy winner the first overall pick this year, he will have some work to do at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

It just won't be on the playing field.

 

A College Megastar

The legend of Johnny Football has been the dominant individual storyline in college football over the past two seasons.

Johnny Manziel Career Stats
Year Comp. Att. Pct. Yds. TD INT Rate RYds TD
2012 295 434 68.0 3706 26 9 155.3 1410 21
2013 300 429 69.9 4114 37 13 172.9 759 9

Per CFB Stats

It didn't take long for the mad scrambler with the big smile to get America's attention as a freshman. By the time the Aggies knocked off No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa in November 2012, the nation was in love.

It's not even a little bit hard to see why.

Graphic Designed by Author

Manziel's eye-popping highlights have been scattered all over televisions and YouTube for some time now. His athleticism and ability to extend plays are off the charts, according to Rob Rang of CBS Sports:

Ranks among the more dynamic college football players in recent history. Remarkable maneuverability. Excellent agility and burst, as well as straight-line speed, but what makes Manziel so difficult to contain is his vision. Seems to possess eyes in the back of his head, showing incredible spatial awareness of those around him.

This isn't to say that Manziel isn't also a more-than-capable passer. Bleacher Report's Ryan Lownes writes in his scouting report that Manziel has "Adequate arm strength. He can push the ball downfield and shows the necessary velocity in the intermediate area."

Yes, at just 5'11" and 207 pounds, he lacks the prototypical build of an NFL passer. But so do Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks.

Both have won Super Bowls.

However, as quarterbacks coach George Whitfield told Rang's colleague Bruce Feldman last year, like Brees, Manziel possesses large hands. "Having those big hands not only helps tote the ball in traffic, but he can basically go all through his motion and still pull the ball back."

Add it all together, and you get plays like this one against the Crimson Tide, which left Verne Lundquist stunned:

You and me both, Verne.

Despite what his legion of fans would have you believe, Manziel isn't perfect. He's sometimes too quick to bail even when the pocket is holding, and as Rang points out, his footwork and mechanics can be sketchy on the best of days.

According to Rang, Manziel has a "tendency to fall off his throws, even when standing flat-footed with no pressure. In falling away rather than stepping into his throws, passes lack consistency [and] accuracy."

Still, the simple fact is that some of the things he can do with a football you just can't teach.

OK, that's just showing off.

 

Manziel Won't Wait Long in New York

Given his ridiculous playmaking ability (not to mention his immense popularity, especially in Texas), it's hardly surprising that more than one draftnik has Roger Goodell calling Manziel's name first to the Texans in New York City on May 8.

They include ESPN's Mel Kiper (subscription required) in his second mock draft of 2014. Kiper wrote, "In Manziel, you get a quarterback who in my opinion is ready to play NFL football and make plays, and is preparing with the goal of helping a team right away. Right now I'll stick with the early bet on Manziel, and the idea that coach Bill O'Brien becomes convinced this is his QB of the future."

USA Today's Mike Loyko is on board:

However, the sentiment is far from unanimous. Kiper's colleague Todd McShay (subscription required), for example, has the Texans taking Clowney, with Manziel falling to the Raiders at No. 5:

If the Texans do end up taking a QB, don't be surprised if it's UCF's Blake Bortles over Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. For starters, while Manziel is more dynamic and Bridgewater is more polished, Bortles has the sturdiest frame, outstanding mental makeup, good accuracy -- both in the pocket and on the move -- and the proven ability to deliver in the clutch. Plus, Bill O'Brien was an assistant under Bortles' college coach, George O'Leary, at Georgia Tech, so that could provide O'Brien with the confidence to take Bortles if O'Leary gives him the full stamp of approval.

That jibes somewhat with a report earlier this month from Sports on Earth's Russ Lande, in which Lande said the Texans are leaning toward selecting either Bortles or Manziel:

According to trusted sources, the Texans are initially leaning towards taking either Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel with the top pick. Although Manziel would obviously be the choice of owner Bob McNair, O'Brien is not sold that Manziel possesses the work ethic and intangibles necessary to be the face of a franchise.

However, at this juncture you'd be hard-pressed to find a scribe who thinks Manziel will fall out of the top five altogether. Not when four teams (Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Oakland) have huge holes under center.

 

Time for Johnny to Grow Up

Lock for the top five though he may be, if Manziel wants to be the first pick, he has work to do in Indy.

Not necessarily on the playing field, either. Sure, a blistering 40-yard dash would look good on SportsCenter. He won't be throwing in Indy, so scouts will have to wait until his pro day on March 22 to see him put through those paces.

Where he really needs to impress is in interviews and meetings with NFL teams.

For as great as he was on the field, he could be equally as maddening. The partying. The NCAA investigation and one-half (yes, a half, and yes, it was dumb) suspension prior to the 2013 season after he allegedly took money from a memorabilia dealer.

And let's not forget his response to his critics once he was back on the field:

It all smacked of youthful arrogance and immaturity. From a college kid, it was fine, if a bit oft-putting for some.

NFL teams? They're not having it, especially from a rookie.

The most important thing that Manziel can do in Indianapolis is wow teams in the interview process. If he can impress upon NFL clubs that past missteps are just that and he's ready to dedicate himself fully to his profession, then the sky is the limit.

That maturity needs to extend to the playing field as well. Far too often at Texas A&M, he was careless with the ball and/or his body.

In the NFL, that will get him benched and/or injured.

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He needs to convince teams that he's capable of dialing it back a notch, of being coachable and playing within a system. How much he actually means it—and the balance he and his new team do/don't find where convention meets chaosmay well define his NFL career, at least in the early going.

For his part, Manziel gets that, at least if what he told reporters at the combine is any indication, via Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar:

I’m just looking forward to showing up all the people who are saying that I’m just an improviser. I feel that I worked extremely hard this year to hone in on my game all around. I’m continuing to do that — working out in San Diego [with performance coach George Whitfield], and getting better as a pocket passer, and as a quarterback in general.

It's clear that the Houston Texans are traveling to Indy in hopes for reasons to draft Manziel. The idea of passing on a local heroonly to see him go on to star for another teamis terrifying for the franchise.

As Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports put it, "Best-case scenario for the Texans? Johnny Manziel is a more dynamic Russell Wilson. Worst-case scenario for the Texans? Johnny Manziel is a more dynamic Russell Wilson...for Cleveland."

If he helps erase any lingering doubts about his maturity and dedication with great interview sessions, the odds will swing heavily toward the Texans aiming for the best case.

And that puts the ball squarely in Johnny Football's court.

The difference is that this isn't a game Manziel can win with his arm or legs.

 

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