Johnny Manziel, troubled as ever, more media creation than NFL talent
Johnny Manziel is a lot of things these days. But a legitimate NFL quarterback he is not — and never was.
The first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, doing so in 2012 at Texas A&M, Manziel came out of nowhere to take college football by storm. Like Maverick in “Top Gun,” he played at Mach 2 with his hair on fire.
An unheralded three-star high school recruit, Manziel was only the No. 64 prospect in Texas for the class of 2011, according to 247Sports. After redshirting for a year in College Station, even coach Kevin Sumlin couldn’t have anticipated what was to come: 26 passing TDs, 21 more as a rusher and countless highlights.
However, these days, the obviously troubled Manziel is more likely to be documented by TMZ than NFL Films.
There has been drinking. There have been drugs. There has been domestic violence. There have been fights. Rehab stints, agents dumping him — even his own father calls him “a druggie” and hopes “he goes to jail.”
Apparently oblivious to it all, Manziel simply continues to party like a rock star in between court dates.
While he rarely posts from his own social-media accounts, he’s all over Instagram and the like. There he is, Hollywood Boulevard. There he is, flight to Cabo. There he is, drinking alone in a bar on draft day.
Somehow, we were led to believe that Manziel was one of the greatest college QBs of all time. Somehow, the Cleveland Browns were led to believe that he was the answer to their prayers under center. Somehow, a few members of the media still want us to believe that he can be a success on Sunday if he cleans up his act.
They’re wrong. Furthermore, they were never right. Even a choir-boy Manziel is a colossal bust in the NFL.
Manziel’s legend was born in a 29-24 upset of then-No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa during his Heisman-winning campaign. He threw for 253 yards, ran for 92 more, fired two TD passes and did it all without a turnover.
Nevertheless, take a closer look at the tape from that game — and for most of that year, really. The play we saw time and again on SportsCenter was a 10-yard touchdown toss to Ryan Swope. Manziel freaked out in the face of pressure. Ran into his own guy. Almost fumbled. At least two defenders should have sacked him.
But what we remember is his escape and cross-body lob to an uncovered Swope in the back of the end zone.
His résumé is full of plays like that. Sure, they made him exciting to watch. That being said, pro scouts aren’t looking for sandlot football. They want big, strong guys making big, strong throws down the field.
The ultimate dual-threat passer on Saturday, Manziel also rushed for 1,410 yards that year. A 6-foot, 207-pound jitterbug in the open field, linebackers couldn’t catch him and defensive backs never got a clean shot at him. With his ability to extend plays, anything was possible when his primary read was blanketed.
Former Auburn stud Cam Newton topped the NFL in yards rushing for a quarterback this past season with 636.
Needless to say, Manziel isn’t Newton. He’s about half a foot shorter and 50 pounds lighter. Even Newton didn’t develop into what he is today, an MVP, until he learned to be more effective with his Howitzer arm.
Manziel’s style with the Browns was a carbon copy of what it was with the Aggies. More often than not, he was playing flag while his opponents were playing tackle. Instead of spreading the pigskin around to his weapons from inside the tackle box, he scrambled outside the pocket and improvised when plays broke down.
Suddenly, linebackers could catch him. Defensive backs were getting clean shots at him, too. These guys get paid.
In two years with Cleveland, he had a 74.4 passer rating and a 2-6 record as a starter. He was responsible for more turnovers (10) than touchdowns (8). Mercifully, he was released March 11 and remains unemployed.
Needless to say, no other franchise has gone anywhere near him. Manziel was infamous at the college level for his ability to carouse all night yet still be electrifying on game day. But in the NFL, quarterbacks must live by the first-one-in-last-one-out mantra. That’s how the Russell Wilsons of the world make it.
Manziel has nobody to blame but himself. Clearly, hanging with Drake is more important than studying film.
The rest of us aren’t totally innocent, though. He still has 1.5 million Twitter followers, and most of them do so for the same reason they rubberneck at traffic accidents: They want to watch him destroy himself.
A perfect 21st-century internet sensation, Manziel played with a flair. He ran his mouth to opponents. He may have missed a practice, but he never missed a party. The constant flashing of cash, the endless flow of booze, the gratuitous trashing of hotel rooms — every frat boy in American wanted to buy him a shot.
Rob Gronkowski isn’t much different. But he’s an All-Pro, and he’s not a quarterback. Different standards.
At this point, the best Manziel can hope for is a true awakening. But in life, not football. The very last thing he should be thinking about is getting back to the pros. He just needs to get back to reality first.
Aside from the family Turkey Bowl every Thanksgiving, there is no reason to think he’ll ever enter another huddle. Even a sober Manziel would get picked apart by talent evaluators — too small, not enough arm, no pocket awareness. Even when he went 22nd overall in the 2014 draft, he got passed over by QB-needy teams.
And now, Manziel is a better bet to end up in a Mexican prison than on an NFL depth chart.