Johnny Manziel made official what most of the country already knew. The super sophomore quarterback, who tortured SEC defenses for the last two seasons and made Texas A&M a power once again, declared for the 2014 NFL Draft on Wednesday.
Manziel connected on 69 percent of his passes for 7,820 yards and 63 touchdowns, and gained another 2,169 yards and 30 scores in two seasons in College Station, and became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
The 21-year-old is eligible for the draft since he redshirted his first year out of high school, and will forgo his junior and senior season with his stock arguably just as high as last year. Manziel’s quick feet, elusiveness in the pocket, highly competitive nature, and ability to make every throw have made him one of the most intriguing quarterback prospects to enter the draft in quite some time.
There’s also his off the field issues for NFL teams to consider. For much of last summer, videos and photos surfaced of Manziel maybe partying a little too hard for a future professional quarterback.
His eye-popping numbers and intangibles aside, one of the biggest indicators that Manziel will go in the first round came from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, according to ESPN’s Joe Schad. The board essentially polls NFL teams and tries to give a potential draftee a good idea of where they will be selected, if at all, and clearly league general managers are very high on Manziel.
Ever since he was a star at Kerrville (Tx.) Tivy High school, the biggest question mark surrounding Manziel has been his size. Listed at 6-foot-1, but probably a little under 6-foot, and 210 pounds, Manziel doesn’t exactly fill the typical 6-foot-4, 230-pound form expected of an NFL quarterback.
The two quarterbacks who have been ranked above Manziel on experts boards include 6-foot-3 Teddy Bridgewater and 6-foot-4 Blake Bortles. Those few extra inches are supposed to give both prospects better vision over the line of scrimmage and down field.
However, the knock can be quickly dispelled when looking at Manziel’s performances against Alabama, and how he largely eluded Missouri’s top-ranked pass rush in a narrow 28-21 regular-season finale loss. Likely aware of the criticism, Manziel even upped his passing yardage, touchdowns, and passer rating in his second season with opposing SEC defenses now fully aware of his abilities.
Bortles shot up draft boards as a potential No. 1 pick after lifting Central Florida to a 52-42 victory over Baylor in the Fiesta bowl last week. Bridgewater’s stock could only go down as he started the season as the highest-rated prospect at any position. Each arguably has bigger arms than Manziel, but don’t have anything close to his rushing ability and didn’t face competition as stiff as the SEC’s.
The biggest hurdle for Manziel’s draft stock is the off-field issues throughout last summer, and two high-profile feature articles by ESPN and Sports Illustrated. Each detailed Manziel and his family’s struggle with newfound and sudden fame, and even his partying and use of alcohol.
There was also the supposed autograph scandal that could have completely derailed Manziel’s college career. Texas A&M and the NCAA weighed in, and Manziel was suspended for the first half of the season opener to Rice. Manziel was essentially exonerated for any wrong doing, and many wanted to use him as the best example of why college athletes deserve to be paid.
Arguably six of the seven first teams to pick are looking for quarterbacks. The Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, and Oakland Raiders are all in need of franchise passer, while the St. Louis Rams could be looking for a new option other than Sam Bradford.
All of those teams could use a player like Manziel to shore up middle of the road fans, or even bring back supporters, and generate much needed buzz for rebuilding efforts. Not one prospect in this draft has more marketing potential than Manziel, a solid reason why he choose LRMR, a firm headed by LeBron James’s friend and business partner Maverick Carter, as his marketing representation.
Its clear Manziel has the talent and star power to be a first-round pick, but where he goes will likely depend on team need, how he performs at the NFL combines, and his maturity.