DraftBrowns.com Editor: Brendan Leister
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is one of the most talented players in the 2014 NFL Draft class. At only 21 years old (birthday is December 6th, 1992), Manziel is the youngest quarterback in the entire class. After redshirting during the 2011 season, Manziel won the starting job in 2012. He became the first redshirt freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy as he completed 295 out of 434 for 3,706 yards, 26 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He also proved to be a dynamic threat on the ground as he carried the ball 201 times for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Manziel played in all 26 games during his college career. He completed 595 out of 863 passes for 7,820 yards, 63 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions during that time. Manziel also carried the ball 345 times for 2,169 yards and 30 touchdowns. In his final season, he completed 300 of 429 passes (69.9% completion percentage) for 4,114 yards, 37 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
Johnny Manziel is an extremely fiery competitor that leaves it all out on the field week-in and week-out. Whether it was diving for a crucial first down, getting fired up after throwing a touchdown pass, getting onto his receivers when they were not on the same page, or leading his team back from a 21-point deficit in the final game of his college career, Manziel’s emotions were regularly on display during his time at Texas A&M.
Between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Manziel proved that he is a hard worker by the strides that he made as a passer. He showed a much stronger grasp of how to consistently attack defenses from the pocket and his throwing mechanics improved considerably. Due to the mechanical improvements, Manziel’s throwing velocity improved and he became a more accurate passer.
Manziel displayed incredible toughness while carrying the ball 345 times in the SEC. His toughness was also apparent as he played through multiple injuries during his redshirt sophomore season. The injuries included an injured knee suffered against Ole Miss, an injured shoulder suffered against Auburn, and a broken thumb on his throwing hand suffered against Mississippi State.
Off the field, Manziel has gotten more attention from the media than any other 21-year old football player in recent memory. Whether it is for winning the Heisman Trophy at a young age, partying, hanging out with celebrities, or plenty of other happenings, Manziel is constantly in the public eye. It is important that he continues to make football the priority as he makes the transition to the NFL.
Manziel played in an Air Raid offense that expected him to throw to all levels of the field regularly. The offense included a lot of longer-developing intermediate and deep routes that often forced Manziel to hold the ball while waiting for the routes to develop. During the 2012 season, Manziel’s athletic ability was utilized on many more designed run plays than during the 2013 season.
After looking to the sideline for plays and protection changes more often during the 2012 season, it seemed that Manziel earned more responsibilities in regard to changing plays and protections during 2013. Understanding how to attack a defense is one of the most crucial aspects of quarterback play so the experience with making checks at the line should help Manziel as he transitions to the next level.
Most of Manziel’s time at Texas A&M was spent taking snaps from either shotgun or pistol sets. Consequently, he has very limited experience taking snaps from under center. Along with having limited experience taking snaps from under center, Manziel also has limited experience turning his back to the defense, resetting his eyes and feet, and making throws in the play-action game. It is important that Manziel works hard on all of the facets of playing under center as he prepares for the NFL Draft.
During his two college seasons, Johnny Manziel played in what is largely known as the toughest conference in all of college football in the SEC. Manziel and the Aggies were faced with the task of playing some of the most well-coached, talented, athletic teams in college football on a weekly basis and went 20-6 in a two-year span.
At 6′ tall and 207 lbs., Manziel possesses adequate size with a compact build. Manziel has very large hands for a man of his size (9 3/4″). His hand size allows Manziel to throw the ball without gripping the laces with regularity, perform complete pump fakes without losing control of the ball, and also contribute to how rarely he puts the ball on the ground while running with the ball in one hand. It has been reported that Manziel wears size 15 shoes; which are bigger than much larger quarterbacks Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, and Andrew Luck (all reportedly wear size 14s). The size of Manziel’s hands and feet lead me to believe that he may not be finished growing.
Although Manziel does not have the strongest arm in the 2014 class, he displays plenty of arm strength to make every necessary throw at the NFL level. There are times when Manziel’s throwing velocity suffers, but these instances often occur when he does not maintain consistency in his lower body mechanics. Manziel made strides in this area between the 2012 and 2013 season and saw a nice improvement in his overall throwing velocity on a play-to-play basis. Manziel must continue working hard on improving the consistency of his lower body mechanics if he wishes to reach his full potential as a passer.
Manziel is a special athlete at the quarterback position. He exhibits the agility and elusiveness to make defenders miss in the open field and the straight-line speed to produce long runs when given the opportunity. In the NFL, Manziel must do a better job of protecting himself when running with the football by sliding and getting out of bounds more consistently.
Although he consistently does a good job of getting his feet in a position where he can make accurate throws to all levels of the field, Manziel needs to improve the consistency of his footwork while dropping back to pass. There are too many occasions where Manziel casually drops back to pass with no sense of urgency. It worked in college, but at the next level, Manziel will need to drop back to pass quicker and with more urgency on a play-in, play-out basis. Passing windows open and close extremely quickly in the NFL. It is crucial that Manziel improves the consistency of his footwork and understands that the faster he drops back to pass, the sooner he can get the ball out of his own hands and into the hands of his playmakers.
