NFL Draft 2014: Analyzing Texas A&M vs Alabama for Johnny Manziel


Sep 14, 2013; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A

Hey everyone. Time for another QB breakdown, because who doesn’t love prognosticating about the draft months before it occurs? I’ve wanted to do one of these for Johnny Football for a while now. I’ll admit, it was harder to break him down than the other guys because he’s just so darn exciting. As for this game itself, it was phenomenal. Two of the best teams in college football going at it with very different styles. For any who haven’t seen it, here you go.

Texas A&M Background: One of the hottest names around in college football, the Aggies are well on their way to being a dominant offense in the SEC (their defense is another matter). And, honestly, it all revolves around one guy – Johnny Manziel. The first ever Freshman Heisman winner, and the first in College Station, Texas in quite a while, he has become something of a patron saint for their program. I don’t want to go too much into him here, that’s obviously what the rest of this write-up is about, but come on – I shouldn’t need to. If you aren’t familiar with this guy, go look up his highlights on youtube, and then kick yourself for hiding under a rock these past two seasons.

Alabama Background: The Crimson Tide. One of the most storied programs in the history of college football, the current regime in Tuscaloosa is arguably one of the greatest dynasties ever witnessed in the sport. They’ve won 3 championships in the last four years, and look well on their way to earning another this year. Theirs is a physical style of football with few tricks, relying on coaching, technique, and pure talent accrued by probably the best recruiting staff in the business. They seem to perpetually have the top recruits in the nation, although (and this is just my opinion) they don’t seem to have NFL stars – solid players, to be sure. but no gamebreakers. They sent a whole host of players to the league last year and will do so again this May.

Before I go any further, a word about A&M’s offense. They run a spread look, and like most spread teams they rely just as heavily on short passes and screens as they do deep bombs. They hurry to the line when they get a big play and try to capitalize off the momentum. They run Manziel quite a bit, and they seemed to make a point to use him up the middle against the physical Tide defense. Overall in this game, the Aggies ran 70 total plays by my count, 38 of which were passes. Out of these 70 plays, Manziel adjusted at the line of scrimmage 11 times, roughly 16%. This means that Manziel was editing his protection, the receivers routes, or changing the play a little more than one in six plays. Not terrible, compared to most of contemporaries in college. However, this could possibly mean that Manziel has a harder time reading coverages and adapting to them in the NFL, though we can’t know either way for sure.

Time for the chart.

 D = Drop, * = Miscommunication, @ = Interception, ! = INT off drop$ = Touchdown.The % Adjusted removes drops and miscommunications from the accuracy rating.
Yardage RankLeftCenterRightTotal with Raw Percent (%Adjusted)
1 to 56 of 80 of 1, D6 of 612 of 15, 80%(86%)
5 to 101 of 2, $0 of 00 of 1, @1 of 3, 33%, $@
10 to 203 of 4, $4 of 7, $D$!1 of 18 of 12, 75%(80%)$!$D$
20+4 of 40 of 12 of 3,$6 of 8, 75%$
Totals14-18, $$4 of 9, $DD$!9 of 11, @

Overall on the day, Manziel was 28-39 for five touchdowns, 464 yards, and 2 interceptions for a 72% accuracy rating (80% adjusted). He also ran fourteen times (three were scrambles) for 98 yards and was sacked once.

And he did that all against the defense of the best team in the nation. Any way you slice it, it’s just impressive. Anyway, onto the good parts of his game.

A lot of people talk about Manziel’s arm strength negatively, but I don’t see why. He has a very strong arm. From what I’ve seen, in terms of pure arm strength, I’d put him second above Bridgewater and behind Mariota. He is able to throw the ball for chunks of yardage at a time through the air, and honestly he could probably throw it a whole lot further if he put his weight behind it (he has footwork issues which I’ll address later). One thing I was also pleasantly surprised with was his touch. He knows how to control the arc of the ball pretty well, but it’s not fantastic. I would also put him second in this category, with Mariota at third (Bridgewater is far and away the best touch passer in the country.) Anyway, I digress. He is also, as you can see from the statistics, very accurate. 80% accuracy against the best team in the country isn’t normal. It’s very good.

And obviously, his athleticism is off the charts. He’s a natural when it comes to reading blocks, like a running-back, which he exploits by running faster or slower to force defenders into his blockers. I am going to talk about his elusiveness later (I’m gonna spend a lot of time on his intangibles, both positive and negative.) I also was surprised by the presence of reads in his mental game. He definitely doesn’t focus on his reads, but when he does he seems to make them effectively.

