Former Auburn Tiger and current Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton went under a powerful microscope after the 2011 season, when the polarizing signal-caller left Auburn with a national title, Heisman Trophy and enough controversy to fill every square foot of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Consider it the opening act, because former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is about to run through a gauntlet between now and the time his name is called in New York City.
The latest in what will surely be a long line of criticisms of the former Aggie and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner comes from NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki, who, among other things, questions Manziel's ability to be a leader in his list of most controversial prospects.
Suspect intangibles—not a leader by example or known to inspire by his words. Carries a sense of entitlement and prima-donna arrogance seeking out the bright lights of Hollywood. Is known to party too much and is drawn to all the trappings of the game. ... Has defied the odds and proven to be a great college-system quarterback, but still must prove he is willing to work to be great, adjust his hard-partying, Hollywood lifestyle and be able to inspire his teammates by more than his playmaking ability.
Not a leader?
Don't tell that to his teammates, because he proved to be a leader time and time again by setting a good example on the field.
Take, for instance, his signature moment of his 2012 Heisman campaign. The then-redshirt freshman wasn't intimidated by undefeated, No. 1 and defending national champion Alabama, slicing and dicing the Crimson Tide defense to the tune of 345 total yards and two total touchdowns in a 29-24 win.
And check out his loss to eventual SEC champion Auburn during the 2013 season. Now a full-fledged celebrity and sure-fire top pick in the draft, Manziel injured his shoulder early in the fourth quarter of the shootout in mid-October. After sitting out a drive and change, Johnny came marching back onto the field to lead his team on a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that culminated in his own one-yard go-ahead touchdown run.
As was the case throughout his career in College Station, his defense let him down and allowed the Tigers to march down the field for the game-winning score. But all Manziel did that afternoon was total 502 yards and five touchdowns, nearly willing his team to a win despite injuring his shoulder when it mattered most.
Manziel doesn't inspire with his words?
Well, in his final game as a college player, with visions of NFL dollars dancing in his head on New Year's Eve against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, all Manziel did was get in the ear of superstar wide receiver Mike Evans and fire up his team after a sluggish start.
"The whole thing all night was, don't quit," Manziel said in a crowded Georgia Dome press room after the game. "We got down really big. But the main thing I kept stressing to everybody, offense, defense, special teams, kickoff, whatever it was, Don't look at the scoreboard, don't look up. No reason to do it. The game is 0‑0."
Thanks to Manziel's leadership both vocally and by example, the Aggies dug out of a 38-17 halftime hole to topple the Blue Devils 52-48 in one of the most exciting games of the 2013 football season. In that second half, Manziel threw just one incomplete pass.
Not a bad way to cap off a career that not only was special on the stat sheet but hugely important to Texas A&M's new existence in the SEC.
Consider the predraft process the sequel to last summer's smash hit, "The Summer of Manziel."
What NFL folks are going to find out in a hurry is that, while Texas A&M's offense was a "gimmicky college offense," Manziel was asked to make NFL decisions and NFL throws throughout his redshirt sophomore season.
Take his first touchdown pass of the season, for example.
Manziel looked left, came back to right to a deep route and then found Evans underneath on a late-developing route for the touchdown against Rice. It was a sign of things to come for "Manziel 2.0," as he accumulated 4,114 passing yards and 37 touchdowns with a passer rating of 172.89.
Did he take a few too many risks and play within a system that asked him to make things happen with his legs from time to time? Sure.
But that system was a spread system that asked him to make NFL decisions while allowing him to improvise and be creative behind the line of scrimmage.
In other words, what any NFL team that drafts him should do in order to maximize his potential.
The character "issue" will undoubtedly be a hot topic this spring, but let's be real—aside from skipping out on the Manning Passing Academy after claiming he overslept, and the autograph scandal that cost him one half of a football game to start the 2013 season, what issues does he really have?
He likes to hang out in clubs and casinos? OK. So do NFL players, other college athletes and, you know, lots of other 21-year-olds who aren't in the spotlight.
The autograph scandal was a problem at Texas A&M and could call into question his decision-making. But he won't have that specific issue to worry about as a professional football player, so it shouldn't be concerning to his potential future employers in the NFL.
Manziel will undoubtedly be the most polarizing player in this year's NFL draft. His style of play, lifestyle, accolades and potential as a player will put him under a much more powerful microscope than other prospects have faced.
But if you're questioning his leadership, just pop in a tape of any one of his college games over the last two seasons.
"Tape don't lie."
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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