Do you hear that? That’s the sound of a lumbering herd of NFL scouts returning to civilization after a few weeks of R and R.
With a fresh crop of future NFL players ready to be gauged, the year-long process of football study is underway yet again. For Johnny Manziel—college football’s great electrifying chain-mover—this dissection (and predictable doubt to accompany it) will be persistent, regardless of how close he comes to matching impossible expectations.
Think Alabama will be Manziel’s biggest obstacle in 2013? Or, perhaps his late November trip to Baton Rouge? Or, if things go exceptionally well, maybe this obstacle will come during the SEC or even BCS Championship Games?
As daunting as these on-field opponents might be, NFL scouts could prove to be his most worthy adversary. Nothing is confirmed that Manziel’s second season as starter will be his last, although he’s not exactly shying away from this talk either.
And because Manziel has the option to get paid to play football—not just bring in $37 million in free marketing for Texas A&M—and become an instant millionaire, there’s a distinct opportunity that 2013 is the last we see of him at the college level.
With every YouTube highlight, touchdown pass or jaw-dropping bit of improv out of the pocket, however, the scouts will remain skeptical.
Sure, that’s wonderful and all, but this is the NFL. This is "The Shield."
His style doesn’t compute with the age-old NFL formula of successful quarterback play.
This formula, of course, has proven its uselessness and inconsistency time and time again.
At 6'1" he’s too small to play and hold up at the next level.
Russell Wilson and Drew Brees agree.
His “arm talent” simply isn’t there.
First, I’d like to punt this phrase to the moon. I should also add that Manziel completed nearly 70 percent of his passes in 2012. He also has a cannon and his mechanics—which are by no means bad—are soon to be vastly improved.
After all, he’s wrapping up a week working with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. on a beach in California. Ah, the life of Johnny Football.
But despite the gaudy statistics, the Heisman, the once-in-an-everything ability and, most importantly, the limited sample size of one season, the year-long takedown has begun. Former NFL scout and current NFL.com writer Bucky Brooks is one of the first to put Manziel in his public crosshairs, and the headline says it all, really.
Johnny Manziel doesn't look like elite NFL quarterback prospect.
Although Brooks acknowledges Manziel’s brilliant “improvisational skills” and even goes on to call him “electrifying,” he does so to serve as his own devil’s advocate. His argument against Manziel as a potential pro quarterback is summarized early on in his piece.
Now, I know that the legions of Johnny Manziel fans will take exception to my assessment, but my opinion is based on the fact that elite NFL quarterback prospects possess three or four blue-chip traits (from a list that includes size, athleticism, arm talent, leadership skills, clutch factor, intelligence and pocket-passing skills) that validate their status as potential franchise players. I've studied the Texas A&M star's 2012 game tape, and I simply don't believe that he has enough of those qualities at this time to merit serious consideration as an elite quarterback prospect.
Brooks makes a living evaluating talent, and he’s unquestionably gifted at what he does. He’s doing his job with his preliminary evaluation, an evaluation that could prove to be 100 percent accurate. Manziel’s game may not translate at the next level. Heck, it may not translate to his second season as a starter in college.
That’s part of the issue with this stance, however, which will be the stance other talent evaluators take. The sample size is so small, so limited, and it includes Manziel’s only season of play. That’s all there is, so making a proclamation given the unique circumstances seems hasty.
The bigger problem with this evaluation (and the others to follow), however, is that it’s utterly predictable. It surfaces each year.
When a quarterback veers away from that classic 6'4," 225-pound, rocket-arm mold, there’s an assumed notion that he doesn’t fit the NFL. The circumstances vary, of course, but anyone without this vintage QB makeup is automatically greeted with extreme skepticism.
For Manziel, this will only be amplified. He doesn't have the height, and it’s hard to determine just how his elusiveness and overall game will fare. Although the San Francisco 49ers’ defense is a slight (just a slight) upgrade over Louisiana Tech’s, I feel comfortable saying that Johnny Football does things that would make anyone look utterly foolish on the other side.
And perhaps that’s just it. Perhaps I’m too sensitive defending the game I cover. In a way, the impending knocks on Manziel’s play feel like a knock on college football, that somehow this incredible, defense-destroying greatness has a ceiling we’re just not seeing. Or perhaps we simply choose not to.
As scouts line up to knock the height, the arm, the decisions and the leadership, there’s a sense of camaraderie that generates deep from within as I line up to defend one of my own. Not just anyone, either. Someone special. Someone unique from all the others, both now and historically.
I won’t pretend to be an NFL scout, or make an elaborated case that Manziel’s brilliance against SEC foes will translate to Pro Bowls in the not-too-distant future. But if there’s anyone who can shatter the NFL quarterback checklist, a list that’s becoming increasingly vague over time and in need of an update, this is the guy.
As he continues to destroy most everything in his path in a matter of months, and as the scouts proclaim his limitless talents limited, I will remain skeptical of the skeptics.
I've got Johnny Manziel's back. Not that he needs it.