Johnny Manziel Proving an Enigma for NFL Front Offices

Dan PompeiNFL ColumnistFebruary 21, 2014

After canvassing eight front-office men about Johnny Manziel, here is my conclusion:

He can be a home run.  

Or he can be a strikeout on three pitches in the dirt.

There clearly is great upside with Johnny Football. He is capable of doing things others can only dream of. He is a natural who makes plays in the clutch and has the poise the great ones have. He wins.

And there clearly is great downside with Johnny Football. He has enjoyed being what Bill Parcells warned his passers not to be: a celebrity quarterback. He is short. He is unconventional. And he might be incapable of doing business from the pocket.

So there is no consensus groupthink on Manziel. "He is such a polarizing figure," one AFC front-office exec said. "Some people love him. Some not so much."

Manziel has been compared to many others. But the thing that makes the NFL uncomfortable with him is he really isn't quite like anyone. The league probably has never seen another Johnny Football.

Let's review some of the comparisons:

Doug Flutie: Similarly, Manziel has been compared to Fran Tarkenton and RGIII. One longtime scout even said Manziel reminds him of Allen Iverson in shoulder pads. But Manziel's size (he measured in at the combine at 5'11¾") and ability to make something from nothing is most reminiscent of Flutie. "He has some Flutie magic," is how one college scouting director put it.

Said an NFC general manager: "He is a more elusive Flutie. But he has a tendency to put his linemen in trouble." The general manager said he wasn't sure how about Manziel's speed. He was looking forward to seeing him work out at the combine this weekend.

Like Flutie, Manziel can turn aggressive pass rushes and blitzes into his advantage. "The thing that stands out is real good field vision," the AFC front-office exec said. "He keeps his eyes downfield. A lot of guys can't do that. It's his best quality. It's a really good quality to have."

No quarterback can make a living solely through improvisation, however. At some point, he has to take the snap, drop back and throw the football. The college scouting director wonders if Manziel can do that. A player personnel director said he had similar concerns. "I'm not sure if he fits in the pro game," he said. "He'll get swallowed up in the pocket."

Front-office men agree Manziel won't fit just any scheme. Wherever he goes, playbook concessions will need to be made. "You have to build the system around him," an AFC general manager said. "You need to have a creative offensive coordinator." The college scouting director said he would like to see what Manziel could do playing for Chip Kelly in Philadelphia.

The AFC front-office exec said the NFL could be ready for Manziel, given where offenses have headed. "If he was coming out in 2008, his bust factor would have been greater," he said. "But with the way offenses have changed, with all the spread, option and all that, he's less risky, assuming he is used right. He just has to go to a team that allows him to do what he does."

Drew Brees: This comparison is made mostly because the quarterbacks both need step-stools to reach the top shelf. But Manziel is nowhere near the same kind of passer Brees is. "The precision is not the same, not close," the longtime scout said.

That is not to say Manziel is inaccurate. None of the front-office men considered his accuracy a negative. But Brees is in a different league. "The thing with Manziel is the more unorthodox he is, the more accurate he becomes," the AFC general manager said.

Brees has benefited from playing in a controlled environment. The AFC front-office exec believes Manziel would be best suited in a similar situation. "I think he will be best indoors, or in warm weather," he said. "I'm not sure he's built for Cleveland. He's not a bad-weather quarterback."

Some of Manziel's worst college performances have come in bad-weather games. Manziel eased some of those concerns when his hands measured at 9 7/8 inches on Friday—which were the largest hands of any quarterback at the combine.

Brett Favre: The former Packer himself made the comparison in a recent interview with USA Today. He meant they are similar in their competitiveness and their gun-slinging mentality. Manziel does not have anywhere near Favre's arm strength, but he has enough arm strength, according to scouts.

When Favre was young, he was erratic both on and off the field. And that may be an appropriate comparison between Favre and Manziel. All of the front-office men said Manziel's lifestyle is concerning. One compared him to Ryan Mallett in that regard. A few of them brought up questions about his work ethic. They are peppering him about it in interviews at the combine.

If Manziel aces the combine, the arrow is going to go up for him. He just needs to make NFL teams feel comfortable with the fact that he's not typical. The feeling, though, is that most front-office men want to like this kid.

"He's made so many plays," a second AFC general manager said. "He's so dynamic."

Said a third AFC general manager, "He's kind of growing on me."


NFL Confidential

• Some NFL front-office men already have been lobbying their owners for more money for undrafted free agents. Why? Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said this is the deepest draft he has seen in 30 years. That depth means the undrafted free agents this year will be the equivalent of fifth- or sixth-round picks last year. One high-ranking exec said his team's draft board will have about 200 draftable players—or roughly 30 percent more than there were a year ago. So the bidding for undrafted players should be much more competitive than usual, with the expectations that many of them should stick on rosters.

