Scouting Notebook: Johnny Manziel Isn’t NFL Ready Now, But Don’t Count Him Out as an NFL Quarterback Yet

Johnny ManzielAs a redshirt freshman, Johnny Manziel became the first Texas A&M Aggie to win the Heisman trophy. What he’s done for his school and for himself after just two college years is remarkable, and he’s become the new role model for high school athletes hoping to see the “riches” of being a college football star.

Manziel, who has taken full advantage of his national attention to enjoy himself this off-season, has accomplished so much in a short time in his football career. Outside of a national title and a handful of school records, there isn’t much more he can accomplish as a Texas A&M Aggie.

Can Johnny Manziel make it at the NFL level? My evaluations thus far say that he can. But it’s going to be a long road of mental, physical, and technical development before he can reach those dreams.

 

As a former recruit who wasn’t considered a quarterback by the University of Texas, Manziel’s story has turned from “who’s this” to “what’s next”. Manziel, eligible for the 2014, 2015, and 2016 NFL Draft , is set to be the next Tim Tebow-like prospect: Limited by his lack of ideal NFL ability by filled with media attention and support.

With rare foot speed and acceleration for a quarterback, Manziel’s running ability is his most notable strength as a quarterback at this point in his career. More than just his sheer quickness and speed to get huge chunks of yards as a runner, it’s his flexibility and contorting ability to evade major hits that allows for NFL-level escape-ability as a passer and runner. It’s a major reason for his success as a runner in 2012 against SEC defenses and what will hopefully keep him healthy in 2013 and beyond.

As a passer, Manziel showcases the confidence and natural feel of the position that is indicative of future developmental success. As was evident in his freshman year in the SEC, Manziel never waviers in his confidence, decision-making, or willingness to make impactful plays. His field vision and overall passer IQ limits him a bit, but he is decisive when he is able to make a read or as he escapes the pocket. He showed multiple times in 2012 (especially in the Alabama game) to escape from rushers and remain composed as he decides to throw or run. His natural composure as a passer is what allows him to, at times, turn sporadic miscues or missed opportunities into productive plays.

His mechanics and footwork are where he’ll need the most work this season, but it’s both understandable and encouraging that one of his biggest concerns moving forward is fundamentals. He was battling in training camp for the starting job, and by the time the season came around, he was more focused on team success then personal development. With a full off-season as the entrenched starter, Manziel has the opportunity to work on keeping the ball in his carriage higher, establishing a wider and more consistent base (his arm strength suffers mightily when he can’t get set), and be cleaner and more decisive in his footwork inside and outside the pocket.

Despite being just a sophomore, Johnny Manziel is eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft, thanks to a redshirt season in 2011. That means, despite his need for more than a year worth of development to overcom lack of height, or reliance as a runner, he’ll be the topic of discussion when people think of the NFL Draft for at least another year.

After just one season of college football, Manziel carries a late Top 100 grade for us at Optimum Scouting if he were to declare for the 2014 NFL Draft. As a true passer, he’s worth a developmental grade as a 5th-6th round pick, and his skill set as a runner gives a good enough fall back option to bump him into the late 3rd round discussion.

Thanks to his lack of adequate height and likely need for offenses to scheme for him if he does hope to play in the NFL, his “ceiling” in terms of a draft grade is likely in the 2nd round area if he makes all the necessary strides, and even then he would be a surprise to be a long-term NFL starter. His style of play, lack of size, shiftiness as a runner and ability to make plays based on hustle, grit, and a natural confidence and composure to his game reminds an awful lot of Doug Flutie during his NFL tenure. Easily Manziel’s best comparison, both now and what he can strive to be in the NFL, Flutie would have had even more success in today’s NFL, where running is a premium skill and the use of the shotgun offense is at an all-time high.

Manziel isn’t an NFL level quarterback now, and history, size, and recent draft trends aren’t on his side. Despite his recent and likely future college success at Texas A&M, his NFL dreams won’t be easily realized once he decides to enter the NFL draft. It’ll be a struggle for him to sell his skill set to NFL teams, give them a reason to draft him early, and battle for an NFL job.

But he’s made a habit of exceeding expectations so far. And after his remarkable success in one year of college football, it’s clear he’s a special player. Seeing if he can turn “special” into “professional” is what every NFL evaluator will need to answer when Johnny Manziel is on the draft board.

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