Johnny Manziel: Fact or Fiction for QB Draft Prospect

Chris Trapasso@ChrisTrapassoAnalyst IFebruary 14, 2014

Johnny Manziel is the most polarizing quarterback to enter the NFL since Tim Tebow, but he's similarly sized to Russell Wilson and kind of plays like Tony Romo. 

That's all.

He's bound to create quite the chaotic stir as a professional.

What's most interesting but largely forgotten at this point about the Manziel legend is that it was incredibly close to never even having the opportunity to materialize.

Manziel was a lowly three-star high school recruit, per, and redshirted during his first year at Texas A&M. Before the 2012 campaign, the future Heisman Trophy winner was arrested for his involvement in a bar fight and his usage of a fake ID. 

But Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin fought a season-long suspension that was to be handed down by the university. Though the sanction was ultimately dropped, Manziel found himself in a legitimate quarterback competition with Jameill Showers heading into the 2012 season. He wasn't named the starter until August 16, just two weeks before the first game of the year. 

After the narrow triumph, Manziel went on to experience one of the most exhilarating, turbulent and productive careers in college football history, both on and off the field.

In two short seasons, the Johnny Football phenomenon was born, countless records were smashed and plenty of impassioned, oftentimes opposing opinions were formed about Texas A&M's transcendent star.

Let's determine what is fact and what is fiction regarding Manziel. 


Manziel Isn't a Good Pocket Passer: Fiction

Here's the thing. In his first year as a starter, Manziel wasn't extraordinarily sound as a pocket passer, which, despite the recent influx of world-class athletes playing the quarterback position, is still the most integral factor to having long-term success as a quarterback at the NFL level. 

In 2012, he completed 69 percent of his passes within the tackle box. That's definitely not a low number, but Kevin Sumlin's wide-open, spread-prominent "Air Raid" system naturally bolsters a signal-caller's completion percentage. 

The term "pro-style offense" is rapidly evolving, as more college and NFL teams are instituting Sumlin-style philosophies and wrinkles into their attacks while moving away from I-formation sets with two receivers and one in-line tight end. 

However, Manziel needed to show more accuracy, coverage-reading proficiency and downfield touch in 2013—and he did. 

According to ESPN, Manziel "completed 73 percent of his passes from inside of the pocket" which was the "best among quarterbacks from BCS automatic-qualifier conferences." Manziel also raised his completion percentage on passes that traveled at least 25 yards down the field, from 38.2 as a freshman to 47.7 as a sophomore. 

That's a sizable jump. 

Former Chicago Bears Director of College Scouting Greg Gabriel, who's now the Lead Draft Writer at National Football Post, wrote the following about Manziel's abilities as a passer after watching nine of his games (three from 2012, six from 2013):

While in the pocket, Manziel is calm and poised and shows he can go through a progression. He demonstrates the ability to look off a receiver and then come back to him and is also good at finding open secondary receivers. The one thing I really like about Manziel is his accuracy and ball placement. 

Gabriel when on to write: "On the Manziel tape I viewed from 2013, I only saw two interceptions that I would consider poor throws."

The majority of the most captivating plays Manziel made during his tenure at the collegiate ranks came when he ad-libbed after he couldn't find an open receiver and ended with an open-field scramble.

But he needed to refine his game and show more willingness to calmly and decisively pass from the pocket with accuracy in 2013, and he definitely exhibited that necessarily improvement. 

Manziel doesn't have experience coming out from under center, something he'll almost assuredly have to do in the NFL. That integral aspect of playing the quarterback position might lead to some initial inconsistency, but from a purely passing standpoint—coverage reading, secondary manipulation, ball placement—he's inarguably "good."


Manziel Is Undersized: Fact

Johnny Football is listed on the Texas A&M website at 6'1'' and 210 pounds. That's pretty much the consensus height and weight for him on the Internet. 

Even if he measures in at 6'1'' and 210 pounds at the combine, he'll be undersized by NFL quarterback standards. Per ESPN, "there are 12 active NFL quarterbacks listed as 6-1 or shorter, and only four of them -- Russell Wilson, Kellen Moore, Drew Brees and Case Keenum -- are listed as weighing less than 210 pounds. 

