Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
+Capable of some plays no one else can make
+Impossibly accurate on the run
+Cannot be sacked
+Pretty consistent about using appropriate amount of touch
-World’s most arrogant quarterback; thinks he can make any throw (he’s kind of right)
-Often inaccurate on easy passes
-A few mechanical problems
-Undersized (although durable to this point)
Johnny Manziel is the most unique player I have ever watched. His potential is unlimited, and he’s capable of so many things on a football field. Yet he can be so frustrating, due to his arrogant ways and off the field issues. He thinks he’s capable of anything on a football field. He thinks he’s a god. The crazy thing is that he’s right much of the time.
One thing I need to get off my chest: I hate the way Johnny Manziel plays football. First of all, it has nothing to do with the showboating. From the perspective of a college football fan, I think that’s actually quite entertaining. I don’t love it as a scout, but it’s enjoyable to watch. I hate the way Johnny Manziel plays because he doesn’t play the game of football the way it’s supposed to be played. The knowledge about football I’ve gained from reading coaching books has taught me that football is a beautifully complex game won by exceptional strategy and the ability to process and react to the things you see in front of you in an incredibly short period of time, as well as physical ability. Johnny Manziel throws all of that out the door. He plays the game of football like a 12 year old with an Xbox controller. He isn’t Johnny Football. He’s Madden Football. He goes through his progressions like any other quarterback, but he’s remarkably picky and doesn’t like throwing shorter routes unless he has to, sort of like a 12 year old playing a video game. He runs everywhere and anywhere to try to buy as much time as possible to throw the ball, taking terrifying risks that may involve him going 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage. And he’s at his best when he holds onto the football for 5 or more seconds. The significant part about this is that, after no more than 5 seconds, all the routes supposed to have been run by wide receivers are complete. At that point, all the work the coaches and players have done in designing and practicing the play is all for naught. Receivers are generally taught to come back to the football at the completion of their route, but still maintain good spacing between each other. They are running in nearly random, improvised directions. And, at this point, when there is absolute anarchy on the football field, Johnny Manziel always makes some impossible throw hitting a surprised receiver in the numbers off his back foot, sometimes because he’s under pressure, sometimes just for style points. And I’m not just talking that miracle 3rd and 8 ill-advised lucky jump ball he completed against Alabama today. I’m referencing plays like the long pass to Mike Evans on 3rd and 2 from the 9 yard line in the second quarter. That play was pure skill from Manziel’s part, skill that never fails to give fans misconceived notions about how the game of football is supposed to be played. I’m a football purist, and some of the plays Manziel makes are just ridiculous.
Johnny Manziel is a terrific athlete. I think he has more escapability in the pocket than any quarterback I’ve ever seen. Honestly, I don’t advocate attempting to sack him when you play him. As the defensive end, you have one job when you face Manziel: get outside contain. First of all, if you try an inside counter move, you will create penetration, but every single time you do it, Johnny Manziel will sprint toward the sideline, and he will outrun you. Just don’t let him get to the sideline. And if you get penetration from the outside, things don’t get much better. You’re still not going to sack him. Sacking him usually takes a miracle, and some help from your interior linemen. If you penetrate from the outside, he will likely just run a round in seemingly random directions until he finds a receiver to throw to, and you could force a bad decision on his part. However, all things considered, there is no quarterback I feel more comfortable putting behind a terrible offensive line than Johnny Manziel, since he’s almost impossible to sack and he’s capable of the impossible off his back foot. His detractors have said that part of the reason he is successful is because of his supporting cast. Although receiver is a valid argument, he really doesn’t rely on an offensive line. On top of that, he’s pretty good about knowing when to scramble, he has excellent toughness as a runner, and he has elite quickness and change of direction skills that make him quite hard to stop.
Johnny Manziel has a very strong arm. Some short quarterbacks lack throw power, in part due to small hands, but that’s not the case with Manziel. His arm strength is terrific and he’s a real gunslinger. He throws a beautiful deep ball and he has a very consistent spiral.
