With the NFL Draft approaching and the NFL Combine underway, one question looms over the proceedings: who will the Texans take with the first overall pick? Or, to be more specific, will the Texans gamble on Johnny Manziel?
As Johnny said and I strongly believe, if the Texans pass on Manziel, it will be one of the biggest mistakes they have made in the short history of their franchise.
Johnny Manziel will become a franchise quarterback.
For all the criticisms he’s received heading into the draft, Manziel doesn’t get nearly enough praise. His elusiveness, ability to extend plays and unheralded accuracy turned Texas A&M from a 7-6 Big-12 team in 2011 under future Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill to an 11-2 SEC team that won on the road against eventual national champion Alabama. Texas A&M played in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in 2011. A year later, it torched highly regarded SEC defenses with Manziel.
Obviously, Johnny’s not the only one who deserves credit for the quick turnaround. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin’s arrival coincided with Manziel’s start as well. The Aggies possessed a talented offensive line highlighted by Luke Joeckel (who was drafted last year) and Jake Matthews. They also touted potential first-round wide receiver Mike Evans. But Manziel is a special quarterback.
As the Seahawks demonstrated in the Super Bowl, a truly great defense can stop a great offensive system. The Seahawks matched up with the Broncos receivers and didn’t allow Peyton Manning enough time in the pocket to wait for a receiver to finally break free. As a result, the Broncos offense never got going.
However, great defenses can’t prepare or game plan for broken plays. At some point in the progression of a play that has been extended by the quarterback’s elusiveness or mobility, there will either be an open receiver or a lane for the quarterback to run. It’s simply impossible to trap a fast, agile quarterback who has escaped the pocket while also covering every receiver.
If you’ve watched Johnny Manziel at all over the past two years, you know that he specializes in extending and creating big plays after it seems like the play is over. His ability to escape from a collapsed pocket and somehow slip from the grasps of big defensive linemen paid dividends for the Aggies. Whatever team drafts Manziel will inherit his ability to turn negative-yardage plays into touchdowns.
Yes, Manziel is small. More than his height, I worry about his body holding up after receiving hits from NFL defenses. He also needs to be willing to play more in the pocket and not always run at the first sign of danger.
But it wasn’t like Manziel was playing in the MAC or the AAC. He was playing in the SEC. Many of the players he faced in the SEC he will see again in the NFL. If he can stay healthy taking hits from SEC defenses, I trust that he can stay healthy in the NFL. He also showed great improvement in his passing at Texas A&M last season, with a two percent increase in his completion rate (68 percent to 70 percent), 11 more touchdowns through the air (26 to 37) and a yard more on each passing attempt (8.54 yards per attempt to 9.59 yards per attempt) from 2012 to 2013.
Manziel will develop into a franchise quarterback because he not only possesses this invaluable trait to extend plays, but he also has all of the tools he needs to be a great pocket passer. He has the arm strength to throw from the pocket. He has impeccable accuracy on his short to mid-range throws. His decision-making could improve, as evidenced by some of his 22 interceptions, but that will come with time. Brett Favre holds the record for the most interceptions in the history of the NFL, yet no one questions his place as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
In some ways, Manziel compares well to Brett Favre. Coming out of Southern Miss, Favre was seen as having a cannon arm, an ability to make plays from nothing and questionable decision-making skills. Favre also beat a ranked Alabama team on the road while in college.
Like Favre, Johnny Manziel will lead an NFL team to a Super Bowl in his career. He already has all of the tools he needs to become a franchise quarterback and his competitiveness will drive him to continually get better.
Five years from now, I will either delete this column from The Daily’s website in embarrassment that I thought Manziel would be great or I will Tweet it around to show that I knew what was coming. Something tells me it will be the latter.
Clearly, Michael Peterson was sipping on some Bayless-brand Manziel-flavored Kool-Aid while writing this column. Fill him in on any possible antidotes at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @mpetes93.