Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Scouting the 2014 NFL Draft: Johnny Manziel

This is my last planned quarterback scouting report, but if you would like to see any work on other prospects, be they quarterbacks or not, let me know on Twitter, Facebook, email, or in the comments. Now the time has finally come. I decided to save Texas A+M's gunslinger for last, because he's the most fascinating prospect in years, and counting in personality, maybe ever. It seems like people are unwilling to come to a consensus on any aspect of Johnny Manziel. I can't go in-depth on Manziel's personality outside of saying that being the most recognizable college student in America and partying is not a concern of mine. I was an idiot in college, and I have matured, yet I still do stupid shit. Manziel will likely be the same way as the stakes get higher, the partying won't be quite as worth it as it was in college. But honestly, all of that stuff is boring to me, let's get to the football. I took a look at his games against Arkansas, his shootout against Alabama, a game against the team he struggled with the most, LSU, and their bowl game against Duke.

To start off, Manziel throws a really great deep ball, and that was a big reason he was dominating Alabama early on. His strength matched up very well with Mike Evans's strength in that he is great at making adjustments to balls and going up and grabbing the football.

Still, Evans doesn't have to do much on this throw as Manziel throws a very nice ball down the right sideline that gets their quick enough where the safety has no way of making a play over the top.

This is another example of Manziel being able to fire the ball down the sideline before the safety can get over the top of his receiver.

The receiver gets a step, and Manziel nails him with a strike. The safety turned his hips to protect the middle of the field, and even though he did a great job of recognizing the play and moving to the outside, he was still a second late from stopping the completion, because Manziel fired the ball in there.

One more deep ball, because I'm a sucker for 95 yard passes.

That's also a really nicely thrown deep ball, and then Mike Evans uses a nice stiff arm to make his run towards the end zone.

This is a nice job of Manziel leading his receiver over the middle for a touchdown.

The big thing here is recognizing man coverage, and seeing that the safety will not be able to stop the the inside breaking route so his receiver has plenty of space to make the catch.

This is a beautiful touchdown pass from Manziel.

Everything tightens up as teams get closer to the end zone, but he throws a beautiful ball on the out route. This will go down in the books as a 4-yard pass, but he probably throws this ball nearly 40 yards in the air considering that he is on the near hash and throws it to the far sideline. He still drops it right in the bucket for his receiver.

I think some people may have expected a faster 40 time from Manziel at the combine, but after watching the tape, it is not surprising. He's way more quick than he is fast.

He displays this on most of his runs, as he's very shifty, and on this run, he is going full speed to the outside and then cuts up field with the linebacker being pushed outside. It is his vision and quickness, not his speed, that will help him drive defenses crazy with his legs.

Manziel's movement can also be used to give him more room in the pocket, which he does very well here.

He bounces back, bounces forward, and at this point he has the defenders on their heels, as he goes to the outside and finds plenty of room to throw a touchdown pass along the sideline.

This was his most impressive use of his mobility that I saw.

99 out of 100 quarterbacks get sacked on that play as there was confusion among his offensive line and a defensive tackle is free right up the middle. Manziel barely gets through the play action before the defender is in his face, but he spins out of it and turns it into a five yard gain. That is the sort of improvisation that will drive defensive coaches crazy.

As I'm sure you have heard, Manziel is not perfect. He struggled in his game against LSU. For the most part, I didn't see many concerning things. They mostly had good defense that batted down some passes, put some pressure on him, and Manziel was unable to find open receivers as well as missing on some deep balls. However, he had three shots at the end zone from inside the five yard line and couldn't get the job done. The first is the worst of these three passes.

This is just a bad throw, because throwing on the run will lead to inconsistent mechanics. He does have a rusher coming at him, but he still throws the ball nowhere near where his receiver could make a play, despite that receiver being wide open.

The second pass is a miss by Manziel, but the degree is tough to tell since it was on the far side of the field.

It's tough to say whether this was mistimed or just thrown too far outside for the receiver to make a play. Either way, it does not come close to a completion.

And here is the fourth down play that also falls incomplete.

Taking one look at the video, it would be easy to dismiss this as a great blitz by LSU that did not give Manziel enough time to make the throw. This is partially true, but a still shot from the replay does a better job of telling the story of this play.

The blitz definitely did work out well, as the orange rectangle rushes in unblocked, but as the white diamond shows, this was a failure from the running back to get any sort of body on him. Still, in the shot, Manziel has enough room to throw and is looking to his right. I would be very surprised if that slant was not his first option, and his receiver has the inside leverage on the guy covering him, and the player over the top is already breaking to the outside, so he has no shot of preventing a pass. I think every quarterback would like to make quicker decisions with the football, so it is not something to stress about, but it is an area for improvement.

When Manziel's mechanics break down , it can cause some serious issues with his accuracy as is shown on this play.

