There was no one I enjoyed watching more the last two seasons of college football than Johnny Manziel. He would make wild and unpredictable plays that you normally see on a basketball court or a soccer pitch, not on the football field, and in the SEC at that! That is why so many people, myself included, would love to see him perform well at the next level… and he can. However, it is certainly a risk, something that most GM’s and draft analysts already know. However, I have hope for the dude.
If I were a GM, and I had a top 16 pick, I would take Bridgewater or Bortles as the first or second quarterbacks respectfully. The reason being Bridgewater is a beast. Watch him throw a few times (granted he needs gloves) and you can see the arm strength. That is so important at the next level because you have to zip throws between premier Linebackers and Cornerbacks, and floaters will be picked and lead to 6 the other way more times than not. Watch him throw on the run, and there is a “wow” factor to his precision. He is not perfect yet, but you can see the talent. He looks like a potential Pro Bowler within his first four seasons.
Bortles is simply a prototype quarterback. He certainly has the “look” of a quarterback, tall and able to make all the throws. Detractors might point to his weak conference in college, but that really does not matter too much. Joe Flacco went to Delaware, Colin Kaepernick was at Nevada Reno, Romo is from Eastern Illinois, etc. He will certainly be a career starter. Not great, but solid and reliable. He might need a year or two to develop.
Johnny Football is rougher around the edges. His main drawbacks are not necessarily his height, but rather is slender frame, his arm strength, and his ability to read defenses and play the cerebral game. In college, even in the SEC, he can slice and dice around linebackers and secondary defenders with smooth style. In the NFL, as we have seen with so many quarterbacks, most recently RG3, you get a big hit from an NFL linebacker, and lights out. People make the comparison to Russell Wilson, but he is much stronger than Manziel, and can take the big hits. Additionally, Wilson knows how to avoid contact as much as possible, whereas Manziel has not displayed such ability. It makes for exciting football, but leads to disaster in the pros. However, a good coaching staff can help him develop that ability to avoid the big hits. Putting on a few pounds of muscle wouldn’t hurt either.
The arm strength is an issue because you need a rifle for an arm in the NFL. It’s not just about making the tough throws to the sidelines, every throw needs to have some juice on it or it will be picked, even by linemen! One must never forget that every NFL player is an elite athlete, something Manziel only faced a handful of times in his college career: a team stacked with pros. He did okay in those games, particularly against Alabama, but facing them every week will present a challenge. He made far too many hail mary throws in college that will not work at the next level.
Scrambling quarterbacks like Romo and Roethlisberger have found much success in the NFL playing out of the pocket, but the difference between them and Manziel is they have proven they can play in the pocket as well. That is why they are dangerous; because they have the threat to do both. NFL defenses are too smart and fast to let Manziel get to the edge, so they will make him prove he can throw from the pocket, and over the top of 6’ 6” defensive linemen. Wilson can do it because he has a rifle arm and is a great decision maker. Brees can do it with his deft movement in the pocket, footwork, and anticipation of his targets. Manziel has exhibited none of these traits.
What overrides everything is the ability for Johnny Football to do what he does. He makes plays. He wins. Vick made it work at the next level, but he was way faster than Manziel. Coaching will make all the difference, as well as the question if Manziel is willing to be coached. I don’t think that is an issue. Sure he is a diva, but he’s not stupid. He will have the best coaching around, and whatever team drafts him will do everything possible to make him comfortable and develop him into a great player. That is what he will be, it will just take about three seasons, and that is fine.
Aaron Rodgers is the perfect example of a team showing patience and smarts with a quarterback. Who knows if Rodgers would be as good had he been thrown into the fire right away, and I guarantee that if Manziel is forced into starting right away, it will be a disaster. I would take him mid to late first round, be patient, and let time show how good a player he will be. I would take a position player with a higher first round pick, as there are some great corners and defensive players available this year. With the right handling, he can be a Pro Bowler down the road, and lead a team to the playoffs. Not as the focal point, but as part of a solid team. He is not Cam Newton. But he could be in the ballpark of Joe Flacco or Russell Wilson: a championship quarterback that “manages” a solid team that also has a great defense.
Bridgewater will be taken number 1 overall by Houston, Bortles by Minnesota at 8, and Manziel will be taken by Arizona at number 20. This would be great for him to sit and learn from Carson Palmer. Plus, this is a solid team that is built on defense. Not the sexiest team or location, but that would work out very well for him. Personally, I would love to see him juking and spinning around NFL linemen and linebackers on highlight reels, and I think he can do it. Just give it a few seasons.