Monday, September 16, 2013
Can Johnny Manziel Succeed in the NFL?
All eyes in college football turned their eyes to College Station, Texas, this Saturday for the epic showdown between Alabama and Texas A&M. The game was everything we hoped it would be, with Alabama eventually winning, 49-42.
For those who love A&M QB Johnny Manziel, there was a performance for the ages — a total 562 yards from scrimmage, play after play of the magic only Johnny brings to the show. For those who hate him, there were a couple of perfect examples of the Bad Johnny that should worry NFL scouts — running around the backfield (exciting!) before chucking the ball up over the middle of the field (gasp!), the ball getting tipped (oh no!), then returned for a touchdown (s#@#!).
After the game, there was a spirited debate in more than a few bars and living rooms and (I expect) NFL front office board rooms across the country — will Johnny be a good pro?
His athleticism is unquestionable. But does he have the size at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds to survive playing his kind of game in the pros? He's about the same size as Michael Vick, and Vick has barely survived two games in the offense Chip Kelly installed in Philadelphia (missing one critical play in the red zone this Sunday after yet another big hit). How many years would Manziel survive playing his helter skelter approach?
All that is assuming Manziel lands in a system that will allow him to take advantage of his athleticism. Not all offenses are built the same, and if Manziel ends up with a team that runs a system based on precision timing and accuracy, does Manziel have the ability to thrive there?
This might come as a bit of a shock to our college-aged readers out there, but the world isn't looking for ways to adapt to you and your special skills. When (if) you get a job out of college, it's your job to adapt to the world, not the other way around. So while it might seem like it would make sense for a team to draft Manziel, recognize his special skills then build the offense around him, that's not very likely. The men who will be in charge of Manziel in the pros (called "bosses" in the real world) have been doing this a long time, and they're not willing (or able) to throw out decades of experience just because some new hotshot joined the company.
Just look what's happing to Cam Newton under new Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula (remember him, 'Bama fans?). In the Panthers' latest gut-wrenching loss (24-23 at Buffalo), Newton ran a paltry four times for just 15 yards. Forced to stay in the pocket, Newton completed just 21 of 38 passes for 229 yards and took 6 sacks. If Newton was in Philly with Kelly, that offense would be unstoppable. But in Carolina under Shula, it's mediocre city.
So that's a prime component of the Maziel-as-a-pro debate: can he be successful running a traditional pro offense? Looking at some of his decision making on Saturday, even the biggest Manziel fans would have to have their doubts.
Of course, then there are the character concerns, which though far overblown as a college football storyline, are very real when it comes to defining Manziel's potential value in the pros.
Going back to the real life thing, the purpose of college is to set yourself up for a job. Sure you want to have fun, get laid and "just be a college kid," but that's not what you're really there for. College is there to prepare you to become a self-sustaining adult. If you want to be a journalist, it means working for the school newspaper, putting together clips, landing an internship, then realizing you studied to join a dying profession where you'll be lucky to land a spot covering high school softball in Topeka, Kan.
If you're a stud football player, your goal in college is to do enough to convince your profession to hire you once you're eligible to go to the next level (and to pay you as much as possible). And just like in the real world, the goals of hiring managers is to fix their own problems, not give you an opportunity to better yourself. If they hire/pick you, you're there to make their lives easier, not the other way around. And so it follows that they would hesitate to hire anybody who will be a pain in their ass, because that's just more work they don't have time to deal with.
So when Manziel flashes his money signs in a blatant "eff you" to the NCAA and the faux amateurism rules that supposedly govern college football, that's a red flag in the "is this guy going to be a pain in my ass?" category. When he declines to talk to the media based on advice from family lawyers, that's a red flag that what you get with all that athleticism is a spoiled kid who could have a horrible time adapting to a world that does not give one hot damn about how special everybody back in high school and college thought he was.
The question NFL front offices will have to answer for themselves is whether Manziel can conform to his profession. That doesn't mean he doesn't get to keep his special brand of play-making. That's what makes him worth the risk. But a big arm isn't enough in the NFL. Josh Freeman has a big arm, and he's about to get run out of Tampa because his team doesn't have his back any more.
It takes a special kind of cat to come in to a pro huddle and command the respect and attention of grown men who have been doing this a lot longer than you. Among recent college stars to enter the pro ranks, Buffalo's EJ Manuel has that special quality. Washington's Robert Griffin III has it. Seattle's Russell Wilson has it. Blaine Gabbert? Not so much.
When Manziel is in a pro training camp next year (assuming he comes out) and the vets are giving him a hard time, will he take it as a member of the team, or push back and ostracize himself? When he has a game like Geno Smith did last week against the Patriots (three fourth-quarter interceptions in a 13-10 loss), can he stand up in the face of the heat from the fans and media, or will he fall back on his "advisers" and play the victim card?
Or to put it all into one simple question, "how much of a pain in the ass will he be, and is it worth it to get his special talent on the field?"
Each team will have to answer that question for itself. There's no denying the natural talent, and somebody may well bite and take him in the first round (Minnesota? Tampa? Cleveland?). Or he could end up in the third wondering how A.J. McCarron just got drafted ahead of him.
Just like Manziel on the field, you just never know what's going to happen. But it sure will be fun to watch.