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By The Sports Xchange August 30, 2013 2:11 PM
Johnny Manziel confounding SEC quarterbacks on the football field last fall with his dazzling athleticism and dramatic playmaking?Remember
If not, it's understandable. Since becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in December, Manziel has been a nonstop news peg, mostly of the TMZ variety. He has been criticized for everything from choice seats at NBA playoff games to leaving the Manning Passing Camp early, brought additional negative attention on himself through Twitter posts and getting kicked out of a Texas frat party and won't make his 2013 debut until the second half Saturday following an NCAA investigation into alleged payments for autographs. All signs point toward Manziel counting the days until he can bolt College Station for the NFL - he tweeted as much over the summer. Few quarterbacks have left two years of eligibility remaining on the table and made successful jumps to the NFL. So we asked NFLDraftScout.com analysts Rob Rang and Dane Bugler to evaluate Manziel as an NFL prospect. Only one stipulation - keep it on the field, boys. Q: NFLDraftScout.com currently has Manziel rated as a second-round prospect and the No. 6 QB potentially eligible for next spring's draft. Where do you ultimately think he'll be selected? Rang: Manziel's unique talent and box-office appeal will be enough to justify some conversation among NFL decision-makers as early as the first round. That is, of course, if he's able to prove just as dominant in a second season of SEC football. Barring anything other than a return to glory in 2013, however, and Manziel could be in for a rude awakening in the NFL Draft, as most teams are looking for a more traditional passer (and leader) at the quarterback position. Brugler: While it's much too early to feel confident predicting the round Manziel will be selected, if he can match (or exceed) his production and impact from a year ago, Johnny Football probably won't get out of the top 50 picks (not that I agree, but that's the reality). He's a hair under 6-feet with a narrow body type and only average arm strength, but he is able to be successful due to his athleticism, natural instincts and foot quickness to create on the move. Manziel's best quality is a trait that's tough to quantify: his improvisational skills to keep plays alive and find a way to extend drives. Call it being a "backyard quarterback," but I call it "doing whatever works," and that's all the NFL is concerned about, especially these days with more and more teams keeping open minds to different styles of quarterbacks. Q: When you break down film of Manziel, what sticks out most about his skill set? Rang: Manziel's extraordinary athleticism deserves top billing. He's very elusive; possessing excellent vision, balance, lateral agility and acceleration. When in the pocket, he shows good accuracy in the short to intermediate routes that every NFL offense uses (stop-fade, crossers, posts), often leading his receivers into extra yardage. He has enough zip for these throws and possesses impressive touch. When on the move, Manziel's accuracy drops slightly, but remains very effective. In terms of the NFL, a potentially critical flaw for Manziel is that he currently possesses just average arm strength. This could potentially improve with greater muscle development. Manziel sports a compact, athletic build on his listed 6-1, 210-pound frame, but he's far from bulked up, especially in his arms. Brugler: Based on film study, his best qualities are his natural instincts and ability to improvise mid-action, using both his arm and legs, to move the chains and extend drives. He isn't a "special" athlete like RG3, but he's very slippery with excellent athletic awareness, displaying unique 360-degree vision and feel to always know what's going on around him. His size/arm strength are the biggest question marks for me. Yes, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees have found success as shorter passers, but they are the exception, not the rule, and both have more arm talent than Johnny Football, who is still a work in progress as a passer, physically and mentally. Q: What does Manziel need to prove to scouts on the field to become a potential first-round prospect? Rang: First and foremost, Manziel needs to prove that the unique traits that led to the Heisman Trophy a year ago - vision, athleticism, accuracy on the move - are just as impressive a year after SEC opponents have had a chance to adjust to him, as well as head coach Kevin Sumlin's offense. A second year of handling the punishment of 625 touches (201 of which were rushing attempts) and a stronger build will also help convince scouts that he's tough enough to handle the jump to the NFL. Finally, for Manziel to quiet critics of his arm strength, he'll need more attempts (and completions) of deep passes that require torque, not touch. Brugler: It's fun to watch him run around, elude defenders and eventually pick up chunks of yards on the ground, but scouts already know what he's capable of athletically. What Manziel needs to do in 2013 as a redshirt sophomore is prove that he has what it takes between the ears to be a NFL quarterback. The Texas A&M offense will almost always encourage Manziel to escape the tackle box if the opportunity is there, but can he consistently work through his progressions and find open targets from inside the pocket? Johnny Football spent a lot of time working with quarterback guru George Whitfield