Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Manziel: Looking Beyond The Hype


There is little debate to be had about who the most polarizing player in the 2014 NFL Draft is. At a quick glance, it’s not exactly hard to see why. Commercials, non-traditional pro day attire, friendships with Drake and Lebron, name dropped in a rap song, first freshman to ever win the Heisman, long touchdown bombs, elusive and fast touchdown runs, NCAA investigations, Favre-like improvisational miracle plays, trademarked nicknames; a list a mile long of things that make Johnny Manziel a spark plug for debate. Love him or hate him, “Johnny Football” is coming to the NFL. The only question remaining is if all the hype and noise that surrounds Manziel is something worth taking on by drafting him.

For starters, I think that the ‘red-flags’ attached to Manziel are completely overblown. Most of the complaints I see against Manziel’s ‘off the field issues’ are things I think have been debated and examined so much that they’ve created a bigger monster than was actually there. This includes things like:

  • Leaving the Manning passing camp
  • The NCAA investigation for autographs
  • Partying

Most of these things don’t even deserve a second look(the NCAA could not find enough evidence to support the claim that Manziel was selling his autographs, and Manziel has since stated numerous times that he overslept at the Manning Academy, which he seemed to genuinely apologize for). The party hard lifestyle could be a red-flag, but it’s something that Manziel has seemed to cool off on. Plus, it’s not like he’s been suspended for drugs or something like that. If all we’re talking is alcohol, it doesn’t sound so much like a character concern, but more so a common trait for a young college student.

A lot of people also try to stretch the aforementioned off the field lifestyle into saying that perhaps Manziel isn’t dedicated to the game, and would rather party and be famous than play football. But listening to what his coaches and teammates have to say, it seems this could not be further from the case.

“I don’t consider him a me-first guy at all,” Matthews said. “My whole experience with him and having him as a quarterback [were] nothing but good things. When he was on the field, he was just a tremendous competitor, great leader and someone that I loved playing for. I was glad to have him as a quarterback.” - Jake Matthews, from Yahoo Sports

 

“Anybody who watches Johnny knows that he plays with a lot of emotion and a lot of passion in this game,” Sumlin said. “It’s my job as a coach to keep that passion and energy going, but make it positive. What you don’t want to do is kill that emotion and that passion, because I think it’s what separates Johnny from a lot of different players. What we can do is sit down and say, ‘Listen, that same emotion, that same passion, can be used positively and here’s how you can do that.” - Kevin Sumlin, from Bleacher Report

As both of the above quotes illustrate, Manziel is known for his leadership and his passion for the game. I don’t imagine that changing once he gets to the NFL, especially if he was playing for a coach like Gus Bradley.

As with most super-hyped NFL prospects, the questions surrounding Manziel are not strictly off the field related. Does he leave the pocket too much? Will his game translate to the NFL? Does he rely on improv miracle plays too much? Can his body take the beating? Is he tall enough?

Let me start off by saying that as I began my film study of Manziel, I was very skeptical. I had heard all of those questions and I had seen the highlights to make me assume that Manziel could be a great college quarterback whose gameplay might not translate to Sundays in the NFL. While I still have some concerns after watching the game tape, and he is still far from perfect, I feel much better about Manziel as a pro prospect than before.

The first thing that stood out to me was this: Johnny Manziel can make all the throws. While his accuracy can be a little off at times, he has plenty of arm strength to hurl it down the field. Most of his accuracy issues are due to footwork, which can be coached and fixed.

The next thing I noticed was that Manziel doesn’t leave the pocket nearly as much as he is made out to. There were only a couple of occasions I saw him leave the pocket when he didn’t need to, but the majority of times it was out of necessity. It was also very obvious that Manziel is a wizard at escaping pressure, which is very refreshing for a Jaguars fan who spent the last three years watching Blaine Gabbert crumble in the pocket.

My biggest relief when watching Manziel came when I realized that he doesn’t live and die by running the ball. While this obviously adds another dimension to his game, it was rare that he gave up too early on a passing play and took off running. This leads me to believe that Manziel has a better chance of succeeding than other ‘dual-threat’ quarterbacks. I also noted that Manziel seemed to have better success running the football when he was scrambling, rather than on designed runs. While some might view this as a negative, I see it as a positive, because it says to me that a team does not have to include designed runs for him to be successful.

However, there was one thing that stood out to me above all others when studying Johnny Manziel’s game, and it’s the fact that there was noticeable improvement from his freshman season to his sophomore year. Manziel showed improvement in all the above mentioned areas when I compared his two years of tape. This says a couple of things to me. First, he’s coachable. And second, he’s not a gimmick. Gimmicks can and will be solved, and will then quickly fade out(see Wildcat formation). Manziel is much more than that, and it’s always a good sign for prospects that they made improvement over their college career, even if it did only last two years.

While I feel much better about Manziel as a prospect than I did before, I do still have some questions. Manziel threw a lot of 50-50 balls to Mike Evans, and I’m not sure if that was him taking advantage of his teammate’s strengths, or if he will always need a receiver he can throw jump balls to. And while Manziel’s height doesn’t concern me, his frame still does a little. He needs to learn to slide and run out-of-bounds, and try to avoid big hits at all costs.

This was not meant to be a profession of love for Johnny Manziel, but rather a look beyond all the hype and criticism to see what he offers as a player. The ‘character concerns’ don’t actually concern me at all. In fact, Manziel’s attitude is what makes me like him even more as a prospect. He exudes leadership and confidence, and will definitely become the face of the franchise for the team that drafts him. According to our recent poll, our readers here at Black and Teal have Manziel as their top choice for QB’s. While he is not my top quarterback(that honor belongs to Teddy Bridgewater), he is my second rated signal-caller in this draft. If Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley decide that they want Manziel to be the next quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, I will have no problem with that at all.

In fact, I would welcome it. We might could use a little Johnny Football in Duval.

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