Assessing NFL Potential for Every Heisman Candidate

Old AccountSenior Writer INovember 29, 2012

Assessing NFL Potential for Every Heisman Candidate

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    As the 2012 college football regular season winds down, the anticipation builds for the annual Heisman Trophy presentation. Johnny Manziel and Manti Te'o have emerged as the leaders for college football's most famous award.

    With a freshman and two sophomores among the top five candidates, this year's Heisman list is unusual. However, it's never too early to begin looking at the impact the Heisman hopefuls can have in the NFL.

    Here is my analysis of the pro potential of these five likely Heisman finalists.

5. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

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    Although Braxton Miller doesn't have a legitimate chance of winning the Heisman, he may well be invited to the award ceremony after leading Ohio State to a 12-0 record in the regular season.

    The sophomore quarterback flourished in Urban Meyer's system and has proven to be a very good athlete who continues to polish the skills needed to excel at quarterback.

    Through his second year in college, Miller reminds me of former Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith. He displays the athleticism to succeed at the college level, and he worked well with the talent that surrounded him this season. Miller's stats are very comparable to the former Heisman winner, especially when you look at the comparison between Smith's first year as a starter and Miller's performance this year. 

    However, it's tough to consider Miller a potential "elite" NFL prospect. He needs to significantly improve his efficiency with the football, as a 58.3 completion percentage won't cut it at the NFL level. His athleticism makes him a threat to opposing defenses at the college level, but the odds have proven to be against quarterbacks who are similar to Miller.

    Troy Smith only lasted four years in the National Football League. While Miller has time to improve his weaknesses, it's difficult to trust a quarterback who plays in Urban Meyer's system to translate the same success at the professional level.

4. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

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    There is no doubt that Marqise Lee is the best receiver in college football despite only two seasons with USC.

    His speed makes him extremely difficult to cover and has allowed the USC offense to take plenty of chances down the field due to his ability to break past the opposing cornerback and safety.

    After recording a reception, Lee reacts well in open space and is lethal not only as an elite route-runner but also as a threat in the screen game.

    Let the comparisons begin with some of the greater receivers in college football history. Lee clearly warrants all the praise that he receives. Due to his electrifying speed and his ability to take over the production of an offense, he closely resembles Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace. However, even more astounding is Lee's ability to challenge opposing secondaries in the middle of the field and willingness to face tackles in open space.

    With another year at the college level, Lee will have more opportunities to refine his skills and become one of the greater wide receiver prospects we have seen in recent memory.

3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State

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    Collin Klein's chances of winning the Heisman took a difficult turn after his lackluster performance in Kansas State's loss to Baylor. The senior quarterback will get an opportunity in the NFL, but there are questions about his ceiling as a quarterback at the pro level.

    I like NFL draft analyst Matt Miller's analysis of Klein, who resembles Tim Tebow due to his lack of accuracy and the read-first offense he has running while at Kansas State. Klein appears to be more of an intriguing prospect over Tebow because he doesn't have issues with a long release while throwing the football.

    Can he become a starting quarterback at the next level? Klein is bound to receive an opportunity at some point, but it will only happen if he displays the commitment to becoming a more effective passer from the pocket. In essence, just like Tebow, he is a true definition of a "project quarterback."

    While a team will take a chance on Klein in the later rounds of the draft,  he will face an uphill battle toward becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL.

2. Manti Te'o

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    Manti Te'o is the best NFL prospect in the upcoming draft because of the variety of ways he can impact a defense.

    He has been recently proclaimed as "the next Ray Lewis" by ESPN First Take analyst Skip Bayless, and I can understand where he is coming from.

    Te'o, just like Lewis, has the potential to make an immediate impact because of his athleticism at the linebacker position. His 101 tackles in the regular season are impressive, but his seven interceptions represent a player who can defend both the run and pass.

    It's difficult to deny Manti's character both on and off the field. He anchored the Notre Dame defense through his tremendous leadership, while also displaying the professionalism that teams wish to see.

    He figures to be a top-five selection in the draft. In fact, I will go so far as to predict that he will end up with the Oakland Raiders, where he can be the centerpiece of an effort to rebuild the league's worst defense. 

1. Johnny Manziel

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    At this point, it appears the Heisman Trophy is Johnny Manziel's to lose. It would be astounding to see a redshirt freshman win the award. His play has been dominant, especially late in the season, most notably in Texas A&M's upset win over the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.

    It's tough to project his NFL draft status, but he clearly has the potential to compete at the next level.

    Manziel is completing close to 70 percent of his passes, which says a lot, especially after facing difficult SEC defenses each week. He is committed to becoming an efficient pocket-passer, but also is explosive as a runner.

    It's tough to find a comparison for Manziel, but as of now, the Aggies quarterback reminds me of former Heisman winner Cam Newton. Just like Newton, Manziel found immediate success against the elite SEC defenses in his first year as a starter. His ability to be lethal in the running game by scoring 19 touchdowns on the ground resembles the path that Newton took while with Auburn.

    The best part about Manziel's development is that he is only a redshirt freshman, which means he has plenty of more time to continue improving as an elite passing quarterback and eventually become the next quarterback selected first overall in the draft.

    Matt Miselis is a veteran NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report who has been featured on ESPN, CBS Sports and the Houston Chronicle.