Manziel sees the pressure coming from the outside, and despite having plenty of space still, he panics and tries to make this throw off his back foot. Because of this, it is impossible for his receiver to make a play.

Along those same lines, when he tightens up, his mechanics get a whole lot worse. On this play, his feet are pointed the right way, but his upper body is not squared up, and the ball is both high and behind the receiver.

That is a recipe for an interception but luckily the pass was so bad that nobody was near the ball.

Sometimes he puts too much pressure on himself to make plays, especially when they are trying to make a comeback. This was part of the reason that he had some lowlights against LSU. On this play, he gets caught looking for a home run, and is sacked before he can make anything happen.

He has time to hit a short crossing route, but he keeps looking up the field for something big until he is eventually brought down.

Here, Manziel just does a very poor job of reading the defense and throws a very bad pass into coverage that gets picked off easily.

I don't love the play call in that situation, as it is a play that is best to let develop, which isn't the best type of play to have in the red zone. Still, Manziel has to know that throwing the ball when he does is the worst possible time to do so. The crossing route on the outside is coming across near the slant where the safety can stay in the middle and make a play on either route. The safety properly holds his ground, and Manziel hits him right in the numbers. If Manziel wants to complete that pass, they either need more space, or he needs to wait for that crossing route to make it across the slant to force the safety into a decision.

Manziel wrongly gets accused of playing out of control and always trying to scramble to make plays. Now yes, he does do those things, but he uses those traits as a last option as you can see on this play.

Alabama sends a four-man rush, and Manziel hangs in the pocket for as long as possible while the space around him gets smaller and smaller. Finally, he realizes he needs to bail out, runs to his right, and then fires a nice little pass along the sideline. At the same time, his height is a concern on this play. If he is taller, he might be able to see an open receiver from the pocket (it's tough to tell from the camera angle provided what is going on down the field), but instead is forced to scramble so he can get space to find an open receiver. To be fair, I don't think this is a major concern as he frequently stays in the pocket and makes plays. Also on the positive side, he is always looking downfield to find those open receivers instead of dropping his eye level when defenders get close to him.

Speaking of Manziel's improvisational skills, I'm pretty sure that this play was not drawn up this way.

I mean, of course he would want to nearly be thrown down by a defender only to throw the ball into a crowd of eight people and hope for the best. In all seriousness, his ability to escape is very impressive, the throw is insane, but it ended up with only his two receivers battling for the ball. It is not a play that I would want to see if I were a coach, but as a fan of football, it's tough to find a more fun play that happened in the middle of a game.

This is a stupid touchdown pass.

Don't make this pass in the NFL.

This is a ridiculous play from Manziel, as he rolls to his left and throws a ball to a receiver going to the right yet still leads him perfectly.

To be able to run to the left, turn his shoulders and still fire a ball that leads a receiver and gives the coverage no play on it is beyond impressive.

This is one of my favorite plays I saw in college football. Manziel does a great job of going through his reads, as he starts looking to his right, but then quickly looks to his left and fires a beautiful pass down the left sideline to his receiver. It's not just a great throw, it's a great process that led to a great throw.

And then Haha Clinton-Dix breaks on the ball and arrives just as the ball is arriving in the receiver's hands and breaks up the play. He gets called for an illegal hit, but he made a great break and was going for the ball. I hate the penalty, but just looking at an offensive player making a great play, and a defensive player making just a slightly better play makes this awesome to watch.

Johnny Manziel is really fun to watch. He is definitely in the top tier of quarterbacks, but he is also definitely not the top quarterback. I am keeping Bridgewater at one, and although it is close, I am keeping Bortles at two. Sometimes Johnny Football is able to improvise and make amazing plays. Other times, he makes very bad decisions trying to force big plays when there is nothing there. Another factor that should not be underestimated in its contribution to his success is the play of Jake Matthews. Having a left tackle stonewalling guys on the blind side is incredibly helpful, and it gives Manziel space to make things happen. I think having a good left tackle could be pretty vital to Manziel's success, so a team like Cleveland with Joe Thomas would make way more sense than a team like the Raiders who have question marks all over their roster. I think all three are going to be drafted among the first ten picks, but I do think Manziel will need to be selected in the right place to be successful. This is a really exciting year for quarterbacks, and I hope I have provided a better idea of each prospect's strengths and weaknesses.

Here are my quarterback rankings for the prospects I have looked at so far:
1. Teddy Bridgewater - Louisville
2. Blake Bortles - Central Florida

3. Johnny Manziel - Texas A+M
4. Jimmy Garoppolo - Eastern Illinois
5. Zach Mettenberger - Louisiana State

6. Derek Carr - Fresno State
7. AJ McCarron - Alabama
8. Tajh Boyd - Clemson
9. David Fales - San Jose State
10. Logan Thomas - Virginia Tech
11. Brett Smith - Wyoming
12. Aaron Murray - Georgia

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