Johnny Manziel has been the most exciting, polarizing and controversial football player in college football over the past two years. He managed to win the Heisman Trophy as a freshman and gotten better as a sophomore while playing for Texas A&M. His playing style has been both exciting and problematic with some critical mistakes but also some incredible heroics that have made him larger than life and borderline mythical. There has been plenty of debate if he can be a successful quarterback in the NFL or his magic runs out when he leaves the college grid iron.
Projecting Manziel to the NFL has a lot of reasons to be excited but plenty of reasons to be concerned as well. While his play has been almost miraculous at times with what he has been able to pull off, some of the plays that worked in college will not work in the NFL. He can be both an accurate and athletic passer, but his arm strength is not overwhelming. His decision making and lack of experience also lead to a lot of questions. And his running style, while dangerous, comes with a significant amount of risk in how many hits he takes.
Lastly, there are off field concerns that need to be vetted. Teams might come away with reasons not to draft him at all while others may find the issues relatively minor and overblown. Manziel projects as top 100 pick with all of the questions he has and developmental capability he brings and should go no higher than round two to a team that is a great fit, but he could ultimately go just about anywhere from the first round to a team head over heels for him to an undrafted free agent if off field concerns are too big of an issue. Manziel presents the biggest wild card in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Vitals & Build
Manziel is listed at 6’1” 210lbs. There is some question as to whether he will even measure at that height, which is going to be a question mark in the draft process. Manziel has a strong build for his size with a thick core, so he can take and absorb some punishment, displaying some toughness. Nevertheless, he is not a huge player and those hits add up over time.
Manziel’s feet are great in how quick he can plant and go as well as how he can make opponents miss. His long speed is solid but he is quicker than he is fast. There is still potential for him to get stronger which could help him absorb further punishment, but for the most part, Manziel is what he is as a physical prospect.
Manziel’s arm strength is going to be a matter for debate. When he shifts his weight correctly and can use good footwork, his ability to push the ball down the field is good. The problem is when that does not happen, that strength falls off of a cliff and results in floating ducks.
Manziel has shown he can put pretty good zip on the football. That zip tends to dip the deeper the ball goes down the field. If he can work in the 10-20 yard range consistently, he can get the ball there quickly. Manziel seems to have some great core strength as he is able to put to hum the football in at times when he is running to his left, going back across his body and throwing the football.
All of this comes down to consistency and while Manziel has the ability to make strong throws as well as fast throws, it needs to happen a far higher percentage of the time. Some of that comes down to his mechanics and strength, but there is a portion that just comes down to making good decisions and knowing his limits.
Accuracy & Touch
When Manziel is able to operate on time, he can display an impressive amount of accuracy. He can throw passes with great ball placement and puts passes in spots that his receivers like. His mechanics are not always consistent, especially with how he employs his feet, so his passes can be off target in terms of height. Most often, if Manziel is going to miss, he is going to miss high.
Manziel can make sideline throws, can make throws over the middle and hit the deep ball. He is at his best when he is on time and in rhythm, but he can make some good throws on the move as well.
Because of the way his footwork is, Manziel is almost more predictable throwing the ball on the move than he is in the pocket. Throwing to the sideline he is rolling towards, Manziel can be deadly putting the ball in a great spot for his receiver to catch the ball while keeping his feet in bounds. He is not afraid to throw back across his body when rolling out and he is decently accurate with it, but his velocity tends to dip at times. When he is on the move, he tends to miss low because he tries to put zip on the ball and his overall lack of arm strength makes it so he can only push it so far so fast.
Manziel can throw touch passes as well. He understands how to put the ball over a level of the defense and give his player a great chance to make a play on the football. This, like with most things, depends on how controlled an environment he is working from; he is far more accurate when he is able to throw on time and from the pocket, showing some impressive ball placement at times.
The problem Manziel will run into with his touch throws is mostly due to a lack of overall strength. There are too many situations when he ends up throwing high arcing rainbow throws that just hang in the air for far too long. In college, he has gotten away with it because of the size of his receivers and the speed of defenses in college. In the NFL, defenders are going to make up that ground and either intercept the ball or lay out his receiver.
