The Johnny Manziel Debate
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is one of the most polarizing players in the 2014 NFL draft class. While he posted gaudy numbers over his two seasons at College Station, the signal caller has come under fire for his off-the-field transgressions and hard-to-translate style of play. Ross Miles and I recently debated the possibility of Manziel becoming a franchise quarterback.
The Case Against Manziel (by Ross Miles)
When I watch tape of Johnny Manziel, I don’t see a franchise quarterback I’d want to build a NFL team around. His off-the-field endeavors don’t bother me, and he certainly has the “IT” factor required to be the face of a franchise; instead, my issues are with his game.
Throw on some YouTube highlight packages and Manziel jumps off the screen at you, but it’s not his arm, it’s his legs that dominate the video. There is no denying his quickness, burst and agility when he has the ball in his hands. He will make defenders miss in both confined spaces and the open field, and that skill set forces opposing defenses to account for him on every snap, which creates better match-ups for his teammates on the outside.
However, Manziel is under-sized for the pro game and has only average arm strength. Don’t expect the deep out to be a regularly run route in any Manziel-led offense. I’m also not impressed by his accuracy on intermediate passes and he had a tendency to rely heavily on his No. 1 target, WR Mike Evans. This shows up most when he was forced to improvise (which he is great at, generally speaking).
His ability to improvise is both a blessing and a hindrance, as it merges with his unfailing self belief (which is also another great attribute for a quarterback for what it’s worth), and can result in Manziel forcing a pass into tight coverage. I’m not sure he knows what a check-down is either. There are times when he holds on to the ball and you are willing him to get the ball out of his hands, but instead he scrambles around a collapsing pocket looking for a crease he can hit and take off. If no gaps appear, more often than not he’ll throw one up for Evans, and in the NFL that won’t end well with the likes of Earl Thomas and Jairus Byrd lurking in centerfield.
If you are looking for player comparisons, to me Manziel is an averaged-armed quarterback who combines the good aspects of Tim Tebow’s game (ability to run with the ball, determination and passion) and the bad aspects of Matt Stafford (over-reliance on an elite receiver). The NFL is certainly evolving and although dual-threat quarterbacks such as Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson have paved the way for more players of the same mold, it’s still a pass-first league, and I’m not convinced that Manziel can be successful as a passing quarterback. He will need to land with a team that can build their offense around his skill set, rather than expecting him to be the missing piece of the puzzle.
The Case for Manziel (by Eli Nachmany)
Some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks are the ones who simply find a way. From Fran Tarkenton to Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, the league’s history is littered with signal callers who improvise post-snap. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel is one of those quarterbacks.
As a freshman, Manziel looked skittish in the pocket. Almost every time he felt pressure, the jumpy quarterback would vacate the pocket and either find a receiver on a broken pattern or take off with the ball himself. This last season, however, the passer showed more of a willingness to stay in the pocket and find the open receiver.
Manziel excels in a wide-open system and he’ll have the opportunity to play in one at the next level. No team will spend a high pick on a player of Manziel’s caliber only to confine him to a West Coast system. The former Aggie will have every opportunity to utilize his elite agility and lateral quickness, buy time for receivers and find open men down the field.
As good as NFL defensive backs are, no NFL defensive back can cover man-to-man for as long as Manziel can dance around the pocket. Eventually, a player tends to get open. The idea that Manziel only looked for Mike Evans is a farce; only 69 of the Aggie’s 300 completions in 2013 were to Evans. No matter who is catching his passes at the next level, Manziel has the rare ability to elude the rush long enough for said pass catchers to get open. We just saw Russell Wilson do such things against the NFL’s top-tier defenses as he rode his playmaking ability to a Lombardi trophy.
Manziel is not “undersized,” nor does he have a weak arm. Teams are forced to abandon man coverage against Manziel-led teams, simply because their defenders can’t cover for long enough, and just watch the tape against Alabama to see Manziel shred zone defenses (namely the Cover 2). Maybe in earlier years, Manziel would have been labeled too small, but with the integration of spread concepts into NFL offenses, the quarterback fits perfectly in the new-age league.
Add elite athleticism to an already solid passer and the truth about Johnny Manziel, that he’s an elite, dual-threat quarterback capable of making pro defenses look silly, starts to emerge. Manziel may not have the best straight-line speed (though after running a 4.68 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, he proved he’s still faster than most), but rather it’s the quarterback’s quickness that will allow him to evade NFL pass rushers. Not only will Manziel destroy teams with his solid arm and good decision-making skills (the quarterback channeled his overconfidence over the course of his college career and such improvements can be seen on film), but he’ll be able to win battles in the open field as a runner, too.
In drafting Manziel, the most creative offensive coordinator can draw up just about anything and expect the field general to find a way to make it work. Such makes Manziel an attractive prospect and potential franchise quarterback.
Pundits will continue to scrutinize Manziel’s game all the way up until this year’s NFL draft. Check out my scouting report on Manziel, detailing how he could help your fantasy team out this year.