Johnny Manziel didn’t’ disappoint in what could have been the final collegiate game of his life.
The Heisman-winning quarterback lit up Duke for five total touchdowns and led the Texas A&M Aggies to a 52-48 comeback victory in Wednesday night’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Manziel told reporters after the game that he entered a zone he had never reached before, and that could be a signal the super sophomore is ready to take his game to the professional ranks.
Since he is a redshirt sophomore, Manziel is eligible for next spring’s NFL draft, and where he lands depends on the other quarterback prospects in the field, as well as team needs.
Top production and clutch performances have put Manziel in the discussion for an early first round pick. In two seasons, Manziel has completed nearly 69 percent of his passes for 7,820 yards and 63 touchdowns, while rushing for another 2,169 yards and 30 touchdowns, all eye-popping numbers.
The stumbling block for Manziel is his size. He’s listed as 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds on the Aggies official site, but Manziel is likely more slight than that. Head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff also limited Manziel’s rushes and time out of the pocket this season in order to avoid injury.
Next year will be an especially loaded field, with top quarterback prospects like Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles. All have the build of more traditional NFL quarterbacks.
Bridgewater and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney both announced their intentions to enter the draft on Wednesday and could be the only prospects in Manziel’s way to be selected No. 1 overall.
Bridgewater, due to solid mechanics and prototypical size, was viewed as the top quarterback prospect before the season began. Though he was slowed by a sputtering motor and minor injuries this season, Clowney looked like the next cornerstone for a rebuilding NFL defense.
Assuming Manziel’s sensational and historic numbers in the SEC weren’t enough, he’ll have to blow away scouts and general managers at February’s combine to make up for his perceived lack of size.
As of now the draft order, not including playoff bound teams, stands as:
1) Houston Texans
2) St. Louis Rams
3) Jacksonville Jaguars
4) Cleveland Browns
5) Oakland Raiders
6) Atlanta Falcons
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8) Minnesota Vikings
9) Buffalo Bills
10) Detroit Lions
11) Tennessee Titans
12) New York Giants
13) St. Louis
14) Chicago Bears
15) Pittsburgh Steelers
16) Baltimore Ravens
17) Dallas Cowboys
18) New York Jets
19) Miami Dolphins
20) Arizona Cardinals.
The first five teams are all in the mix for a quarterback, and could make a play for Manziel. Houston will welcome a new head coach in Bill O’Brien, who could select a quarterback that best fits his system, while St. Louis could decide to part ways with Sam Bradford.
Jacksonville, Cleveland, and Oakland have all struggled to find a veritable young passer to take them out of the doldrums of the NFL, with the Jags and Browns recently stumbling with Blaine Gabbert and Brandon Weeden.
It's unlikely that Atlanta would consider replacing Matt Ryan, Tampa Bay’s new head coach Lovie Smith will likely decide if Mike Glennon is the quarterback of the future, but Minnesota could take a serious look at Manziel and every other passer in the field.
Jake Locker's status with Tennessee is unclear after performing well this season, and the Giants are not expected to part with Eli Manning any time soon. Chicago could be an intriguing fit if the Bears decide not to re-sign Jay Cutler, while Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Dallas already possess Pro Bowl quarterbacks.
The Jets would be an intriguing destination for Manziel, but Geno Smith played better in the second half of the season and appears to be on head coach Rex Ryan’s good side. Miami’s Ryan Tannehill also put up solid numbers in his second season, despite being terrorized by an NFL-worst 58.0 sacks, and Arizona’s offense looked very sharp under veteran Carson Palmer.
For now it appears, Jacksonville, Cleveland, and Oakland are the best landing spots for Manziel. All three have a solid core of young receivers, especially the Browns with Josh Gordon.
There’s no official word as to whether Manziel will declare. Should he enter the draft, it’s clear a number of NFL teams would seriously consider him with their first selection.
Update [10:40 a.m. ET]: Sources say Cutler will agree to seven-year deal with Chicago.