Mechanics & Footwork
In terms of his throwing motion, Manziel’s arm is extremely quick and compact, like he is throwing a punch. His motion is overhand but extremely short and quick with no windup at all. It can be hard to read to deflect by defensive linemen because he can get rid of the ball so quickly and does not telegraph his passes.
Part of the reason he is so unpredictable is in how he uses his feet. He has so many different variations on his footwork he will use depending on the throw, for good and bad. There are plenty of examples when Manziel will barely lean his body and just snap the ball out extremely quickly. That is great because of how quickly he can get passes out both to the flat and on slants, but there are plenty of times in doing that where he ends up leaning backward as he throws and the accuracy and velocity just drop off too much.
Manziel will also use a quick step that is basically just him picking up and putting down his foot in the same place to throw. It is still quick and compact, while difficult to pick up, but it has him in more of a rhythm. He seems to go with this when he is not trying to make a quick, predetermined throw but one that is not terribly deep.
When he is going to make a deep throw, he takes a decent sized step and gets his weight shifting forward and is able to rip it. The times when he has time to do it and execute it, he can look good. The problem Manziel runs into is trying to execute these throws when he cannot show good mechanics.
Manziel tends to throw high when he misses and part of this appears to be due to how he leans back on some of his throws, altering his throwing platform. When he is not able to step the right way, he ends up high and tends to throw the football high. That should not be something that is difficult to fix if he has the time and reps.
Lastly, Manziel is able to throw on the run pretty well. He has a strong core and is able to twist around well, no matter where he is on the field. Manziel is able to twist his shoulders to be square with the target to make a good throw. There are certainly plenty of times when he will have his shoulders almost parallel with the sideline as he runs towards it and he will throw ahead near the sideline down the field and get away with it, but he can square his shoulder to the target. Manziel actually seems to do it the best when throwing back across his body.
Manziel’s mechanics can be effective but there are times when he and his mechanics are not quite on the same page that can have inconsistent results. He ends up leaning too far back or his weight transfer is off on the throw and the results are not good. The fact he is able to operate from so many positions with varying footwork and have success could be effective for him at the next level with making him tough to read and predict as well as allowing him to get rid of the ball quickly when under pressure. It is all about finding the right balance and trying to get him to reduce the bad habits while maintaining the good ones to continue improving his percentage of successful plays.
Manziel displays tremendous instincts for the pocket in how he feels pressure. He has a good sense of what is going on around him, when he needs to move and is able to escape pressure. With his quickness, he is able to keep plays alive and extend them well.
The question for Manziel is how he escapes that pressure. Manziel is at his most comfortable when he goes with a reverse spin move that has him bail completely out of the back of the pocket and has him running one way or the other. Manziel is not averse to rolling to his left, which is certainly an unorthodox approach, but little about Manziel is. That fact does make it difficult for opponents to anticipate which way Manziel is going to scramble, because he is comfortable going anywhere at any time.
In terms of successfully extending the play, Manziel’s spin move gets the job done. The problem is he ends up so deep that if he is sacked, it is for a significant loss that can not only impact the drive but really impact the field position of the game. Even if he is able to extend the play, there are plenty of times where he has to throw so far down the field to make an average gain. If he is throwing from 15 yards behind the line and trying to throw it 10 yards down past the line of scrimmage, what should be a relatively easy throw is far more difficult as a 25 yard pass. When he throws well, he can zip the ball pretty well but it lends itself to some of the floating ducks that will get him in trouble in the NFL.
Manziel’s reverse spin move is a little risky, but it has its place. Using it too much will get him killed in the NFL as teams have more speed and athleticism on the edge and that will get an invitation to get sacked. He needs to do more in terms of stepping up into the pocket to throw. He is more inclined to pull it down and run with it when going forward. This would speak to concerns about being able to see the field because of his height. Bailing and spinning would make it easier for him to see the field while stepping up into the pocket behind tall lineman could make it more difficult for him to see.