• The biggest impact of the unusually large junior class will be felt at the running back position. Of the 20 underclassmen running backs who declared, 14 are draftable in the estimation of one national scout. The junior running back group includes arguably nine of the top 11 prospects at the position. The only seniors in the upper echelon, according to the scout, are Ohio State's Carlos Hyde and Boston College's Andre Williams. The top junior runners, in alphabetical order, are Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Florida State's Devonta Freeman, LSU's Jeremy Hill, Auburn's Tre Mason, Washington's Bishop Sankey, Baylor's Lache Seastrunk, Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas and Towson's Terrance West.

• Lost in the Redskins' offseason front-office shuffling is the reality that A.J. Smith appears to have gotten significantly more juice. People familiar with the inner workings of the Redskins front office say that the former Chargers general manager may have the most powerful personnel voice in the building now. Bruce Allen was given the title of general manager after the firing of Mike Shanahan, but Allen does not try to pick the players. He leans on the people he trusts most. And the person he trusts most is Smith. His title is senior executive, but Smith could be as responsible for the Redskins' roster moving forward as anyone.

• A point of emphasis in OTAs, minicamp and training camp for the Bucs is going to be improving Doug Martin's ability to impact the offense as a receiver, according to a source at One Buc Place. The Bucs would like to work Martin into the passing game more, but the third-year running back needs work on his route running and receiving skills.

• The competition committee does not see the elimination of the extra point as a top priority this year. However, it is very likely that in the future the extra point eventually will go the way of the leather helmet. The extra point is considered a ceremonial play, and beyond that, people who have studied the situation say eliminating it can shave five minutes per game.


Scout Talk

Some of the most valuable information NFL teams derive from the scouting combine comes from doctors' reports. Bleacher Report asked several front-office men which players' medical reports will be of most interest to them. Here are some of the players they have highlighted.

Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina DE: He was bothered at times by bone spurs on his foot last season. One scouting director said he wants clarification on whether or not Clowney needs surgery on the foot before he puts his final grade on him.

Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma CB: Everyone saw him tear his ACL at the Senior Bowl. What most don't know is the extent of the injury and the prognosis.

Dominique Easley, Florida DT: Multiple scouts said Easley could be a high second-round pick if he checks out medically. He was on his way to a big season when he tore his ACL in practice. It was the second torn ACL (one left, one right) of his college career. So NFL teams want to try to determine if long-term durability is an issue, if Easley will be able to return to form, and how much he has recovered at this point.

Antone Exum, Virginia Tech CB: He played only three games last season after blowing out his knee in a pickup basketball game. He is supposed to be healthy enough to participate in drills, but teams really want to see what the MRI says about his knee. If Exum appears over his knee problems, he could be a second-round pick, according to more than one front-office man.

Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech CB: He pulled out of the Senior Bowl due to his sports hernia surgery in November but is expected to participate in combine drills. Teams want to see just where he is in terms of recovery, and if Fuller is impressive enough he might even be able to move up into the first round.

Tre Mason, Auburn RB: With a physical running style and 317 carries last season, Mason was beat up by the end of the year. One front-office man said he was not concerned about any injury in particular, but he wanted to see if the pounding might have caused any long-term damage that could affect his durability.

Zach Mettenberger, LSU QB: He tore his ACL in December, but the word among scouts is he already is doing pass drops. Mettenberger can allay a lot of concerns is he shows he is coming along quickly.

Aaron Murray, Georgia QB: Teams want to take a good look at his torn ACL and determine how much they can expect from Murray in 2014. Good news: He was walking around at the Senior Bowl.

Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama S: Doctors will try to determine how far along he is after a knee injury ended his season in October.

Anthony Steen, Alabama G: He had shoulder surgery in December, and unless the shoulder looks like it's coming along well teams may knock him down a peg or two.


Hot Reads

• Lovie Smith saying the Bucs might draft a quarterback with the seventh pick is like a card shark telling the other players what his poker hand is before they put their bets down.

• Mike Ditka thinks Matthew Stafford should not wear a backwards cap (via the Detroit Free Press). A wedding dress he would have no problem with.

• LeBron James is advising Tony Romo (via 105.3 The Fan in Dallas). But Ryan Tannehill isn't going to like it if King James tells Romo to take his talents to South Beach.

• Steve Spurrier indicated Clowney didn't have the greatest work ethic. He then needed to pick up the stones and call the glass repair company to take care of the cracks all over the walls of his house.

• Ray Farmer is saying there may be some "curveballs" in the Browns' quarterback situation, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. Maybe he's planning on drafting Clayton Kershaw.


Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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