Texas A&M University held its Pro Day on Thursday, March 27th. The "star" of the event was Johnny "Football" Manziel, a highly regarded 2014 Quarterback prospect. After watching Johnny Manziel's performance, I was impressed with his marketing and media savvy. With team executives, coaches, scouts, media outlets and even a former President of the United States and First Lady in attendance, Manziel orchestrated his show flawlessly.
First Manziel donned shoulder pads and a numbered jersey, physically framing the workout as a "football" event and marking it with his own personal touch. Then Manziel assumed the role of emcee. He introduced himself to the crowd and thanked them for attending the event. After the introduction, Johnny (like any good performer) jumped right into the main event, his show.
Manziel put on a well planned, well orchestrated performance throughout which he executed well. It was clear from the beginning that he was well prepared and well rehearsed (two traits NFL teams want in their QB). He was polished and confident, completing all but 3 passes, one of which was caught but it was caught out of bounds.
Although everyone knows that Pro-Days are "scripted" workouts, the player must still execute at a high level if they want to be successful. Manziel did just that but the workout raised as many questions as it answered. The NFL Network crew attending the workout pointed out several flaws in Manziel's passing mechanics that must be corrected before he enters an NFL game. First, Kurt Warner and Mike Mayock both mentioned Manziel's tendency to stands in the pocket on his toes. This forces him to lower his heel to throw which cost him about a tenth of a second (Warner's assessment) in releasing the ball and "takes some of the zip off of his throws". Warner also raised the issue of Manziel's three quarter arm delivery which lowers his throwing line and increases the opportunities for defensive players to knock his passes down. Another point raised by the NFL analysts was Manziel's tendency to adjust his delivery for certain types of throws. NFL defenses are smart and will pick up on such tendencies as opportunities to jump those routes.
I was impressed with Manziel's down field arm strength and accuracy, however, I found myself wondering if several of those throws would have been successfully contested in a real game because the ball placement would have made them vulnerable. His throws on the "out" routes from the near hash mark were crisp and he hit the RB coming out of the backfield in stride. The rollout passes were interesting and well thrown but I question the wisdom of throwing so many deep balls when there are usually 6 or fewer thrown in an average NFL game.
Some commentators, especially on radio, have criticized use of the broom as a prop. In my opinion, it was useful in demonstrating Manziel's ability to avoid the outstretched arms of defensive linemen and blitzing linebackers. However, use of the broom also raised questions. Clearly, NFL Defensive Ends and Rush LBs are a lot faster and more agile than a broom or college level rushers, so the broom should be taken for what is was: a prop.
Missing from Manziel's Pro-Day script were several situational passes I would have liked to have seen. Many analyst, including Mike Mayock who attended the workout, noted that Manziel did not throw the "deep out" from the far hash mark. That would have been interesting. If the ball is late on that particular throw or the placement is off a little, it goes the other way for a "pick six." We still don't know if Johnny Manziel can throw that ball.
I didn't see the 5 yard pass to a tight end or slot receiver that "sits down" in tight zone coverage. The ball has to be thrown through a tight window with some zip or bad things can happen.
I would loved to have seen a couple of intermediate (10-12 yards) seams where he has to throw over the LBs and in front of the safety. In addition, some 18-20 yard comebacks and some goal line type throws, especially the high, hard 15-20 yards post.
While Manziel clearly "checked the boxes" as Mike Mayock of the NFL Network loves to say, I question if Manziel didn't create more boxes to be checked? Of course, he will have an opportunity to check those boxes, for some teams, at the private workouts he schedules.
Brady Quinn was a star Quarterback at Notre Dame who was expected to be a top 5 pick in the 2007 NFL draft. He was believed to be a lock for the 3rd pick (by Cleveland); however, he fell to the 22nd pick after the Browns traded back into the 1st round to get him. Everyone remembers the agony of his wait in the "Green Room" and the clear disappointment that marked his face with each passing pick. That scenario is not out of the realm of possibility for Johnny Manziel.
It would be a real surprise if Houston or Cleveland drafts Manziel with their first picks. Jacksonville might "pull the trigger", but they recently signed Chad Henne and all of the QBs on their current roster stand 6'3" or taller. Jacksonville is more likely to try to land Bortles. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that Jedd Fisch, Jacksonville's OC, did coach Russell Wilson (who is also under 6 feet) but Wilson is more of a "pocket passer" than Manziel's and Wilson always looks to throw first.
The Minnesota Vikings, with whom Manziel had dinner on Thursday night (see Kevin Patra's story) are a possible landing spot for Manziel, even with the re-signing of Matt Cassel. The Vikings know Cassel is a back-up who will not likely start and will certainly will not be considered as the "future of their franchise.". At 31 years old and with 10 years in the league, Cassel is a short term insurance policy; nothing else.
If the Texans take Bridgewater, as I suspect, or Bortles, both Minnesota and Cleveland might try to secure a trade with the Rams for the No. 2 pick. The Rams would probably prefer the Browns No. 4 pick so they can take Clowney (if Jacksonville doesn't take him) or Watkins. If either the Viking or the Browns make a trade for the No. 2 pick, neither is likely to take Manziel.
Given the tendencies shown by the HCs and OCs of this year's QB needy teams, especially with respect to starting Quarterbacks, I am hard pressed to find a team that will "reach" in pursuit of Johnny Manziel, or any of the other QB prospect. It appears Manziel's best hope for a top 15 selection is the Cleveland Browns (No. 4), the Vikings (No. 8) and Tennessee (No. 11). If Cleveland trades up, it will be to get Bridgewater or Bortles (they can probably get Carr or even Manziel with their No. 26 pick). If Tampa Bay at No. 7, The Vikings at No. 8 and Tennessee at No. 11 all pass on Manziel, he will probably fall to Cleveland at 26. Although this scenario has a lot of "ifs" attached, it is far more plausible than you might think. Keep an eye on the "Green Room" camera.