At times, Manziel will avoid pressure only to run himself into sacks. He has an incredible amount of confidence in his legs and mobility, so he is not afraid to take risks and try to extend plays. They do not always work and there is some amount of that a team will have to accept at least initially. If he can keep improving, the percentage of good as opposed to bad should get better, making him more difficult to deal with in the pocket.
Manziel has habits that a coach would want to work with and try to mold, but the foot quickness and sense of the pocket is there to be really good in the NFL, but it may take some time to develop it.
Decision Making & Anticipation
This is the area where Manziel gets his reputation for being so incredible at different times even succeeding in situations he should not, but also has some maddening results in terms of making bad plays or forcing throws into bad spots. This applies both to his throwing the football as well as running with it.
Manziel has never seen a throw or play he did not think he could make. He is not afraid to give his guys a chance to make a big play and he is never afraid to bet himself to go out and make a big play for his team. The confidence and bravado is somewhat key to be successful, but it also has turned to hubris a number of times and either cost his team games or put his team in situations where they could lose because of them.
This ranges from throwing up passes that look more like punts at times to throwing passes into tight coverage to trying to extend plays with his legs when he should get rid of the football and takes bad sacks or how he puts his body in harm’s way. Positive results have bolstered bad decisions and rewarded him multiple times for throwing punts up to teammates. He has been able to make plays he had no business making with his legs. These types of plays only make him more likely to keep making these bad decisions.
The other side of this is at times, Manziel has made great decisions and big time plays for his team. Manziel seems to have a great sense of where his receivers are going to be in any given situation and they appear to have great chemistry, so when plays break down, he is able to find them and throw them the football. His brand of chaos as a runner both behind the line as well as going down the field has resulted in some brilliant plays as well.
Manziel is also not someone who likes to settle for too many check down passes and will hold onto the ball in search of bigger plays down the field. There are times when he holds the ball far too long behind fantastic protection. His offensive line has allowed him to get away with it, but he does have a tendency to miss plays in search of bigger game, which can back fire at times.
The key for Manziel and the team that drafts him is finding the right balance of those types of plays. A team cannot draft him and try to make him conform to a traditional offense or it will not work. At the same time, he cannot be reckless with the football or he is going to cost his team games.
The improvisation Manziel displays is not a bad thing. It is a big reason a team is going to draft him. However, there is a huge difference between rolling out, attacking the line of scrimmage and finding a receiver and running backwards 10 or 15 yards and either throwing up a punt or taking an ugly sack. His legs are a weapon and when he uses them while knowing when to slide or getting out of bounds as opposed to trying to run up the middle and lower his throwing shoulder on the opponent, he can be deadly effective.
Manziel’s ability to anticipate throws is inconsistent and largely a work in progress. At times, he is able to read what his receiver is doing and put the ball in a great spot for them to make a play. At the same time, he will also appear to misread the defense or just go ahead and try to force the pass in there anyway, which has definitely come with mixed results. He has had instances where he has thrown into triple coverage.
Manziel appears to have the ability to anticipate throws and make good decisions, but some of it comes down to just who he is as a quarterback. It also appears to be a symptom of Manziel’s overall lack of experience as a quarterback. He is going to be entering the draft as a redshirt sophomore, so he will only have 26 games of experience. In some respects, it still shows.
Manziel has great feet, quickness and good speed to run on both sides of the line of scrimmage. There is no cut or lane he is afraid to take, which makes him difficult to predict. He is quick enough to make defenders miss and extend plays. There are plenty of defensive linemen he is able to out run and out maneuver to keep plays alive. It remains to be seen if that will be the case in the NFL as when he faced some extremely athletic defenses with speed on the edge, they were able to not only contain him but drop him for huge losses.
He is not afraid to run to the hash, set up and make a throw. Manziel is able to throw on the run. He has also shown the ability to really frustrate defenses by attacking the line of scrimmage and then throw to an open target.