during the offseason, we'll see this fall if that translates to better anticipation and execution from the pocket. Q: What separates Teddy Bridgewater and Tajh Boyd, NFLDraftScout.com's top two quarterbacks for the '14 draft, as prospects right now compared to Manziel? Rang: Size and arm strength, for starters. Bridgewater (6-3) is significantly taller and Boyd (6-1). While listed at the same height as Manziel, Boyd possesses a much stouter, more powerful frame at 6-1, 225 pounds. Both have shown more consistent velocity and are asked to make more NFL-caliber throws to be successful in their respective offenses. Brugler: Bridgewater enters the season as the clear-cut top NFL quarterback prospect, and if he continues to develop throughout the 2013 season, he's the favorite to be the top quarterback drafted next May, possibly even as the No. 1 overall pick. Boyd is also in that first-round discussion, showing top 10 potential at times last year. Both are much more NFL-ready and have more traditional skill sets for the quarterback position compared to Manziel. Bridgewater has very good field vision as a passer and recognition skills to pick apart defenses, showing the toughness and smarts that teams will love. Boyd has all the arm strength needed for the position with the athleticism and eye use to manipulate the pocket and change his throwing platform on the move. In short, Bridgewater and Boyd are both much more proven using their arms, which ultimately is what NFL teams want in a first-round quarterback. Q: Which NFL offenses would Manziel be a good fit in, and why? Rang: Should the read-option continue to be successful in the NFL, there are few quarterbacks who have ever been better suited for it. This play, however, is far from an entire offense. Manziel has the mobility and accuracy to intrigue in a traditional West Coast Offense, but the intricate timing of this scheme is one of its most critical and under-appreciated requirements. Manziel flashes the awareness on quick timing routes in A&M's offense to make this work. Among Manziel's trademark qualities, however, is his unpredictability. Taking this way from him could pose a significant barrier to his long-term success in this offense or any other. Brugler: In my opinion, there isn't one NFL offense that stands out as an ideal fit for Manziel, but the best fit for him at the next level will be with the team that embraces his strengths and molds the offense around him, not vice-versa. These days more and more offensive coordinators are keeping an open mind and experimenting with the different skill sets at quarterback that the college game is producing. And Manziel's best fit in the NFL will be with an organization that is open to tweaking the offense to fit around Johnny Football and his abilities. Who would be his best NFL comparison, past or present? Rang: Based on similarities in size, overall athleticism and an accurate but limited arm, the best comparison I've come across for Manziel is former Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia. Of course, as an undrafted free agent out of San Jose State, Garcia had a tougher path into the NFL than Manziel. it remains to be seen if the reigning Heisman trophy winner possesses the grit that helped the 6-1, 205-pound Garcia reach four Pro Bowls over his 12-year NFL career. Brugler: The obvious comparison is Doug Flutie, and it's obvious because it makes sense. Flutie, who also won the Heisman Trophy while in college, was five-foot-nothing in pads but was able to be successful with his fleet-of-foot athleticism to scramble, escape pressure and find the open receiver. Manziel is a modern version of Flutie at the college ranks, but will he be able to achieve more prolonged success in the NFL? Flutie, who spent a good chunk of his prime playing in the Canadian Football League, had his best years in the NFL during a three-year stint with the Buffalo Bills (1998-2000). But even then, his stats weren't overly impressive, setting career-bests in 1998 with 20 passing touchdowns and only 57.1 percent completions. Q: Can Manziel do better at the next level? Time will tell. In your opinion, does Manziel have the "it" factor as a future NFL Pro Bowl QB, or is he a dazzling college athlete who will struggle with the transition? Rang: Like Garcia, Manziel possesses the physical traits to carry over his collegiate success into the NFL. Further, Manziel's possibilities are enhanced by the increased willingness of today's NFL teams to gamble on dual-threat passers. He possesses the "it" factor. The greater concern is whether he possesses the maturity and dedication to capitalize on "it." Brugler: Right now based on one season of play, he's more of a dazzling college athlete than future NFL Pro Bowler. He has some exciting athletic traits that will give him a shot and might even entice a team into using a first-round pick on him. But at the end of the day, the quarterback position isn't about athleticism, it's about being a consistent and reliable passer, something Manziel still needs to prove. With only average arm strength, streaky ball placement and undeveloped anticipation, Johnny Football still has a lot of room to grow before I'd feel comfortable tabbing him as my future starter at the pro level. That doesn't mean he can't improve and develop, but right now, he's more of an exciting - and polarizing - college athlete than established passer. Dane Brugler and Rob Rang are analysts for www.NFLDraftScout.com, published by The Sports Xchange in partnership with CBSSports.com.