As previously stated, Manziel needs to continue working to improve the consistency of his lower body mechanics as he transitions to the next level. The main flaw in his lower body mechanics that Manziel must correct is in his tendency to lift his back leg off the ground on his follow through. This can cause the ball to sail and hang in the air as throwing velocity suffers. Manziel made great strides toward ridding himself of this bad habit between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Throwing on the Run
One of the areas where Manziel is most adept is in his ability to throw while on the run. While moving to his left, he does an excellent job of getting his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and making accurate throws across his body. Many of the defensive coordinators that Manziel faced during the past two seasons asked their edge players to contain against him rather than rushing him off the edge. This is largely due to the respect they have for Manziel’s ability to get outside the pocket and make throws down the field while moving in any direction.
In charting every pass from the 2013 season and 22 games over the past two seasons, I have found that Johnny Manziel is extremely accurate to all levels of the field. Manziel typically does a great job of putting the ball in a place where his intended target can catch the ball in stride and maximize yards after the catch. Very few of Manziel’s passes from the 2013 season were deflected by defenders due to his ability to place the ball in a position where only his man can make a play on it. Many of Manziel’s inaccurate throws occur when he does not maintain consistent lower body mechanics. While charting the passes of many of the top quarterbacks in the 2014 class, I have found Manziel to be the most consistently accurate to all levels of the field thus far. Considering the fact that he is also the youngest quarterback in the class and only played two college seasons, this is a very impressive feat.
As you can see, Manziel showed great improvement in his ball placement to all levels of the field between his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons. Manziel’s ball placement on passes between six and 15 yards improved from 64.79% in (nine games from) 2012 to 70.48% in 2013. His ball placement on passes 15+ yards from the line of scrimmage improved from 47.62% in (nine games from) 2012 to 58.42% in 2013. Most impressively, Manziel’s ball placement on all passes 6+ yards from the line of scrimmage improved from 56.72% in (nine games from) 2012 to 64.56% in 2013.
Overall, Manziel shows good accuracy on his deep passes, but there is plenty of room for improvement. Manziel has proven that he can throw with a considerable amount of touch, but many of his deep misses from the pocket were slightly overthrown. Improved consistency in his lower body mechanics should lead to Manziel completing a higher percentage of his deep passes.
For the most part, Johnny Manziel does a good job of understanding the situation in the game, what needs to be done, and executing accordingly. However, there are times when he gets greedy and tries to force throws into windows that he should not test. It is evident that Manziel has supreme confidence in his ability and I expect him to always be the type of quarterback that takes risks with the football from time to time.
For such a young quarterback, Manziel is very impressive in his ability to look off safeties and make his intentions unknown until just before the ball comes out of his hand. He showed great strides in this area between the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Although I am unable to fully evaluate Manziel’s ability to read a defense (no coach’s tape), I was very impressed with the strides that he made in his ability to find second, third, and fourth options in the passing game between his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons. During 2012, Manziel lacked patience in the pocket and he would often take off running if his first read was not open. As a redshirt sophomore in 2013, Manziel regularly showed the ability to stand in the pocket and scan the field before making a decision with the football.
If he wishes to be great at the NFL level, Manziel must continue to improve in his ability to anticipate windows in the intermediate passing game. While he shows flashes of very good anticipation from time to time, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
The area that separates Manziel from most football players is in his instincts, intuitiveness, creativity, and awareness on the field. Manziel possesses rare instincts that allow him to make plays that most other players are not capable of making. When he uses his athletic ability to get outside of the pocket, he is extremely difficult to defend because of his elusiveness in the open field combined with his ability to anticipate where defenders will be in proximity to his receivers. Overall, the game seems to move extremely slowly for Manziel and I believe that is the reason why he is able to make so many plays that most other players are incapable of making.
All in all, I view Johnny Manziel as the best quarterback prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft class. Manziel is a fiery competitor that lays it all on the line for his team each week. He is a hard worker that has produced at an extremely high level in the toughest conference in college football for each of the past two seasons. He is very accurate to all levels of the field, he possesses the necessary arm strength to make all of the throws at the NFL level, and he is a dynamic athlete with rare instincts. Although there are areas that he must improve upon, Manziel is a very advanced passer for a quarterback of his experience level.
If I were a GM in need of a quarterback, Johnny Manziel is the player that I would target early in the 2014 draft. The trait that separates the good quarterbacks from the great quarterbacks is in their ability to elevate the players around them. Manziel was in a situation at Texas A&M where he was forced to put his team on his back and produce big nearly every week to give his team a chance to win games. Overall, I expect Manziel to make the same type of impact on his team at the next level and that is why I believe that he is worthy of a top selection on May 8th.
2013: Duke, Alabama, LSU, Missouri, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Rice, Sam Houston State, Southern Methodist University, University of Texas-El Paso
2012: Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, Florida, Auburn, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech
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