Join Date: Apr 2008
He's an incredible competitor: When I've talked to coaches about Manziel, particularly the ones who've had to face him, what you hear first isn't about the incredible plays, the improvising or the athleticism and ability to make plays after the play design has fallen apart. They first zero in on his competitiveness and his will. For all the off-field questions that popped up during the summer, what Manziel brought on Saturdays as a competitor can't be questioned, and that resonates.
There's no such thing as a prototype: Manziel often gets compared to Russell Wilson, but a lot of that is just based on height and improvisational skills. And while there's something to be said for those traits, when Wilson was drafted I said he'd be a great test case for what the NFL has viewed as the ideal look of a quarterback. Wilson has succeeded because he's an exceptional player, but also because the Seahawks look for ways to maximize his skills, allowing him to beat defenses with his arm and his legs. Precedent has been set. Coaches seem to have a better sense now of how to do more to allow quarterbacks with various skills succeed, and Manziel should benefit.
Improvising is an NFL skill, too: Wilson is a great improviser -- but so is Peyton Manning, so is Tom Brady, so is Aaron Rodgers. The best quarterbacks are all great improvisers because improvising isn't just about running around, it's first about seeing the whole field, using your feet inside and outside the pocket to extend plays and having the football sense to adjust when plans go awry. Manziel has been a master at the college level, but credit his eyes and his understanding of where the opportunities are, not just his ability to run around. It's a skill he can use on Sundays, too.
Arm strength can improve: Manziel doesn't have a great arm, but he has an adequate one, and he can improve his ability to drive the ball through better mechanics. Manziel doesn't do a great job yet of getting his feet under him to make throws, particularly the intermediate and deep throws that he'll need to make to succeed in the NFL, where you have to stretch defenses or at least keep that threat constant. We've seen many QBs find more velocity as they become more consistent with mechanics, and Manziel can, too.
Make the pocket your friend: Manziel is a great improviser, but he's often too quick to use his feet not to maneuver in the pocket, but to exit it completely and get out in space. Good passing offenses thrive on timing, and making throws within the rhythm of the play, and if Manziel wants to be great, he'll need to do a better job of using his athleticism and instincts to navigate the tight quarters and throw on time.
The help: At Texas A&M, Manziel has had one of the better bail-out targets in all of college football in Mike Evans. Throw it up to the 6-foot-5 Evans, and what we'd normally call 50-50 balls can often turn into big plays. Texas A&M hasn't been completely loaded, but Manziel has had very good blocking (particularly at tackle), and has gone into many games knowing he was surrounded by superior talent. In the NFL, the difference between the best team and the worst team is typically much closer than the difference between even the best and worst teams in the SEC. He'll need to elevate his game, because huge advantages will disappear.
Dealing with failure ... and waiting: The Aggies have lost some games, but Manziel really hasn't dealt with much failure at the college level. Not only that, he's been a starter since he won the job in camp as a redshirt freshman. We don't yet know how he'll react to a string of rough games, and we don't yet know how he'll react to waiting in line, which could certainly happen.
Face of the franchise: From all I know, Manziel has been a great teammate and is an unquestioned leader on game day and on the practice field. But we know the scrutiny as a starting NFL quarterback extends far beyond the field to dealing with the spotlight, the media requirements, the standards you have to uphold as an endorser of a franchise or in the commercial space. Those are all now a huge part of the game. He has to graduate from a ballplayer to a well-compensated brand name. It'll demand maturity.
Where he stands
I've had Manziel ranked between 10 and 20 on my Big Board for a while now, and he's currently No. 2 among quarterbacks overall, behind Teddy Bridgewater. That puts him squarely in the first round based on my projections. Given the number of teams that need a quarterback, if he performs well during the draft evaluation process -- namely the combine, pro days and in interviewing with and working out for teams -- it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him go inside the top 10, where I see four teams that should be taking a close look at quarterbacks.