The Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner figures to be a top pick in the upcoming NFL draft, but whether he can succeed in the pros is a subject of much debate. So of course, it's interesting to ponder what Tarkenton would have to say about Manziel's professional prospects, and thanks to Jim Corbett of USA Today, an in-depth assessment from Tarkenton is now public record.
Tarkenton said in the Tuesday report that he sees a lot of himself in Manziel, and that the 21-year-old dynamo has all the elements to succeed at the next level as a player:
Nobody really played like I played. This kid plays like I did more than anybody else. He's the closest thing I've seen to myself. Russell Wilson has some of it. But Manziel has those similarities even more so than Russell. Manziel is a quarterback savant. People are going to say, "Well, he's only 5-11¾ tall." I wasn't as big, strong and fast as all these other players. But I knew how to play. What Manziel has is an instinctive vision. He did it against the toughest level of college football, twice the last two years against Nick Saban's Alabama defense.
The references to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson make sense, but the fact that Tarkenton went so far as to imply Manziel has more of an "it" factor than a signal-caller who just won a Super Bowl in his second pro season is a big statement.
As many Johnny Football advocates have alluded to, Tarkenton pointed out how dominant Manziel was against Alabama, the premier program in college football with one of the best defenses year in and year out. Both times Manziel faced the Crimson Tide, he lit it up and won at Tuscaloosa as a freshman.
But the former Minnesota Vikings star did express concern about some of Manziel's perceived off-field issues, although he did acknowledge he'd have to get to know him to pass a more decisive judgment:
The things that went on last year with him leaving the Manning camp and other activities, I just want to understand that a little better. Everything I've seen of the kid, I love...But you've got to make sure. Because there's never been a great quarterback I know of who was a rodent...I'd have to spend some time with him. What I've seen him do on the field, he has all the franchise qualities. You look at your great players, they have to be leaders in the clubhouse and off the field. They don't have to be churchgoers. But they have to have character.
Manziel displayed a reckless style at times during his prolific playing days at College Station, sometimes letting his passion for football take over to the point that he left himself susceptible to big hits. That is something Tarkenton says he must avoid in the NFL, but Tarkenton did tell Corbett that he ran as much as anyone in his era and lasted for 18 seasons.
Opinions continue to be split on Manziel, who could go as high as No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans in May's draft. However, Bleacher Report's Chris Simms suggested recently that Manziel could drop out of the first round entirely:
CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler went back and watched Manziel's game tape and doesn't feel he's worth a top-25 pick:
There is no doubting Manziel had one of the most exciting and successful—albeit brief—collegiate careers of any QB in recent history, amassing 93 total touchdowns in two seasons as a starter. His arm strength is also good especially for his size and Manziel brings an excitement that could ignite a struggling NFL franchise.
But the concerns Tarkenton has are legitimate and provide perpetual fuel for those who doubt Manziel. The dual-threat playmaker must prove he's willing to put in the work and strike a good enough balance between football and off-field commitments to be a viable, long-term franchise quarterback.
Manziel did not throw at the NFL Scouting Combine but will let the pigskin fly on March 27 at Texas A&M's pro day, where he'll have his best chance to show evaluators what he can do. If his entertaining style of play and demonstrated ability to live up to the hype are any indication, there's a good chance Manziel will come through with a strong performance—and follow it up by being drafted high based on his upside and star power.
What Manziel does from there remains to be seen, but Tarkenton—along with many other observers—seems excited to find out.