Why Is Johnny Manziel Such a Polarizing NFL Draft Prospect?

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterApril 7, 2014

Positive or negative, everyone has an opinion on Johnny Manziel.

It's difficult to find many topics that people don't have opinions on around the NFL, but Johnny Football has begun to reach almost Tim Tebow-like levels in terms of buzz factor around every single thing he does. 

Spoiler alert: Manziel loves it that way. 

Sometimes, however, the best way to examine the buzz around a person isn't to check out every single headline and decide whether it's noteworthy (it's usually not), but rather to look at the center of the storm itself and see what is causing all of the commotion. 

Why do we love talking about Johnny Freakin' Football so freakin' much?


Manziel a Boom-or-Bust Prospect Who Excites and Scares People

Of all the fine opinions one can have on Manziel, the one that doesn't make any sense is he would be average. That's simply not much of a possibility. 

The way he plays, the method with which he makes plays and the athleticism, poise and panache he brings to the game says either superstar or bust. I've covered this extensively. While I'd love for you to read that entire column, I don't want to rehash the entire thing here.

Here's the biggest takeaway:

None of this means Manziel won't succeed at the next level. If I were running a franchise, I wouldn't hesitate picking him up, because he has the chance to be truly special. If he's going to hit that ceiling, though, he's going to have to learn to play in new and advanced ways while learning to adapt his go-to move into something more NFL-friendly.

Otherwise, he won't be one of the best of all time. He'll just be remembered as one of the biggest mistakes.

That's the thing: Manziel has the potential to be great. People sense that and have corresponding strong positive opinions. However, there is still work to be done with him as a prospect, and people are rightfully cynical with the corresponding negative opinion. 

Similar conversations are going to be had with just about any productive college football player, as many do not understand the difference between production and projection as it comes to the NFL draft.

In many ways, it's the same type of discussion—though, of a much different tenor—as was had around that aforementioned Tebow guy, and to a lesser extent regarding former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. 

Yet, with Manziel, there's that added dimension where a lot of people think he can be very good. In that way, it's a little like the opposite of Tebow and Moore where they had more detractors than supporters, but the supporters found ways to be louder. 

That added dimension with Manziel is the very real potential that he's one of the all-time greats. The stakes with that added dimension is the likelihood he ends up as a top-five or at least a top-10 pick. This isn't using a fringe first-round pick like it was with Tebow or signing as an undrafted free agent like Moore. 

No, if a team wants to make that gamble with Manziel, it better be ready to push all in. 


Teams Need Quarterbacks, and Manziel Scares Their Fans

2014 is handing the NFL a very good class of quarterbacks, and it couldn't be happening at a better time. 

The NFL needs quarterbacks as numerous teams at the top of the draft order aren't just lacking a franchise passer. In fact, most of the teams haven't had anything resembling a franchise-defining quarterback in a decade or longer. 

Houston is drafting first overall because Matt Schaub's career took a nosedive in 2013, and Case Keenum didn't have what it takes. Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland and Minnesota all have short-term placeholders but clearly don't have anyone for the long haul. 

Heck, throw in Tampa Bay and Tennessee, and it's clear that seven of the top 11 draft slots could easily use a quarterback. An eighth (St. Louis) wouldn't be crazy if it took one as well, thanks to the makeup of Sam Bradford's contract. 

That's eight fanbases that are intimately interested in the "what if?" surrounding Manziel. It's also a darn good reason for media outlets like ESPN, Yahoo, NFL Network and Bleacher Report to continue to talk about him.

We make note of him because he is noteworthy for so many.

For those teams that need a quarterback, though, many of them have been burned by "Manziels" in the past. Many Raiders fans, for instance, sour at the idea of drafting any quarterback after the sting of JaMarcus Russell still very much in the back of their minds. The Jaguars can relate, having drafted Blaine Gabbert, now with the 49ers.

The Vikings, Ponder; the Browns, just about any failed quarterback in the past couple of decades. 

Bringing on a franchise passer at the top of the draft is always a perceived risk. 