Now for the negatives.

As I mentioned before, his throwing form and footwork is probably the worst I’ve scouted so far. He doesn’t drive off his back foot when he throws. Instead it seems like he almost hops and flips his hips, relying completely on his arm strength (which honestly makes me even more impressed with his arm; most QBs have to step into throws he just flicks in this manner). His footwork, at times, looked like something I wouldn’t see on a football field. There was a time he literally walked around the pocket and looked at the defense with the same foot speed as a painter inspecting a wall. You want a QB’s foot speed to be high (think of Manning tap-dancing in the pocket) as opposed to slow, which is what Manziel’s is. He also shows relatively poor timing on short passes. He had times where he threw behind his receivers on two or three slants in a row. He also had a weird tendency to float curl routes. Not good. He wasn’t rushed on these throws, just inaccurate. And those two interceptions (even though one of them was the receiver’s fault) are reflective of spotty decision-making at times. He can trust himself so much that he throws caution to the wind and the ball to the defense.

Now, normally this is where I briefly discuss intangibles before prognosticating the player’s draft stock. Here, however, I have to expound upon Manziel’s positive and negative intangibles. It’s because his entire status as a prospect rides on these hard-to-quantify traits.

The guy is almost impossible to catch. We’ve seen it twice against Bama these past two years and dozens against other opponents; he is able to make people miss in the pocket in a way I’ve never seen before. He will literally run circles around defenders behind the line of scrimmage in an effort to buy time. It’s thrilling to watch and must infuriate defensive coordinators – their guys aren’t doing anything wrong, he just makes them look like fools on a regular basis. This extends to his running in the open field – he’s a stud at making people miss in space. When he absolutely, positively, needs a first down, he will get it for you. That brings me to my next point. He is a competitor down to his bones. He wears his emotions (positive or negative) on his sleeve. He doesn’t hesitate to put his body (and sometimes the game) on the line in an effort to bring home the win. Manziel doesn’t just give his best – he gives his all. And here’s the thing that makes him so dangerous for opponents: he is ridiculously, even laughably lucky. When anyone else playing with Johnny’s style would have every right in the world to be sacked literally a dozen times a game, he was sacked once in this contest. He throws bomb after bomb only to connect almost every time. The only reason he lost this game was because of his defense. Alabama, Florida, whomever – no one is able to stop this guy, no matter the scheme they run, the personnel they employ, or what idol they pray to. He’s a monster on the field.

It’s off the field, though, where his issues really arise. I’m not entirely sure as to the veracity of all of his charges, so out of respect for the man I won’t list them here. Look them up if you want. After such a history off the field, however, one starts to worry about his longevity on the legal side as it applies to the NFL. No one wants to take him and then have him out of the league in two years for being a punk. Some say that money will make his problems worse, but he’s been in a rich family since birth and I don’t think that will do much to change him – he’s a risk at best and a potential disaster at worst. Another thing that might not change about him is his size. He’s purportedly 6-1, but when I see him on the field, there is no way he’s bigger than six feet, even in a helmet. Now recently in the NFL there have been small QBs with success, but one has to wonder… How many passes batted down, how many crushing hits from 6-5, 300+ men can this guy take? It’s one of his biggest questions right now. His last big question is also his biggest strength. He is so successful because of how riskily he plays, but that could come back to bite him. Though honestly this is hypothetical at this point. He’s so talented and so lucky that his lack of skill and caution hardly ever bear bad fruit. But how long will that last?

Johnny Manziel will live or die in the NFL the same way he does in college – through sheer skill and dumb luck. With this guy, honestly, he’s going to either be out of the league by the end of his rookie contract, or the Johnny Football legend will live on and grow stronger in a new city. It all depends on whether his unique skill-set can translate. No one can say for sure whether it will, because we’ve never seen it before. This guy is one of the most polarizing figures in recent memory, and that will continue on to his draft stock. As a result of his uncanny talent, and his terrible risk, I could not justify the Jaguars taking him #1 overall. Now maybe he could be had in a trade-down, or trade-back-in-the-first scenario, but no way is he the number one. This young man will be a star or a tragedy. It’ll be interesting to watch.

Leave your comments below, thanks for the feedback.

– Zach