Johnny Manziel is an enigma. He was a fantastic quarterback for Texas A&M, winning a Heisman Trophy in 2012, and making plays no one else in college football could make. Now that he's on the verge of being drafted to the NFL, there's no consensus about his ability.
Smaller quarterbacks, like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees are having more success in the NFL than ever before, yet a knock against Manziel is that he's just 5'11", 207 pounds and may not last long against bigger, faster, physical players than he ever faced in college.
We know that Johnny Football is going to be drafted, presumably in the first round on Thursday night. A lot of talk about where he will go is coming out in the hours leading up to the draft, so it's up to us to decide whether it's legitimate or a smoke screen.
In anticipation of Manziel's NFL career beginning, we have compiled a short list of teams who would embrace his style and give him a chance to succeed at the highest level.
St. Louis Rams
There are two teams with two first-round picks where Manziel would fit, especially if they opted to use their second selection on him.
St. Louis is the first team that jumped out as a fit for the Texas A&M star. Peter King of TheMMQB.com reported the Rams "really like Johnny Manziel, and if he were there at 13 (which is unlikely), they would consider picking him."
The Rams are in an interesting spot at the quarterback position. Sam Bradford has two years left on his contract, and the team reportedly isn't going to offer an extension right now, as per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sportsline.
If Bradford, who has had problems staying healthy in his career, goes down with an injury again, the Rams are going to be stuck in a situation they can't afford to be in. This is a talented roster that could take a step forward in 2014 with a break here or there.
There's no way the Rams should pop Manziel with the No. 2 pick, but imagine this scenario: Sammy Watkins taken with St. Louis' first pick, lining up on the outside with Tavon Austin in the slot and Manziel as the quarterback.
The Rams are also appealing because they play in a dome and play two road games each season in the warm-weather environments of Arizona and San Francisco.
We know how fast the turf at the Edward Jones Dome can be with the right players. Manziel is nothing if not a playmaker who needs that sure footing and turf to do what he does best. Of the teams linked to Johnny Football, St. Louis has the best chance to maximize his potential.
The other team with multiple first-round picks, Cleveland, would likely have to pop Manziel at No. 4 overall or trade up from No. 26 to get its hands on the star quarterback.
There are conflicting reports—shocking around draft day, I know—about what the Browns' draft strategy is going to be.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen said on NFL Insiders that Manziel is one of two players in the mix at No. 4 overall, via Rotoworld.com's Evan Silva.
On NFL Insiders, Chris Mortensen on #Browns: "I think the only two players they would consider at 4 are Greg Robinson & Johnny Manziel."— Evan Silva (@evansilva) May 5, 2014
Which team would give Johnny Manziel the best chance to succeed?
Manziel fits the Browns because of their need for a long-term solution at quarterback and the way their roster is currently constructed. Brian Hoyer, who was effective with five touchdowns and 615 yards in three games before tearing his ACL, can manage things this season if the coaching staff doesn't believe the rookie is ready to start right away.
The Browns have also built a solid defense, especially with free-agent additions Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby. There's a strong nucleus in place on that side of the ball with Joe Haden, Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo.
Cleveland also has one of the NFL's best young receivers in Josh Gordon. Tight end Jordan Cameron had 80 catches, 917 yards and seven touchdowns last season. There are playmakers on offense, but quarterback is the one big question mark.
In this scenario and the first one laid out, Manziel would be going to divisions with big, physical defenses who are going to hit him hard. That's where the concerns about his size come into play, but if he can learn to slide or run out of bounds, the upside is enormous for a team like the Browns.
There's one wild card in the Manziel sweepstakes: Arizona.
The Cardinals have been linked to a quarterback late in the draft process, though it's not Manziel but Fresno State's Derek Carr. Here's what Peter King of TheMMQB.com had to say about Arizona's quarterback conundrum:
We’ve been hearing a lot about quarterback here, and with the unpredictability of the QB market this year, it’s entirely possible the Cards could take a Derek Carr. On the other hand, Arizona’s not far away from competing in the NFC West, and is the best use of their draft currency to take a quarterback they’ll likely redshirt this year behind Carson Palmer?
Palmer is closer to the end of his career at age 34 and threw 22 interceptions last season, the second time in four years he's had at least 20 interceptions.
Arizona head coach Bruce Arians said, via NFL.com, that Manziel's height posed a real question mark. That's not a ringing endorsement for the Cardinals to make him the 20th pick in the draft.
However, Manziel grades out very well in an area that Arians loves: Arm strength. One reason Palmer threw 22 interceptions last season, and Andrew Luck had 18 the previous year under Arians' leadership, is because the coach loves to throw the ball down the field.
ESPN.com draft analyst Todd McShay (Insider required) graded Manziel's arm as above average, saying "he generates quality hip rotation via proper lower-body mechanics, ball velocity is good. Also flashes ability to snap ball off with wrist from all sorts of different off-balance release points. "
With big wide receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd on the outside, Manziel can buy time running around before throwing jump balls to those playmakers and letting them do all the hard work.
Plus, the Cardinals would be getting Manziel right around the area where he should be going in the draft, as opposed to teams like the Rams or Browns who would have to take him too soon or, in the case of Cleveland's second pick, trade up and sacrifice picks in later rounds to get him.
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