Johnny Manziel has solid accuracy and mechanics. The weird about Manziel’s accuracy is that much of the time he’s capable of the impossible and incapable of the possible. The guy can make throws off his back foot that are out of this world. But with his feet set? He often throws low of the receiver, sometimes behind him. In some ways, it’s actually not that surprising. I’ve heard people question his mechanics, but I think the concerns are overblown. I think his mechanics are perfect from the waist up. His shoulders are level, he doesn’t rush his drop back, he has a quick release, and his arm slot is pretty good. He has problems from the waist down. Now, when he’s throwing on the run, he really is just throwing with his arm, and his legs are fairly consistent. Inconsistency with his feet when they are still causes him to be inaccurate on easier passes. He’ll often see a receiver open and try to adjust his legs too quickly, resulting in an off balance, inaccurate pass. More troubling, he throws off every once and a while because of a phantom pass rusher, and that is unusual. It wouldn’t hurt him to go through his progressions a little more quickly. He doesn’t usually lock onto receivers, but he might be a half second behind by the time he looks at his third receiver, and will frantically readjust his feet to make up for lost time. Again, the result is typically inaccuracy, for he is very off balance. Maybe his biggest problem from an accuracy perspective is that many of his passes sail too low, especially over the middle, whether he is hitting the knees of the target or the helmet of the defender (needs to get over the helmet). This is harder to explain. Often low passes are accompanied with poor spirals, suggesting a grip problem, but that’s not the case with Manziel. His spiral is fine, and so is his grip. The best explanation probably has to do with his high effort delivery, which occasionally results in his front shoulder being just a bit lower than ideal at the point of release. All things considered, he’s pretty accurate and he has solid mechanics.
Johnny Manziel is a decent decision maker. You kind of have to use different standards for Johnny here, since he’s capable of a lot of throws many quarterbacks can’t make. I’ve never met a quarterback arrogant enough to attempt the throws off their back foot that Johnny Manziel completes on a regular basis. Unless he’s truly throwing a ball up for grabs, I can no longer criticize him for throwing off his back foot or on the run, because he is just so accurate when he does so. On the other hand, he will occasionally lock onto receivers (second pick vs Alabama), and he does occasionally throw a ball up for grabs. The biggest source of his bad decisions is his arrogance. Manziel thinks he can complete any pass, no matter how impossible it seems. The reason he thinks this way is because he is half right; he completes his fair share of impossible passes. That being said, much of the time he completes these passes because he has Mike Evans. Without Evans, many of these jump balls don’t get caught and he would throw more picks. If Manziel alters his decision making in the NFL when he doesn’t have a jump ball receiver who is as good as Evans compared to the guys defending him, he will be a very good player. If not, he will be maddeningly inconsistent.
Regarding Manziel’s character, I’ve never met the guy and do not find myself in any way qualified to evaluate it. I’ll make it a small factor into my grade, but I’ll let the scouts decide how important it is.
There’s one interesting aspect in Manziel’s game that I’ve never really seen in another player. As I’ve expressed previously, he is the master of the impossible, able to do the most ridiculous things with amazing consistency. However, inconsistency in his mechanics combined with occasionally erratic decision making result in missed easy opportunities. In short, no matter how good a defense is, Johnny Manziel can beat it, and no matter how bad a defense is, Manziel can find a way to throw a pick. The net result? A quarterback who’s play is, at least compared to other quarterbacks, independent of the caliber of the defense he’s facing. It sounds insane, but, all things being equal, he would be only slightly more successful against the Saint defense than he would against the 49ers defense. It could change his NFL career.
Ultimately, I think Manziel is a talented, albeit annoying player to the football purist. He has a ton of potential in the NFL, but he’s got a few mechanical problems to work on and needs to drastically alter his decision making if he wants to have success as an NFL quarterback. It will be interesting to watch.
NFL Comparison: Mike Vick, except he is better at avoiding sacks and throwing on the run, yet slightly less fast and a worse decision maker until he proves that he won’t take as many risks without a guy like Mike Evans to throw to. There aren’t many good comparisons, and many of the ones I’ve heard are guys who mostly played before my time. Manziel doesn’t have quite as much pure speed as Vick, but he is harder to sack and he’s more accurate on the run. Both hold onto the football for eternities at a time and are undersized.
Grade: 93 (worthy of a late first round pick)
Projection: 88 (will be an early second round pick)