The most polarizing quarterback prospect since a guy named Tim took the league by storm, Manziel has naysayers and supporters in seemingly all parts of the globe, so it should come as no surprise that his pro day at Texas A&M on Thursday was the biggest sporting event since the Super Bowl.
According to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, even former United States President George H.W. Bush was in attendance:
Gov. Perry and Pres. Bush 44 are among those expected at Manziel's pro day. Biggest pro day ever at A&M.— Charean Williams (@NFLCharean) March 26, 2014
Manziel's critics are vocal and questions about his transition to the pro level are justified. For example, NFL Films scout Greg Cosell told the Ross Tucker Podcast (h/t SI.com) that his deep accuracy and overall arm strength would be the subject of much scrutiny:
When he had to make throws that were at the intermediate or deeper levels -- I'm talking about throws that required a little bit of arm strength -- he had to put his entire body into making those throws. And that was a concern.
Because in the NFL you won't get clean pockets, you won't get the same kind of functional space you get in college. And he had to work so hard to throw the football down the field, that I'd be anxious to see how he throws (at his Pro Day). And my guess is they'll structure his Pro Day tomorrow to try to show that he can drive the football.
In College Station on Thursday, Manziel not only bucked traditional pro-day proceedings with a creative approach, he was accurate under duress and flashed better mechanics than the last time most saw him under center.
Manziel and his camp put a pleasant twist on the event, as he made all throws with a helmet and pads on—most pro days and even the combine allow signal-callers to throw in a relaxed environment without any of the materials they normally don on game day.
He explained the decision to NFL Network's Gil Brandt:
Just asked Manziel why the pads and helmet at pro day: "Isn't the game played with them on?"— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) March 27, 2014
Sound logic, but his staff took it a step further by emulating a pass rush as well, as illustrated by NFL Network's Albert Breer:
Also, Manziel will be throwing with a "rush" today -- he'll be chased with a broom by coach @georgewhitfield. 60-plus throws in the script.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 27, 2014
The result? A dose of classic Johnny Football, as he effortlessly navigated the rush thanks to his superb athleticism. According to ESPN.com, he tossed a total of 65 passes in front of 75 officials from 30 teams to great results and praise, such as these lofty words from Ron Jaworski:
"I saw a tremendous improvement on the mechanics of Johnny Manziel. He moves up on my board." - Ron Jaworski on @SportsCenter— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) March 27, 2014
In all, the pro day served a higher function than usual for an NFL prospect.
Given Manziel's reputation as a college kid—my goodness—with a propensity to create a stir the media blows out of proportion, it was important for the first-round hopeful to show an improved game and that his time leading up to the event had been spent in a productive manner.
Teams know Manziel can play. Staffs around the league know he can extend plays with his feet, make those around him better, mostly make good decisions and improve upon a shaky set of mechanics.
The list goes on in regards to Manziel's impressively high ceiling once a professional coaching staff gets its hands on him.
Will Manziel be selected in the first round?
However, those same staffs needed to know—via a routine pro day—that Manziel had taken the process seriously and is committed. That side of the equation is half the battle for any prospect in the several months before the draft that turn out to be the biggest job interview of his life.
Manziel aced this aspect. In tandem with his versatile skill set, he has assured his spot in the first round and may wind up being the first quarterback to have his name called to the podium.