Almost every NFL draft is defined by the quarterbacks that are taken early in the process, and the 2014 version of the event will be no different.
With names like Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr all projected as potential Top-10 picks, there are a number of NFL franchises that have fallen on hard times recently that will be looking for their next superstar signal-caller.
The one name that stands out above the rest in terms of potential star power and established name recognition is Manziel of Texas A&M.
There are certainly some risks to taking the former Heisman Trophy winner so early, but the same can be said about every player in the draft. There is no such thing as a surefire guarantee in the NFL.
Manziel will be worth the risk for whichever team selects him.
However, just because he may be worthy of an early selection does not mean the risks aren’t there. Injuries for the 6’1” and 210-pound quarterback, as well as potential off-field concerns (even if they were completely overblown while he was in college), are legitimate possibilities.
Troy Aikman discussed those realities on KTCK-AM radio in comments that were passed along by the Dallas Morning News:
I think he'll be pretty good. The concerns that I have would first of all, be his size. Can he take the pounding? I've never met him, so I'm not sure what his stature is, but he just seems like he's a pretty small guy, and maybe, I don't want to say fragile, but the punishment in the NFL could take a toll on him. So that would be concern No. 1.
Manziel did deal with some nagging injuries as a sophomore, but it is his willingness to risk his body and tuck the ball down and run that may leave him the most exposed at the professional level.
Aikman also discussed potential maturity concerns:
And the No. 2 would be, not having sat and visited with him, how well can he be the face of a franchise? Is he mature enough to handle that responsibility? Is he going to commit himself to being a great NFL quarterback or are other things more important to him? If you can come out of those questions and say, 'Yeah, I believe he's big enough to withstand the punishment and I believe he is committed and he is going to do the right things because we're going to be paying him a lot of money,' then I think he's a first-round talent. I really do.
Any team drafting a quarterback in the top five picks of the draft needs to be cognizant of health concerns and potential maturity issues. The idea is to build the franchise around him for years to come.
In short, you want Peyton Manning instead of Ryan Leaf or JaMarcus Russell.
With all that being said, the ceiling of Manziel both on the field and off of it makes him an enticing selection at the top of the draft.
He threw for 7,820 yards and 63 touchdowns in two seasons at Texas A&M and added 2,169 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground.
Don’t overlook the fact that those numbers came in the SEC, either, as we project how prospects will perform against elite competition in the NFL.
Furthermore, Manziel possesses individual playmaking abilities that no other quarterback does in this draft. Considering the top five teams in the draft are there for a reason and have issues along the offensive line and at the wide receiver spot (although Andre Johnson would have something to say about that), Manziel will need to show off his athleticism at times.
Manziel also shows up in the biggest moments, which was evidenced in contests against Alabama and in bowl games against Oklahoma and Duke.
He isn’t lacking in confidence, either, if this Sporting News tweet is to be believed:
Just ask the Seattle Seahawks what the combination of talent and confidence can do at the NFL level.
Manziel also has incredible value to a team’s marketing department, and he hasn’t even played a down yet in the NFL. He is already a household name and is comfortable in the limelight.
He demonstrated that he can produce in the light of potential distractions the past two seasons, as no college football player received as much attention as he did.
A franchise like the Jacksonville Jaguars, which is starving for star power to market to fans, could use someone like Manziel suiting up on Sundays.
With the combination of ability, a high Q score and the propensity to dominate on the biggest stages, Manziel is certainly worth the risks that he presents as an early NFL draft pick.
Note: Measurables and statistics courtesy of sports-reference.com.
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