Minnesota Vikings Draft Countdown: Making the Case for Johnny Manziel

Bill Hubbell@@billyhubbellContributor IApril 6, 2014

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel talks with NFL representatives at pro day in College Station, Texas, Thursday, March 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)
Patric Schneider

The 2014 NFL draft is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing ever held.

For the Minnesota Vikings, it's fascinating on several different levels. It's a new coaching staff and a new culture out at Winter Park, and the first draft pick of the Mike Zimmer era will go a long way toward defining how the next few years will play out.

The top of the draft is filled with tantalizing prospects, some of who project as superstars, some who have the whiff of bust about them and some whom you can place right in the center of both categories.

Holding the No. 8 pick in the first round, the Minnesota Vikings are in a very fluid spot and have to be ready for any number of different scenarios as they watch the draft unfold.

The million-dollar question for the Vikings is this: If one of the "big-three" quarterbacks is available with the eighth pick, do they pull the trigger and draft them?

The answer is, unfortunately, that there isn't an answer right now and probably won't be until draft night. The variables are far too numerous to even begin to consider.

Who will trade up? Who will trade down? How many of the quarterback-needy teams are willing to wait until the second round? How precipitously is Teddy Bridgewater's stock dropping?

You'll read and hear plenty of guesses to these questions over the next month, but nobody will really know the answers until draft night. 

For the time being, NFL fans will have to make do with dreaming about who their team might end up with come May 8. And when football fans dream, they dream big.

So for Vikings fans who are dreaming of the big prize, here's the case for commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the No. 8 pick as quarterback Johnny Manziel, out of Texas A&M University.

Johnny Football is the most polarizing figure in this year's draft. For every person who thinks Manziel will be a top-flight quarterback in the NFL, you can find two others who think he'll be on the cover of US Magazine more than Sports Illustrated.

What everyone can agree on is that every move Manziel makes will be under the microscope, from daily coverage on SportsCenter and Fox Sports 1 to exhaustive coverage on the internet.

Manziel will enter the NFL as an iconic figure like very few players before him, and how he handles the scrutiny will go a long way toward how successful he can be. 

For that reason, Minnesota and their new old-school, hard-nosed coach Mike Zimmer might just be the perfect landing spot for Johnny Football.

Manziel to the Vikings might be a very complicated scenario, so let's take a look at several factors that would have to play out in order for it to happen.

How the Vikings Feel about Manziel

First things first: Vikings general manager Rick Spielman might be hesitant to take any quarterback in the first round. The Vikings reached for quarterback Christian Ponder in the first round of the 2011 draft, and it's blown up on them. Spielman was the de facto GM at the time, and Ponder's failures are on him.

If Spielman drafts another first-round quarterback who doesn't work out, he might find himself doing color for Thursday night west-coast college games on ESPN2. 

Not to say that he'll use it, but Spielman has a convenient crutch heading toward this year's draft in that a popular opinion is that the Vikings should draft for defense in the first round and look for a quarterback after that.

Ann Heisenfelt

There is certainly nothing wrong with that thinking, but drafting a starting linebacker doesn't change a franchise. Drafting a successful quarterback does.

Self-preservation aside, one would hope that Spielman drafts with only the betterment of the Minnesota Vikings in mind.

The thought here is that Minnesota would be a much better football team with Johnny Manziel at quarterback.

New Vikings coach Mike Zimmer made news recently when, according to the Star Tribunehe told a Texas radio station that "there are some flags that come up" when asking questions of Manziel. The gist of which was Zimmer wondering if Manziel will make his NFL job a 24/7 commitment. 

Was Zimmer simply blowing smoke, trying to place doubt in the minds of other teams considering drafting Manziel? Or is Manziel's "party-boy" image too much for a football guy like Zimmer?

The guess here is that Manziel, who certainly likes to have a good time and embrace celebrity, is a football-first guy too. It only takes about 15 minutes of tape to see that not only is Manziel the best player on the field in any given game he played in during college, but that nobody on the field loves football as much as Manziel either.

Manziel might get a high-profile girlfriend. He might do too many talk shows and commercial endorsements. He likes the limelight and the spoils that those things bring. But at his core, Johnny Manziel is a football player first and foremost. The tape doesn't lie.

Sure, every NFL team would love their quarterback to be cut from the Peyton Manning cloth, a guy who lives and breathes football and you never have to wonder what he's doing when he's out of your sight. The truth is, Manning has won as many Super Bowls as Joe Namath.

Manziel's Availability to the Vikings

The Vikings have the No. 8 pick in the draft, and you can make a pretty good argument that no less than five of the teams choosing ahead of them are in need of a quarterback. 

How much in need becomes the question.

No quarterback in this class is a sure thing. None of them are going to instantly make you a playoff team, a la Andrew Luck

The Texans, Jaguars, Raiders and Buccaneers are all in similar situations as the Vikings. They need a quarterback of the future but can certainly head into the 2014-15 season without a rookie starter.

