The most fascinating NFL prospect in some years has thrown his name into the draft ring.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the first-ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, has confirmed earlier reports that he will enter this May's NFL draft. He told CBS's Bruce Feldman that he was ready to make the leap.
"After long discussions with my family, friends, teammates, and coaches, I have decided to make myself available for the 2014 NFL draft," Manziel said. "The decision was such a tough one for me because of how much I wanted to go back and be with all those guys that I love playing with, and to work with Coach [Kevin] Sumlin and Coach [Jake Spavital] Spav and be part of a program that's continuing to grow. But I felt like this is what's best for me now.
"I feel very relieved. It's a weight off my shoulders. I'm ready to become a professional and dedicate myself to making my dream a reality of becoming the best quarterback I can be."
In two seasons with the Aggies, Manziel captivated the nation with his play and also with his off-field activities as a lightning rod figure in college football. He capped off his college career with an incredible performance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl over Duke, throwing for four touchdowns and rushing for another. His career totals include throwing for 7,820 yards, 63 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, along with rushing for 2,169 yards and 30 scores.
Yet he's a divisive prospect because of character concerns and his 6-foot height and slight frame, even with his marvelous playmaking ability.
Still, Manziel is roundly viewed as a first-round prospect, and he certainly could land in the top 10 picks given the number of quarterback-needy teams picking in that range.
With that in mind, here is the early take on the five teams most likely to draft Manziel (with a few wild-card possibilities thrown in for good measure):
1. Cleveland Browns
Current draft position: 4th overall pick
There have been reports that the Browns' cognoscenti of Haslam, Banner and Lombardi are said to be very interested in bringing Johnny Football to town. We don't know who the head coach or offensive coordinator yet will be, but they are reportedly interviewing a wide swath of candidates after one potential favorite, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, pulled his name from the race. We're not sure who the next man will be for the job, and whether or not his presence (McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow, after all) would have increased or decreased the likelihood of Manziel ending up here. But make no mistake: Personnel decisions will be made by the three men mentioned above, it appears, with little interference from whomever becomes coach. This landing spot, of course, also would contain epic meltdown possibilities. Because, naturally, Cleveland.
2. Oakland Raiders
Current draft position: 5th overall
The Raiders seem like a hot mess right now, with a coaching staff left in limbo until recently, a roster that is still miles away from competing, a division that placed the other three teams in the postseason this year and a brutal 2014 slate of opponents that includes four games against the NFC West gauntlet, too. So why not Manziel? It's clear that Dennis Allen and Co. are not married to either Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin (and have little invested in either), so a new quarterback on the roster is a virtual certainty. We have a feeling that the late Al Davis would have been enamored with Manziel, even if he doesn't possess the strongest arm we've seen (still, it looks pretty strong), and he naturally would add zest and intrigue to a Raiders club that frankly has been boring for ages.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Current draft position: 3rd overall
Having gone the relatively safe route with their recent draft picks, and having parried off all Tebow-to-North-Florida fan requests, it's easy to write off the Jags as a legit possibility. But if there ever was a player to tempt owner Shad Khan (who may or may not have his sights on London) and help pull tarps off the upper-deck seats at EverBank Field, it's Manziel. Football-wise, it makes sense for them to bring in a quarterback, as Blaine Gabbert appears to be yesterday's news and Chad Henne has fully entrenched himself as the solid backup type you hope doesn't have to start much. Head coach Gus Bradley saw what a similarly sized Russell Wilson did when the two were together on the Seattle Seahawks, and Jaguars quarterback coach Frank Scelfo can call on his Texas high school connections to get the dirt on Manziel's past. You can't overlook them at all.
4. St. Louis Rams
Current draft position: 2nd overall
They honestly find themselves in the ideal position to draft Manziel, assuming he doesn't go first, and could add him to an offensive mix that is rounding into form. With the injury-prone Sam Bradford appearing to have all the support he needs from management now and GM Les Snead already having sent out signals that the team is interested in trading down from this spot, you can't say that Manziel to the Rams is the most likely scenario right now. But, oh, the possibilities. This is an offense that could come into form with burner Tavon Austin, grinder Zac Stacy and a collection of other fleet skill guys ... playing on turf, no less. Imagine throwing Manziel into the mix. Head coach Jeff Fisher has done a good job of turning his roster into a Boys Town reunion, so perhaps Manziel's indiscretions would look tame in comparison.
5. Minnesota Vikings
Current draft position: 8th overall
Is there a chance the Vikings could stand pat at eight and still land Manziel? Sure thing. And we'd watch just about any play where Manziel is on the same field with Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson. The Vikings' offensive identity would change immediately, and it almost certainly would guarantee a strong following as the team rents out a college stadium for a couple of years while their new digs are built. It's another situation of not knowing who the head coach will be, but GM Rick Spielman has to know where his biggest weakness is, with Matt Cassel appearing to be an ideal backup capable of starting in a pinch and Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman more capable of ending up on someone else's roster next season. Drafting Manziel might also buy Spielman more time, as his seat ever so slightly warms, and take some heat off Peterson as he enters his pre-twilight years. It's a fascinating possibility for sure.
Wild-card possibility: Houston Texans
Current draft position: 1st overall
Technically, with the first pick, the Texans have the best chance to draft Manziel. But all the indications point us in another direction, even with the team's need for a quarterback to round up a talented roster. First, geography. Manziel played high school a few hours up the road in Kerrville, Texas and went to college less than 100 miles from Houston in College Station. Given the white-hot spotlight that Manziel has endured in the great state the past several years, many people seem to think he would do best by starting his career out of town, and perhaps far away from towns such as Miami, Las Vegas, New Orleans or any other city you can get in trouble without walking a city block. Two, new head coach Bill O'Brien and Manziel might not be made for each other, although we certainly don't know that for sure. But having worked with Tom Brady, O'Brien is almost certain to take the homebody type over the socialite.
Wild-wild-card possibility: Dallas Cowboys
Current draft position: 16th or 17th
The feeling is that there's no way in heck that Manziel slips this far (the Cowboys' draft position will be determined by a coin flip at the NFL scouting combine) and we have to take Jerry Jones at his word — heh — when he says that he has no designs on drafting a quarterback high. With Tony Romo on the roster, Manziel would sit for now if the Cowboys found their way up to draft him. I mean, the chances of this happening are slim. But if there's any team that could throw up their hands and say, "screw it!" it's Jones' Cowboys. He loves stealing the Draft Day thunder, and this one would resonate for decades.
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