There has been a lot of talk about Johnny Manziel’s off-the-field antics this summer and maturity issues may very well factor into his NFL draft evaluation next April. But how does Manziel, who's 5-foot-11⅝, 200 pounds and runs a 4.40 40-yard dash, stack up as a pro prospect based solely on his skill set as a quarterback?
Here’s a breakdown based off six games of coach-copy tape we have studied. As is the case with all quarterback prospects, we focus on the four key skill sets: mental makeup, accuracy, release/arm strength and pocket mobility.
MENTAL MAKEUP -- Grade: 3 (1 being the top of the scale, 5 being the bottom)
Manziel will always deal with the internal tug-of-war between maximizing his unique skill set (mobility) and playing within the confines of the offense in the NFL. He's late picking up the blitz but frequently gets away with it because of his elite scrambling ability. Manziel also needs to cut down on balls thrown up for grabs and back over the middle of the field.
However, his poise and his field vision while in chaos are unique traits. No stage is too big, he's in complete control on the field and he delivers in the clutch. For his relative lack of experience, he has remarkable on-field leadership, poise and elite competitiveness.
ACCURACY -- Grade: 3
His footwork is highly inconsistent and needs refining, but Manziel is surprisingly accurate on short-to-intermediate throws given his poor footwork: stepping off-target, failing to transfer weight, throwing off-balance. He's more accurate than most when throwing on the run and he makes throws from body-and-arm angles that few can execute.
Manziel also flashes the ability to drop the ball in between defenders on sideline shots and down seams, but his overall deep-ball accuracy is below average at this point. His throws on fades tend to be off-target, as well. At times, his marginal height clearly impairs his field vision and passing windows from inside the pocket.
RELEASE/ARM STRENGTH -- Grade: 3
His ball carriage is erratic and that leads to an inconsistent delivery path, but Manziel generally gets the ball out quickly. His arm strength is adequate but not good. He gets adequate zip on intermediate throws and deep outs, but only when he gets good hip rotation from proper delivery mechanics. Manziel can generate adequate velocity when throwing off-balance or when short-striding to beat the rush, but his deep ball tends to die on descent.
POCKET MOBILITY -- Grade: 1
His improvisational skill -- as a runner and a thrower on the run -- is a unique trait. Manziel's ability to sense and avoid pressure is outstanding. He's an elite running threat and displays elite vision, athleticism, elusiveness and speed for the position. The biggest knock on him is his impatience in pocket. He bails out of the pocket too many times when instead he should look to avoid pressure -- slide or climb -- and reset his feet in the pocket.
No player in my lifetime resembles Doug Flutie more than Manziel. But for draft purposes, the inevitable comparison will be Russell Wilson, who has quickly emerged as the exception to the rule as a successful sub-6-foot quarterback in the NFL. I went back and studied more tape of Wilson at Wisconsin in the middle of my tape study of Manziel, and it proved to be a very helpful exercise.
For comparison purposes, here’s a look at how Wilson graded out in the four position-specific skill sets coming out of Wisconsin:
MENTAL MAKEUP -- Grade: 1
ACCURACY -- Grade: 2
RELEASE/ARM STRENGTH -- Grade: 2
POCKET MOBILITY -- Grade: 1
It’s important to keep in mind that Manziel has just one season of starting experience under his belt, while Wilson was a fourth-year starter during the 2011 season for the Badgers. By all accounts, Manziel’s second season as Texas A&M’s starting quarterback will be his last before turning pro.
Manziel is a quicker athlete and more dynamic scrambler. However, Wilson was far more effective with his accuracy and decision-making from inside the pocket. Wilson also had a stronger arm as a college quarterback.
What matters most for Manziel is the improvement he shows moving forward. If Manziel is to enjoy similar NFL success at the quarterback position he must upgrade his accuracy, which will only occur if he’s been working tirelessly on his footwork this offseason. Manziel also needs to become more disciplined as a pocket passer and with his overall decision-making skills.
Manziel will undoubtedly be a headliner in 2014 draft class but he has some ground to gain in order to lock down a spot in the top five quarterbacks selected. Here’s a quick look at my rankings based off of preseason grades:
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
2. Brett Hundley, UCLA
3. Stephen Morris, Miami-Fla.
4. AJ McCarron, Alabama
5. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
6. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
7. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
8. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
9. Braxton Miller, Ohio St.
10. Aaron Murray, Georgia