Yesterday, ESPN and NFL Network turned a single player’s Pro Day into the single most talked about post-season event in this year’s draft season. Johnny Manziel drew heavy media and NFL attention, aiding to the “Where is Manziel going” narrative that has become the over-arching story over every other prospect.
Our friends at RosterWatch have been traveling around the country, bouncing from Pro Day to Pro Day as both reporters and trusted evaluators. All quotes are directly from their discussion with me after they left College Station.
“Manziel showed a legitimately live arm, very much Russell Wilson-type arm strength. Everything about the day, including his arm, had a lot of pop and sizzle, showed he can drive the ball outside the numbers. He made all the throws in the pocket and roll-out behind a ‘fake’ line of scrimmage.”
The Russell Wilson comparison has become most prevalent, even though Manziel doesn’t have the same pocket presence or composure under pressure that Wilson displayed in college. His arm talent, however, shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for scouts..
His arm strength has been questioned, but his Pro Day reaffirmed the notion that his ability to generate velocity down the field shouldn’t be a weakness on his scouting report.
“It’s the closest quarterback Pro Day we’ve seen to RG3s in terms of impressiveness. Like AJ McCarron’s Pro Day, he showed a lot of control in a very well-rehearsed, the polar opposite of Bridgewater Pro Day.”
This is the key aspect that, regardless of how impressive the throws are at a Pro Day, they are all scripted and rehearsed. Manziel’s biggest question mark as a passer is his struggles when he’s forced to set up and beat teams with his reads, timing and accuracy.
What was unique about Manziel’s Pro Day, and what I expect more passers to do in the future, was his (or his coach George Whitfield’s) decision to throw with pads and a helmet. It isn’t a huge plus to the evaluation of the Pro Day, but it does add a more game-like feel to the workout.
“This is a job interview. You wear a suit two a business interview, so I wore pads and a helmet to my Pro Day. I’ve never understood why you’d throw without pads.” – Johnny Manziel.
Overall, the response from the Pro Day was positive, and most of the top decision makers were in attendance for the team’s picking high in the draft. However, it’s crucial to understand that the true value of Pro Days is the benefit of an added live exposure.
While regional scouts have seen Manziel perform for two seasons, both in games and at practices, key decision makers have not. For general manager and head coaches, they use the All-Star circuit and Pro Days to get a look at these quarterbacks live. There are instances every year in the draft of teams never showing interest in a player and then selecting him high, but in general, teams want a live exposure of a player before they make a key investment decision in bringing them onto their roster.
Manziel’s Pro Day generated ample interest from media and NFL personnel. And while it’ll have an impact, especially since he impressed the decision makers in attendance, there will be much more value placed on his play during his college career. So while it’s okay to get excited after a wowing Pro Day, it’s more important to be tempered in adjusting his evaluation. Pro Days are where mistakes can happen, and smart NFL teams won’t fall into that trap anymore.