Manziel is also extremely comfortable with the ball in his hands in the open field and while at times, he will take the time to protect himself and his body from a hit either sliding or running out of bounds, it seems to be dependent on his mindset at a given point. In too many situations, he is not only unafraid to take a hit, but seems to want to initiate contact. While he has not missed much time at College Station because of hits and injuries he has sustained, he has banged up his shoulder, knee and put his body through a ton of abuse in his career.
He has run a ton of plays up the middle and taken a ton of abuse from big hits as well as defenders piling up on him. Part of how the A&M offense works has been using Manziel as a runner up the middle to open up opportunities on the outside. Manziel will get his fair share of personal foul penalties called on opponents for face masks, horse collar tackles and late hits. Some of those are as a result of the defenders just trying to get him down on the ground, but there have been some personal fouls that were just defenders that angry and frustrated with Manziel that they took a cheap shot. The 15-yard penalties are great and all, but those hits still count on his body.
Manziel is going to enter the league with a sizable amount of mileage for a quarterback. He has had a ton of carries and taken a lot of hits in just two years of college. As a freshman, Manziel had 201 carries, averaging over 15 carries per contest. This past season as a sophomore, that average was down but still over 11 carries per game. That does not include the number of hits he has taken from sacks or hits while attempting to the football. Manziel has been tough and taken a lot of abuse, but that does lead to significant concern about how well he can hold up to NFL punishment. If he does not alter his approach to running the football, he could suffer a significant injury or miss chunks of the season as he gets beaten and worn down, which could also impact how much his special skillset can really help him.
Like with most everything about Manziel, there is plenty to like about what his mobility brings. He can make and extend plays. Manziel can also be reckless with his body, trust his legs too much and get himself into negative plays. The question is how much of that can be taught and fixed as opposed to how much of it is simply part of his DNA as an NFL player.
The best fit for Manziel is in the Philadelphia Eagles system. His skillset is a great fit for what they want to do and Chip Kelly did try to recruit Manziel coming out of high school. Manziel might also have success if he were drafted to learn behind Drew Brees in New Orleans, not only as a dome team but with a team that uses a ton of shotgun and spread concepts. Beyond that, he is a better fit in a horizontal passing offense and would definitely benefit from either a domed stadium or warm weather.
Manziel would be best suited to sit and learn for a year or few. He has potential to be a playmaker in the NFL, but he has some issues to iron out and his lack of experience in college could be a problem going to the next level. If a coaching staff has team and can really work with him while not having to force him into action, he would be best suited to succeed. The problem for Manziel is there are a lot of teams that will not like his fit or not like his style of play and that could limit the amount of teams vying for his services in the NFL.
Off the field, Manziel compares to Kenny Stabler in many ways. Manziel seems to burn the candle at both ends, enjoy his time off the field as much as anyone but works hard on it as well, which is how Stabler was able to operate. He managed to win Super Bowl XI while doing it.
On the field, in many ways, he is a lot like Michael Vick. Vick had a substantially stronger arm while Manziel is far more accurate. Both have shown the ability to extend plays with their legs as well as run and attack the line of scrimmage and throw. Both of them are shorter than the NFL would prefer and they each have the habit of throwing a number of passes from way behind the line of scrimmage.
They also have a similar running style. Each is able to make plays in the open field with their legs and occasionally break a big run, but both can slide and get out of bounds, but too often try to make the bigger play and end up taking unnecessary contact. In Vick’s case, that ends up with missing about four games per season and Manziel could have a similar fate if he does not adjust how he takes on contact.
Johnny Manziel is unequivocally the most controversial player in this draft. There are going to be a range of differing views on him from every team to every draft analyst. His accuracy and athleticism make him an intriguing player while his size and arm strength are concerns. His decision making needs work but his ability to improvise and make plays is a wild card that could make him a tantalizing prospect in the draft process. There are character concerns that could be a small factor or a huge one, depending on what teams find out when they further investigate. On the field, Manziel projects as a top 100 pick that should go probably go in the third round but would make sense in the second to a team that is a tremendous fit. Nevertheless, his upside, playing style and character questions could have him go anywhere in the NFL Draft.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com