Johnny Manziel showcased a unique ability to make plays during his two seasons at Texas A&M versus top-tier SEC competition.
But will his skill set at the quarterback position translate to the NFL level? And can the former Heisman Trophy winner hold up given his smaller frame (6'0", 207 lbs) and aggressive style of play?
Today, let's take a look at Manziel, discuss where he needs to develop and project the right fit from a coaching/scheme perspective as we get closer to the first round of the NFL draft this Thursday night.
Playmaking Skill Set
Manziel is a highly competitive quarterback that shows up on the big stage (Alabama tape) with the ability to produce in crucial situations.
Whether that is on third down, in the red zone or in a situation that requires the quarterback to take over a game (second half of Chick-fil-A Bowl versus Duke), Manziel can create opportunities with his natural playmaking skills.
Video courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com
Given his game speed (he plays much faster than his 4.68 40 time), athleticism and instincts, Manziel would often buy time for his wide receivers to convert routes (stem vertically or work back to the football) and take advantage of poor technique in the secondary.
In the open field, Manziel uses his lateral quickness (4.03 short shuttle, 6.75 three-cone) and exceptional vision as a runner to make defenders miss, create cutback opportunities and expose angles to the ball.
Plus, his ability to throw from multiple platforms/angles with a quick release is impressive when he avoids the rush, works outside of the pocket and delivers the ball on the move to find receivers.
That's the type of special talent you get with Manziel as he can create for the offense and engineer plays when things break down.
Development and Durability Concerns
Looking at Manziel, there are some concerns about his development and durability at the NFL level.
Manziel often fails to step up versus pressure, and at times he is too quick to leave the pocket when the opportunity is there to slide, reset and deliver the throw at the top of the route break.
And even with the playmaking ability we just talked about, Manziel has to show more patience in the NFL to progress through his reads while moving in the pocket to create throwing windows with his 6'0" frame.
This also means taking the checkdown (or the underneath option) and avoiding the high-risk throws (jump balls) into coverage that can get the quarterback in trouble versus NFL defensive backs.
In terms of mechanics/footwork, that's where we see some of the accuracy issues from Manziel in the pocket as he will throw off his back foot or fail to transfer his weight (step into the throw) that will lead to "basket picks" for defensive backs.
I often get asked about Manziel's ability to stay healthy and absorb contact versus NFL defenders given his aggressiveness as a runner outside of the pocket.
Is that a real concern? Sure it is, because NFL defenders will look to knock Manziel out of the game.
If Manziel doesn't adjust his running style (slide/get out of bounds) in the pros, that's a free shot for a linebacker or a safety that takes the proper angle and drops the pad level just enough to deliver a clean, violent hit.
The positive here? We are talking about areas of concern that can be corrected with coaching and reps in the NFL.
If I'm putting together a playbook for Manziel, the first thing on the list is "movement" passes.
Think of the boot, sprint and dash (half roll often paired with a throwback seam/7 cut). Concepts that allow the quarterback to get to the edge of the pocket with a run/pass option along with the ability to create as an athlete.
Similar to what we see from Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks offense, the boot action presents opportunities.
Here's a look at a standard boot from the Seahawks out of Ace/12 personnel (2WR-2TE-1RB).
This isn't a complex alignment with the X receiver in a reduced split (tighten alignment to run over route) and the Z receiver in a plus split (clear out room for the tight end flat-7 combo).
But the idea here is to get Wilson outside of the pocket using play action to create opportunities (and throwing lanes) for the quarterback.
What about the sprint game?
There are two routes you will see in the NFL out of slot formation with an offset back in "chowed" alignment (outside leg of the tackle) to secure the edge: smash-7 and curl-flat.
Take a look at the San Francisco 49ers' pre-snap alignment on the smash-7 that allows quarterback Colin Kaepernick to get to the edge of the defense.
This is just another example of the movement passes I was talking about above, but the point here is to create a game plan that maximizes the skill set of Manziel and caters to his ability at the position.
This doesn't mean Manziel won't be asked to develop as a pocket passer. That has to be done if he wants to build a career and produce consistently at the NFL level.
However, you can't coach Manziel in a traditional drop-back system and expect to get the most out of his talent.
And for as much as we talk about development at the next level, the team's ability to utilize the player within the proper system is just as important.
That's key with Manziel.
Is There Risk Involved with Drafting Manziel?
Given Manziel's playmaking ability, competitiveness and the game-plan issues he is going to create for opposing defenses, I can see why teams would have the Texas A&M product graded out near the top of their boards.
However, I can also see the risk involved due to Manziel's size limitations, developmental concerns (footwork, mechanics, decision-making) and durability questions.
My take? I go back to the discussion on system fit and coaching.
If Manziel is put in the right system—with the proper coaching—he can produce as a first-round pick with a unique skill set that we don't see often at the quarterback position.
Seven-year NFL defensive back Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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