Quarterback Needy NFL Teams
TexansCase KeenumRaidersMatt Schaub
JaguarsChad HenneBuccaneersGlennon/McCown
BrownsBrian Hoyer

The thinking among all of those teams might be similar to Minnesota: Let's fill another hole in the first round and then go get one of those second-tier quarterbacks in the second round.

The guess here is that there are four elite non-quarterback prospects that will be drafted before the Vikings pick: Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Khalil Mack and Sammy Watkins. The Cleveland Browns seem like the most obvious candidate to take a quarterback in the first round, but even that isn't a sure thing.

DailyNorseman.com has a mock draft database where 19 out of 50 speculators have Manziel landing with Minnesota.

The Vikings have to head into the draft knowing that there's a good chance that Manziel will be off the board by the time they pick. Three quarterbacks may be off the board.

Where things will get really interesting is if he's available and Minnesota has to make a decision on whether or not to bet their future on him. Ask Texas A&M fans what they'd do. 

Johnny Manziel the Football Player

Johnny Manziel is almost exactly the same size as Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. That's not to say that he's as accurate as Brees throwing the football or as smart as Wilson in his decision making. What it says is that Manziel is not too small to be a successful NFL quarterback.

Manziel's tape as a college football player screams that he'll be a success at the next level. His workout at the combine showed a very good athlete with unusually large hands. His pro-day workout showed off a strong, accurate arm.

Patric Schneider

Manziel's play at Texas A&M reveals a quarterback with a very good arm and a quick release. He shows uncommon poise and an ability to view the entire field. He has a very high football IQ and an innate ability to feel what's around him and who might be dangerous and who isn't. 

What Manziel will have to learn quickly is that in the NFL, everyone is dangerous. The Fran Tarkenton-like scrambles that you can pull off against Ole Miss and Duke are a whole different animal against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.

Manziel will figure that out. His football IQ is so high that he'll know exactly when to use his legs to pick up yards or to extend a play for a beat or two to let a receiver flash open. He'll take his share of hits, but he's too smart of a player to be reckless.

An NFL team is not going to design running plays for Manziel like the Redskins and 49ers do for RGIII and Colin Kaepernick, respectively. Those two have foot speed that Manziel simply doesn't, and while it makes them true duel-threats, it also makes them more susceptible to hits and injury.

Johnny Manziel's Career at Texas A&M
Comp/AttemptsPassing Yds.Passing TDsYds. Rushing

In that regard Manziel is far more comparable to Wilson, although he's a much better runner. He's a smaller guy who has quick feet and great vision, traits that will allow him to leave the pocket and improvise, either by picking up rushing yards or extending windows for receivers.

Manziel proved himself as a football player every time he stepped on the field in college. When the stage got bigger, Manziel played better. After winning the Heisman Trophy as a freshman and living the high life in the offseason, Manziel came back for his sophomore season and was even better.

The two biggest games of Manziel's college career were against Alabama, who had arguably the best defense in the country both seasons. Manziel split the two games with the Crimson Tide and threw for 717 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 189 yards.

The biggest question when it comes to Manziel on the field are whether or not his best skills will translate to the NFL. Among his best skills are his football IQ and playmaking ability, and they will both translate quite nicely.

Manziel also has more than his share of the X factor. He's got that certain "it" that all the best athletes have. Here an October tweet from ESPN's John Buccigross sums it up nicely:

Manziel the Celebrity

Make no mistake, if you draft Johnny Manziel, the circus is coming to town. He's as high-profile of a football player as it gets, and the media will follow him in hordes. 

While the influx of outside distractions will be crazy at first, it's certainly a manageable problem once you begin the business of football.

David J. Phillip

One would hope that the Vikings would ignore this when it comes to evaluating Manziel. There is no evidence that Manziel isn't a team-first guy or a player that won't give his full respect to his coaches and teammates.

You certainly get the sense that Manziel is absolutely salivating at the prospect of quieting his critics and proving himself in the NFL.

Patric Schneider

There is no doubt that there is some silliness in the world of Johnny Football right now. He'll grow up. Landing in the right spot will help him grow up. Minnesota could be that place.

This is a kid who was born to play football, and he won't be shy about taking center stage at the highest level. Where Manziel will fool everyone is that he'll prove that he is a football player first and that everything else will be secondary.

Draft Day

As we said at the top, the 2014 NFL draft has the potential to be one of the most intriguing ever held. It's a deep, talented draft, and the one position where the players carry the most question marks is the most important position of all: quarterback.

Smart money says that the lure of Manziel's upside will have him off the board by the time the Vikings pick at No. 8. Fans of both Manziel and the Vikings hold out hope that enough teams will shy away from him and that he'll be available with their first-round pick.

If that happens, it could be among the most pivotal 10 minutes in Vikings' (non-game related) history. One would think that Mike Zimmer would love the chance to steer the career of someone with as much potential as Manziel.

We won't have any answers until the night of May 8. What we do know is that jersey No. 2 is available on the Vikings roster.


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