Johnny Manziel might be a future star in the NFL, but any teams hoping to draft him in Thursday's first round of the 2014 NFL draft won't be able to utilize his abilities completely without putting a solid arsenal of receivers and a great offense around him.
One of the most polarizing players to hit the draft in some time, Manziel has been projected anywhere from the absolute No. 1 pick by ESPN's Skip Bayless to a fourth-round quarterback by ESPN's Ron Jaworski.
But consensus from NFL.com analysts is Thursday still looks set for a Johnny Football showing early in the first round.
Despite that, he could be in for a slide down the rankings. If the Texans and Rams both pass on Manziel and the Jags don't bite on their interest reported by the Houston Chronicle's John McClain, then all it would take is a Browns and Raiders pass for Manziel to slip to the back of the top 10 or out of it entirely. And neither Cleveland nor Oakland look imminent on making that move, Fox Sports' Jay Glazer reported on Twitter.
The reason this is significant is twofold. First, the next few teams with picks are all defensive-minded coaches with questionable offenses. Second, many seem to be interested in Manziel.
NFL.com's Albert Breer reported Wednesday that the Buccaneers, Rams and Vikings are all feasting their eyes on acquiring Manziel early in the first round:
NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks added in on the report with a compliment to Manziel's game, also giving reason to why he could be targeted from these teams:
But just as these defensive coaches may have a leg up in this regard, it could also cause them to crash and burn. They all have serious questions on offense outside of the QB spot, and Manziel is the last quarterback NFL personnel should want to enter that sort of position.
The Bucs are at No. 6, the next one up after Oakland. They had the 32nd-ranked pass offense and 22nd-ranked run offense last year, are a mess at wide receiver—31-year-old Vincent Jackson and Lavelle Hawkins are your likely starters, with few secondary options—and had the 24th-ranked offensive line by Pro Football Focus.
The Vikings have Adrian Peterson and the run game along with budding star Cordarrelle Patterson, but the pass offense was just No. 23 in the league in 2013, and Greg Jennings isn't filling the void. St. Louis was 27th in passing and 19th in rushing last year with Jared Cook as its leading receiver.
Those settings pale in comparison to No. 1-pick-holding Houston—which has some championship talent on offense—or even Cleveland, which has young star Josh Gordon, who could gel with Manziel right away.
None of those three spots reported by Breer are ideal for Manziel to have success in off the bat. He might be considered a project somewhere like Tampa Bay with Josh McCown likely starting this year and the ability to draft young receivers, but those settings would emulate his at Texas A&M enough to guarantee success at the next level.
With the Aggies, Manziel had one of the best offensive lines in the nation in front of him, including 2013 No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel as well as Jake Matthews—an apparent top-10 pick this year.
In 2012, he had 1,100-yard receiver Mike Evans and 900-yard wideout Ryan Swope. Last year, he had Evans again, who went for nearly 1,400 yards and could potentially be drafted higher than his former quarterback.
Texas A&M's defense was horrendous last year, and Manziel constantly bailed them out with star performances. But his offensive line was making plays in front of him, and he had star receivers getting separation.
Just as well, Manziel's style of play simply requires more effort from the offense. He elongates plays, meaning longer blocks and gassed receivers looking to make up their own routes to get open. He can also scramble and improvise, leaving even his own teammates confused at times.
Saying that Manziel will need offensive help is a moot point, considering that's the case for any rookie quarterback. But it's especially true of Manziel, whose freestyle way of playing the game requires the offense constructed around him to be filled with promise.
Defensive-minded coaches might be more open to drafting Manziel, but that must come with openness about their own offensive roster.
If a subpar offensive squad goes after Johnny Football, it must come with considerable additions to that side of the ball to increase its chances of success.
He's proven what he's capable of when paired with star wideouts and when protected by high-caliber linemen. But Johnny Manziel isn't the player you can throw into the fire that is the NFL and surround him with below-average talent, all while expecting positive results.
All NFL team stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.
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