Johnny Manziel, the most high-profile player in the 2014 NFL draft, is anxiously awaiting to see where he will be playing professional football. While it doesn't seem likely at this point, the best thing that could happen to the Texas A&M star is a drop out of the first round.
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner is the great riddle wrapped in a mystery trapped inside an enigma. He dazzled fans for two years at Texas A&M, throwing for 7,820 yards, running for 2,169 yards and totaling 93 touchdowns.
On the basis of those numbers, Manziel should be one of the crown jewels of this draft. He's got a skill set that fits in perfectly with today's NFL, showing the ability to run around the pocket and make plays with his feet when things break down.
Unfortunately that's just one small aspect of playing quarterback in the NFL, and Manziel has a long way to go before learning the other parts of it—if he ever does. Even draft evaluators have no idea what to make of Manziel with less than one week to go before the first round starts.
Peter King of The MMQB had quotes from five different NFL and college personnel men, from Mike Holmgren to Kevin Gilbride, with no consensus on how Manziel's tools are going to play at the next level.
Here's what former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie said about Manziel in the article:
He can make every throw, and I don’t know every NFL offense from top to bottom, but just put him in the shotgun and spread the field out and let him play. You’ve got to find a way to let him play. He would be perfect for Chip Kelly.
That was immediately followed by this quote from former New York Giants offensive coordinator Gilbride:
His mechanics are awful. It’s hard not to be influenced by the things you’ve heard, that the problem is lack of discipline. That manifests itself off the field and in the way he plays. Even just carrying out fakes—it’s just like, ‘Ah, screw it.’ Those guys don’t make it usually. But he’s athletic enough and talented enough that if he works, he can make it.
At best, that's a back-handed compliment saying that everything you do looks really bad but if you work at it, it might play.
Most mock drafts have Manziel going in the top 10, ranging anywhere from Jacksonville at No. 3 to Minnesota at No. 8. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com has Johnny Football going to the Jaguars, citing his "energy and spectacular playmaking."
Manziel is nothing if not a competitor, so he wants to go to a situation where he can be the starter from day one and lead a franchise out of the abyss into the postseason and eventually a Super Bowl.
Whether Manziel gets to that level or not is a different discussion. He has to be put into a low-pressure situation that isn't going to demand he take over right away, because nothing about his game screams NFL.
All of those plays that worked in college, breaking hand tackles from defensive tackles and running backward before moving forward, are going to get him crushed in the NFL if he doesn't have time to learn from those that came before him.
What is the best path for Johnny Manziel to take in the NFL?
Being a first-round pick and starting right away is the easiest way to go from potential to bust in a hurry. Even if he doesn't start, there is so much scrutiny on the first 32 picks because everyone is watching to see which player their team believes is the next future star.
At the same time, the NFL draft is such a risky proposition that you don't know how players will react when they get thrown to the wolves.
Mark Sanchez might have become a great quarterback for the New York Jets, but he was thrown in the fire right away as the No. 5 pick and never managed to get over a certain plateau. The defense and running game carried that team to two AFC title games.
History is filled with any number of quarterbacks taken in the first round and forced to start based on their rare playmaking skills who failed because they never had time to learn this game. Even Robert Griffin III, who still has a world of potential, regressed in his second year because teams caught up to the read-option offense and forced him to become more of a pure pocket passer.
The best thing that can happen to Manziel next week—what he should be hoping for—is teams deciding that he's too much of a risk to take with the hopes of him starting immediately, then have a franchise pop him at some point in the second round where there is an aging veteran he can learn behind for a season. Then he can take over in 2015.
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