Whether the NFL is ready or not, Johnny Manziel is on the way.
Earlier this week, the exuberant Texas A&M redshirt sophomore announced he was entering the 2014 NFL Draft. From now until the first day of the draft on May 8, there won’t be a more polarizing player than Manziel. That goes for fans, the media and NFL front offices.
Much of the general negativity surrounding Manziel will be about his behavior, on and off the field. While fans debate his recklessness off the field, football people will wonder about it on the field.
Whatever team drafts Manziel will know he's not 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. They also need to realize he's not Drew Brees. He's not the type of quarterback who will be content dropping back, staying in the pocket and delivering passes. Manziel is the type of quarterback who will see an easy throw and disregard it in favor of the more challenging vertical throw.
Manziel will break the pocket. He’ll scramble. He’ll do things like this:
As a passer, Manziel improved considerably from his freshman to sophomore seasons. His work with private quarterback coach George Whitfield appears to have paid off. His arm strength was noticeably stronger. He seemed to read more of the field. His footwork, when he actually stood in the pocket, was better. Manziel is going to work with Whitfield in the pre-draft process, and it may continue to strengthen his game.
As it is, he’s going pro at the right time. He won a Heisman Trophy. He helped turn A&M into a strong school. There is a great need for quarterbacks high in a draft where Manziel should expect to be a first-round pick.
He’s also going pro on the heels of one of his finest performances in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Beating Duke, Manziel went 30 for 38 for 382 yards and four touchdowns. As Manziel often does, he was a weapon running the ball, going for 73 yards and another touchdown.
But it was Manziel's resolve in that game that makes him attractive as an NFL prospect. Whenever A&M fell behind Duke, Manziel rallied his team reclaim the lead.
Manziel’s intangible qualities – the apparent fire and on-field leadership – lead many to believe he’s the next Russell Wilson. But there are plenty of faults behind that comparison.
Anyone with an opinion about Manziel will need to realize he is wholly his own as a player. Whatever teams drafts him will have to change for him. Chances are he won’t be changing for them.