Johnny Manziel or “Johnny Football” as he is known by many was one of the top quarterbacks in college football this past year and even won the Heisman Trophy. However, Manziel in terms of being an NFL prospect is really more of an athlete playing quarterback than an actually quarterback. He has a lot of problems in his game when it comes to throwing the football; he has some accuracy and consistency issues, and he tends to not put the needed velocity on throw, and his deep balls are very unimpressive. He will occasionally make a very nice deep throw but that tends to come off of good anticipation and timing, not his actual arm strength. The biggest issue with Manziel is that he is not comfortable making plays in the pocket, which is something you have to be able to do as an NFL quarterback. When rushed in the pocket, his first instinct is always to run away, and while that can work in college, in the NFL he will have to learn to hang in the pocket and make the necessary throws. Manziel also will have to make a big transition from a read-option offense where he is only required to make one read and then run, to the NFL where you have to be able to make multiple reads, and running all the time will shorten your career greatly. We have seen quarterbacks in these systems come out and make this transition before and do well, like Cam Newton, but we have also seen a lot of guys not be able to make the transition, like Tim Tebow. Manziel will be a very controversial player coming out as some believe that he is an elite prospect while others see him as a marginal prospect at best.
Vitals & Build
One of the big questions around Manziel is his height as he is only currently listed as 6’1, which means realistically he is around 6’0. We have seen players like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson with shorter height be successful in the NFL, but these are rare cases and does not mean that all short quarterbacks can be successful. Manziel is also very slender for his height as well; he will definitely need to add some bulk to handle the rigors of a 16 game schedule in the NFL. There are no current major injury concerns with Manziel.
Manziel has a somewhat above average arm, but he doesn’t have any kind of arm talent that will amaze people with how he throws the ball. Almost none of Manziel’s throws had tremendous velocity on them; they all really just floated around, which is a big problem when going up against NFL players who will snatch up any and every ball thrown. Occasionally Manziel will make some deep throws past 20 yards, but this is due to good timing with receivers and anticipation of what the defense is doing. Most of Manziel’s deep throws are a product of scheme and his receivers running great routes than his actual arm strength. He really just lacks the arm to make all of the throws needed to be successful in the NFL, sure we have seen quarterbacks with average arm strength be successful, but they are more exceptions to the rule.
Accuracy & Touch
Accuracy is one of the most important traits that a quarterback prospect must excel in to be considered an elite prospect. Manziel has some pretty big issues when it comes to being consistently accurate on all of his throws. Manziel is at his best making short and intermediate throws in the passing game. He is able to get the ball out of his hands quickly and the placement of his throws allows his receivers to get yards after the catch, which helps the offense stay on pace. At times Manziel still has issues getting the ball where it needs to go on short or intermediate throws because he will not put enough zip on the ball and the ball will just float in the air.
While Manziel is at least adequate in the short and intermediate passing game, his tape shows that his true downfield passing game is pretty bad. When Manziel throws the ball past 20 yards, his balls tend to be very wobbly and shaky and are very hard for his receivers to catch. Sometimes the ball does not even make it all the way down the field. Manziel will have to improve his arm strength to make his downfield throws more accurate.
Mechanics & Footwork
Manziel’s mechanics and footwork are also a bit of a problem. He has a very elongated throwing motion, something that will have to be fixed to be successful on the pro level. Pro defenders will be swarming to strip the ball away from Manziel when he throws with such a slow pace. Manziel’s footwork is also not that great as he tends to be heavy on his feet. His throws on the run tend to be good most of the time as he is surprisingly more accurate from unorthodox positions.
Manziel does actually show pretty good pocket awareness in most of the games he played in. He shows good poise and patience and seems to have a good sense of the pass rush and doesn’t get rattled by it like a lot of quarterback busts do, see Blaine Gabbert. Being that Manziel is able to elude defenders with his athleticism, he is able to use his throws from unorthodox positions as a very dangerous tool, because defensive backs can only stick with their receivers for so long. The problem in the NFL will be that defensive coordinators will find ways to keep Manziel confined to the pocket and have to stand and throw the ball, with no help from his improvisational skills. Manziel will have to learn how to simply stand in the pocket and make several back to back completions from inside the pocket. Manziel’s size will also be a concern as it will make many scouts wonder if he can find passing lanes among the big bodies on the line of scrimmage.
Decision Making & Anticipation
While Manziel had only nine interceptions last year, which is very good considering he had 434 passing attempts, some of the interceptions were clearly due to poor decision making. He had three interceptions against LSU, which yes is one of the elite college football defenses, but all of the NFL defenses will be the top competition, even better than what Manziel has faced. Manziel will tend to force balls into tight windows when he has clearly better options to throw to. He also will throw off of his back foot a lot, in fact most of the interceptions he made were throws off of his back foot.
Manziel will have to learn to think to pass first and run second, as right now he clearly thinks the opposite. If Manziel looks downfield and sees nothing there he tends to just run, as he appears more confident in his legs than his arm. While Texas A&M did run a good bit of quarterback draws, most of Manziel’s runs were not designed runs, just him deciding he would run.
Mobility is certainly no concern when it comes to Manziel. He is plenty capable of beating you with his legs whenever he feels like it. While he is not a world class athlete like Robert Griffin, or extremely large and powerful like Colin Kaepernick, he is elusive and is able to just simply employ all kinds of jukes and stunts to get around defenders and avoid being tackled. Manziel needs to improve his sliding technique as he has issues forgetting to do so and also needs to learn to run out of bounds instead of trying to make the big play every time so he can keep himself healthy.
Manziel’s best fit in the NFL will probably be in a West Coast offense, where he will be able to control the passes and not have to make as many downfield throws. He knows how to be effective in the timing and anticipation of the passing game, and some of the biggest concepts of a West Coast system come from having the proper timing with receivers and anticipating throws. Manziel can be very erratic, and the West Coast system has been effective in fixing some of the most erratic players in the game, just look at what it did for Brett Favre’s career.
|Sat, Aug 31||vs. Rice|
|Sat, Sep 07||vs. Sam Houston State|
|Sat, Sep 14||vs. Alabama|
|Sat, Sep 21||vs. SMU|
|Sat, Sep 28||at Arkansas|
|Sat, Oct 12||at Ole Miss|
|Sat, Oct 19||vs. Auburn|
|Sat, Oct 26||vs. Vanderbilt|
|Sat, Nov 02||vs. UTEP|
|Sat, Nov 09||vs. Mississippi State|
|Sat, Nov 23||at LSU|
|Sat, Nov 30||at Missouri|
The obvious big games of the year for Johnny Football will be September 14th vs. Alabama, and November 23rd at LSU. These games will give Manziel the opportunity to show scouts if he can beat an elite defense with not only his legs but his arm as well, as both teams will likely employ schemes to confine him to the pocket.
While most fans compare Manziel to Drew Brees or Russell Wilson, a more apt comparison is to Doug Flutie, as both are players who make a lot of improvisational plays but can also play from the pocket as well. It took Flutie a while to figure out the NFL game, so don’t be surprised if the same happens to Manziel.
Finding a place for Manziel is very difficult given we don’t know what most teams think of him as an NFL prospect. He is a very unconventional playmaker, and that always make for a great storyline in the NFL draft. The likely scenario for Manziel currently is that he could go in the late first to mid second just based on the upside he has, much like EJ Manuel did last year. If he works on passing more from the pocket, and learning not to run as much, he could go in the early first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.