NFL Evaluators Won't See What They Really Want to at Johnny Manziel's Pro Day

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NFL Evaluators Won't See What They Really Want to at Johnny Manziel's Pro Day
Patric Schneider/Associated Press

Teddy Bridgewater failed to impress at Louisville's pro day, while Blake Bortles shined at his.

Now, while analysts and pundits chew the cud about what that means for the quarterbacks' respective draft stocks, a third quarterback is ready to make his shorts-and-tank-top case for the No. 1 overall pick.

You may have heard of him: Johnny Manziel.

The controversial, Heisman Trophy-winning redshirt sophomore is ready to step out and perform in front of an army of NFL scouts, coaches, executives and general managers. He'll make dozens of scripted throws to all areas of the field, and the audience assembled will get a great look at what his dropback, footwork, mechanics and arm look like in a defenseless vacuum.

Here's the problem: What NFL evaluators want to see is if he can learn to manage the pocket, make smart decisions quickly and hit the open man.

Without a pocket to sit in, defense to read, choices to make or a pass rush hurrying him, there's simply no point in watching Manziel's pro day workout.

Maybe that's why Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer, according to ESPN Cleveland, won't bother showing up.

 

Winner, Gamer, Clutch

You can't put a number on Johnny Manziel's intangibles. In fact, as Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz recently reminded folks at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, you can't put a number on anybody's intangibles:

Even though there's no number to quantify Manziel's ability to rise to the occasion, it's plain to see that he makes plays that break open games—and he often makes those plays when the called plays break down.

Given Manziel's athleticism, playmaking knack and 6'0", 207-pound frame, it's natural that he be commonly compared to Seattle Seahawks wunderkind Russell Wilson. Other comparisons to great improvisors like Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre and Fran Tarkenton have been made—in Tarkenton's case, by Tarkenton himself, according to Jim Corbett of USA Today.

Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien—who'll have a big say in whether Manziel goes with the Texans' No. 1 overall pick—nailed Manziel's allure.

"I enjoy watching him play," O'Brien told John McClain of The Houston Chronicle. "Johnny is an exciting guy to watch play."

No other quarterback—arguably, no other player—in the 2014 draft class has this kind of playmaking ability:

DraftBreakdown.com

That completely insane play, which looks more like the old Tecmo Bowl video game series than real life, wasn't just a wild highlight—it was a successful 3rd-and-8 conversion in a tied game against the No. 1 team in the country.

Of course, in Texas A&M's read-option offense, there's another dimension to Manziel's game that won't be on display: his ground game. Manziel rushed for an unbelievable 2,163 yards at 6.3 yards per carry in just two seasons, per College Football Reference—numbers that would be impressive for a tailback, let alone a quarterback who also threw for 7,830 yards in those same 26 games.

But if what makes Manziel special won't be on display in College Station on March 27, what about his flaws?

Nope, those won't be any more tangible.

 

Vision, Decision, Execution

Manziel has been thoroughly draped with so-called character flags, but those will only be remembered if Manziel flops.

Dan Marino was one of the most dazzling quarterback prospects of all time, re-wrote the passing record books and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Few remember he fell to pick No. 27 in the 1983 draft because of rumors he smoked marijuana while at Pitt, per a 1992 Associated Press story.

Once he hits the NFL, Manziel will be the same as any quarterback: Only as good as his ability to read the defense, make a good decision quickly and hit the open man.

This is where Manziel can struggle mightily, at a level that should be terrifying to NFL teams.

The Airraid offense employed at Texas A&M gave Manziel a few, simple reads and clear decision trees. Even then, Manziel often struggled to see plays that were right in front of him.

Here's a groaner that came on a 3rd-and-10 against Duke:

DraftBreakdown.com

At full speed, it looks like the defensive back just made a great play. But look again, from Manziel's perspective:

DraftBreakdown.com

On the right, receiver Travis Labhart is going up against tight man-to-man coverage. Both linebackers are blitzing, but they're being picked up. The single high safety is playing very deep and rolling to the other side of the field.

Already, Labhart has gotten off the jam, has released inside, has more than a step on his man and is off to the races. That yellow circle represents the massive area of the field Manziel could drop it into and ensure a completion—and if he leads Labhart just a little bit, it could easily go for six.

Instead, Manziel hesitates and pats the ball:

DraftBreakdown.com

This is impossible to figure out. Receivers simply don't get this wide open.

Manziel has been staring Labhart down from the moment he got his hands on the ball, Labhart's cleanly beaten his man and dragging across a ghost town in the middle of the field. There's no pressure at all, the safety still isn't biting down on Labhart, and there is absolutely no reason why Manziel shouldn't pull the trigger.

Two steps later, Manziel finally works up the guts:

DraftBreakdown.com

We can see his window has dramatically shrunk. Manziel has to lead Lebhart here to ensure a safe completion—but with the other corner trailing receiver Malcome Kennedy deep, there's still plenty of opportunity to lead Lebhart to gobs of YAC and a probable score.

Manziel doesn't deliver anything like a perfect pass. Instead, he does the one thing he can't: He throws behind Lebhart, allowing the corner to recover.

What was a guaranteed completion and third-down conversion—and maybe a touchdown—on an important scoring driv eturned into an incompletion and a 45-yard field goal.

When opposing defenses give you free points, you can't turn them down—and NFL defenses won't ever make it this easy for Manziel.

In order for Manziel to become like Wilson, Roethlisberger, Favre or Tarkenton, he has to balance his emotional, instinctual play with patience, good footwork and a focus on making plays downfield. Even those four notorious freewheelers show much more balance, prudence, patience and vision when scrambling than Manziel does.

In his pro day, Manziel will be working with a familiar receiver or two, a few cones and absolutely nothing else. There'll be nothing to inspire his brilliant creativity and nothing to reveal his maturation in field-reading or decision-making.

No wonder Farmer, and other NFL evaluators, will be spending their precious pre-draft time elsewhere.

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