One of the main reasons NFL teams aren't fond of shorter signal-callers is due to the perceived propensity in which their passes would be batted down at the line of scrimmage. 

Check out this ESPN tidbit on Manziel, though: 

He has only had 12 of his 864 passes batted down at the line (1.4 percent). That is actually below the AQ average over the past two seasons (1.9 percent). 

While Manziel may have missed downfield targets due to the height of his offensive line, his relatively small stature didn't result in his throws being tipped by defensive linemen very often.

The recent emergence of Seattle's Russell Wilson will do Manziel some favors, but we must keep in mind that Wilson and Brees remain exceptions to the rule. 


Manziel Has a Weak Arm: Fiction

After watching film of Manziel, almost everyone can agree that it'd be a stretch to write that he has a huge arm. 

He doesn't. But is it weak? 

No way. 

This famous 95-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans against Alabama in 2013 is one example of the type of strength Manziel has in his arm:

The throw traveled 45 yards in the air, and notice how Manziel didn't need to load up to deliver it. Actually, he released the pass rather flat-footed. 

In the Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over the Duke Blue Devils, Manziel connected another long throw for a touchdown:

Although coaches would have liked Manziel not to release the football off his back foot on this downfield strike, interior pressure was mounting via the blitz. 

He let the ball go at his own 45-yard line, and the pass hit Derel Walker in stride at the Duke 10-yard line. While the long throws are flashy, many classify arm strength by the velocity a quarterback can demonstrate on intermediate throws through tight windows. 

Here's an example of a pass against Alabama that needed to be zipped between a corner underneath and a safety closing in from the middle of the field.

Manziel didn't fire an assortment of fastballs in 2013, but NFL quarterbacks don't make an abundance of them throughout the course of a season, either. 

He appeared to be much more focused on timing, anticipation and touch than he was with sheer velocity. 


Manziel Is an Off-Field Concern: Basically Fiction

Manziel, like just about every college kid, loved having fun with friends and had an insatiable itch to get into bars before he was 21. 

His arrest prior to the 2012 season is somewhat worrisome but not totally damning. Manziel didn't have any other run-ins with the law after that incident, which occurred when he was 19 years old. 

He was involved in a relatively serious autograph scandal after his Heisman-winning season, yet he was only suspended for the first half of the first game of the year in 2013. 

Also, in that same summer, Manziel was kicked out of the Manning Passing Academy for tardiness on a Saturday morning after allegedly staying out on Friday night. 

His maturity was in question before his redshirt sophomore season. 

Fortunately for him, he avoided negative press during the season and demonstrated an exceptionally fiery on-field demeanor on many occasions throughout the year. 

Manziel played through some nagging injuries, led a comeback against then No. 1 Alabama that just fell short and rallied his team from a 38-17 third-quarter deficit to 52-48 bowl win over Duke.

If anything, Manziel silenced the critics who believed he was more concerned with the high-class, celebrity lifestyle than doing what it takes to succeed at the quarterback position. 

This tweet from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport was the ideal way for Manziel to answer those who didn't believe football was his top priority: 

.@ErikBurkhardt said Manziel turned down “several lucrative marketing offers” to train in San Diego. “His focus remains 100% on football”

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 30, 2014

Manziel won't be the type to avoid the media and keep a low profile. For someone with his accolades and past, that'd be nearly impossible. Similar to many NFL stars, he'll likely enjoy himself in bars and clubs with the money that'll come from his pro contract and endorsement deals.

But based on what his actions in 2013, Manziel seems to be a passionate, football-first competitor with all the "leadership" qualities an organization would want in its quarterback.


In Conclusion:

Manziel did just about everything right in his redshirt sophomore season to make himself more appealing to NFL general managers, scouts and head coaches.

No, he didn't repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner, and his Aggies lost four games which caused them to miss out on a berth in a BCS berth. 

But Manziel fine-tuned his accuracy and decision-making from the pocket, exhibited a willingness to stay within the tackles to make throws, all while remaining an unpredictably spectacular improviser and open-field runner. 

Sure, there are holes in his game. 

He may not be able to run as freely in the NFL as he did in college and probably will be asked to take fewer risks with the football. 

Yet many of the most common knocks on Johnny Manziel are fiction. 



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