One of the biggest reasons for that is the anecdotal evidence of quarterbacks like Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000), Russell Wilson (third round, 2012) or Colin Kaepernick (second round, 2011) which convinces some that teams could potentially wait on quarterbacks, especially in a perceived deep quarterback class like 2014. 

It becomes more palatable in that scenario to draft someone like Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois) or AJ McCarron (Alabama) in later rounds than accept the possible bust of someone like Manziel in the first. 

The reality of the situation, however, is that such ideas are rubbish. 

Look around the league at top quarterbacks, but more importantly go back in draft history and check out where top quarterbacks have been drafted. For every Brady, countless sixth-round quarterbacks never see the light of day in an NFL uniform. 

The third and second round aren't much better. 

So, while we remember the busts and clutch our pearls about the flame-out potential of first-round picks every year, the fact remains the best way to get a long-term answer at quarterback will always be to take a big swing at the top of the first round. 

It's why many coaching staffs and personnel departments are defined by whether they ever really take that hack or, perhaps worse, if they swing and miss. 

With Manziel, the potential to be great and the possibility to be a bust are both very real. For the many fanbases out there that need quarterbacks, the all-or-nothing scenario is a frightening one. 


Manziel's Personality Is, Shall We Say, an Acquired Taste

Johnny Football loves giving them something to talk about, doesn't he?

The defining image of Manziel for many will always be one of two scenes. Neither one is morally "right" or "wrong," but both have been hashed over ad nauseam because that's who Manziel is. 

The first image was when—fresh off a paid autograph scandal—Manziel unveiled his "show me the money" signal in order to taunt his opponent. The move drew a penalty on the field but has since been mimicked by the then-Texas A&M president (now at Missouri), Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon

Again, let's not make a moral judgement on Manziel's taunt, but it wasn't an accident. He clearly wanted to show he was past the scandal by letting his play on the field, and actions directly thereafter, do the talking.

For NFL fans who may have stayed out of the fray during Manziel's college career, the spotlight never shone any brighter than when he walked out to his pro day.

After eschewing the normal pro day routine, Manziel and longtime friend/teammate, receiver Mike Evans, basically held their own pro day, which was one of the best-attended pro days in the history of draft coverage.

Manziel and Evans didn't need to have their own personal pro day, but they certainly warranted one based on the attendance. It's an admission Manziel realizes how buzzworthy he is, and he embraces it rather than shying away from it. 

Right or wrong, people will have different reactions to it. 

Manziel walks out, music blaring—Drake, a personal friend—and the atmosphere is closer to WrestleMania than a pro day. In attendance: Just about anyone who is anyone of the NFL set. We're talking coaches, general managers, the whole kit and kaboodle. 

Oh, there was also a former U.S. president, first lady and the sitting governor of Texas!

For a pro day! That happened!

As much as Manziel's pro day was lauded and talked about, there were some (like Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer) who publicly called it a "sideshow," adding that he was "unimpressed."

From Ultimate Texans' Brian T. Smith, the Houston Chronicle's Texans blog:

Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Manziel’s workout was “choreographed” and placed too much emphasis on style instead of substance.

'The huddles and the different things and the music. The sideshow stuff,' Zimmer said. 'It was a sideshow...'

Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley and Tampa Bay’s Lovie Smith saw a different workout than Zimmer.

'The atmosphere and everything that was involved and then to come out and perform like he did, that was great,' Bradley said. 'I think that’s no different than how he’s performed all year, right? Perform under pressure. Felt like more of a pressurized environment with a lot of eyes watching him and he did a great job.'

See, even among the NFL's illuminati, Manziel is a polarizing prospect. 

There's noting inherently wrong with how Manziel carries himself, but it's a strong personality which can rub people the wrong way—fans, yes, but especially NFL decision-makers who are always seemingly looking for quiet leaders at the quarterback position. 

Manziel could tone things down, but why? 

There's nothing wrong with who he is, and if people have a problem with it, that's their cross to bear. He'll just get to make them look foolish along the way. 


Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter.


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