It has been 36 years since Fran Tarkenton played in the NFL, but it has taken that long since he has seen a clone of himself come to the NFL.
Manziel has been compared to a lot of players, but for the old guard the closest thing — size and style-wise — it's Tarkenton, the whirling dervish with the sandlot style and playground mentality who could beat you with a run, scramble or back-breaking throw.
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Tarkenton agrees: The kid has a little of himself in him.
"Nobody really played like I played," Tarkenton said. "This kid plays like I did more than anybody else."
"He's the closest thing I've seen to myself," he said. "Russell Wilson has some of it. But Manziel has those similarities even more so than Russell.
"Manziel is a quarterback savant."
One of the bigger knocks on Manziel is his size. At less than 6-foot tall, and at 207 pounds, he's considered quite light at the position. But Tarkenton, who was 6-0 and 190 when he came into the NFL, doesn't necessarily see it that way.
"People are going to say, 'Well, he's only 5-11¾ tall,'" Tarkenton said. "I wasn't as big, strong and fast as all these other players. But I knew how to play."
Tarkenton loves what Manziel did in his two years of college on the biggest stages.
"What Manziel has is an instinctive vision," Tarkenton said. "He did it against the toughest level of college football, twice the last two years against Nick Saban's Alabama defense."
And though his running is an asset now, Manziel is going to have to adapt his game to the pro level, Tarkenton says. Even though he was the running quarterback of his era, Tarkenton stayed mostly healthy prior to breaking his leg in 1977, which he ironically suffered on a pass play.
"Manziel is not going to be able to run as much at the next level," Tarkenton said. "They had called running plays for him in college. He's going to have to adjust.
"I ran more than any other quarterback in my era by far — buying time for plays, had all these records for rushing. When I broke my leg my 17th season, I was in the pocket."
Another big knock on Manziel is his character. Critics say he's too interested in a party lifestyle, or that he's not coachable. Sleeping in at the Manning Passing Academy prior to last season appeared to cement a lot of people's perceptions of Manziel.
Tarkenton, however, doesn't equate that to being a bad apple.
"The things that went on last year with him leaving the Manning camp and other activities, I just want to understand that a little better. Everything I've seen of the kid, I love. ...
"But you've got to make sure. Because there's never been a great quarterback I know of who was a rodent."
Manziel will have his own pro day on March 27. The Houston Texans, who pick first overall, will be there, along with nearly every other NFL team, if not all of them. Tarkenton believes that will be important to where he ends up getting drafted, but Manziel also must prove to his first NFL team that he has the moral fiber to hack it.
"I'd have to spend some time with him," Tarkenton said. "What I've seen him do on the field, he has all the franchise qualities. You look at your great players, they have to be leaders in the clubhouse and off the field. They don't have to be churchgoers. But they have to have character."
WIll Manziel be a once-a-generation type of talent? The NFL hasn't seen too many player of his size, skill set and killer instinct come into the league, with Tarkenton likely being right about being the last one to truly match those skills, other than a Doug Flutie or Jeff Garcia along the way.
Now, whether that can translate to NFl success in this era is another story altogether. But you know we are going to tune in and find out.
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- Fran Tarkenton
- Johnny Manziel