Blair Miller > COMING SOON TO A SUNDAY NEAR YOU
Throughout the college season TFQ will look past the Heisman hopefuls and surefire NFL players to examine a lesser-known prospect who could later rise through the ranks and make an impact in the pros.
Johnny Manziel, Freshman QB, Texas A&M
One could say that Manziel (pronounced Man-zell) stepped out of relative obscurity and into the spotlight last Saturday with A&M’s upset win over then-number one Alabama – in Tuscaloosa, no less. In fact, the redshirt freshman is getting attention in the Heisman race now, for good reason. Many feared how the Aggies would fare in 2012 after the departure of both star QB Ryan Tannehill and head coach Mike Sherman to the Miami Dolphins of the NFL, coupled with the school’s first season in the nation’s toughest division, the SEC. As it turns out, Kevin Sumlin stepped into the coaching role and Manziel has been tearing defenses apart from day one. In other words, Texas A&M is doing just fine.
In fact, A&M’s upset against ’Bama last week was the school’s highest-ranked road win, besting a victory over 6th-ranked Penn State in Happy Valley in 1979. It was also just the second time in history that the Aggies have beaten the nation’s top-ranked team, (the other: 2002 versus Oklahoma).
The win vaulted A&M to eighth in the BCS rankings, with an 8-2 record overall and 5-2 in conference play. While those records may not wow observers across the board, the manner in which the Aggies have done so – with a first-year quarterback at the controls – should. Last Saturday marked the team’s ninth straight game with 400+yds on offense and overall Texas A&M is chewing up yardage at a clip of 545.4 yards per game, third in the nation and only 17.2 yards behind the much more publicized attack of second-place Oregon. Keep in mind that seven of the Aggies’ games have come in the defensive cauldron that is the SEC. That’s beyond impressive, and it’s mostly thanks to their quarterback. Just take a look at Manziel’s numbers during that nine-game stretch (during which he went 8-1 as a starter):
|Comp||Att||%||Yds/gm||TD||INT||Rush yds/gm||Rush Yds/Att||Rush TD|
And here’s Manziel’s line against the Crimson Tide last week:
|Comp||Att||%||Yds||TD||INT||Rush yds||Rush Yds/Att||Rush TD|
While parts of the second line may not raise eyebrows in and of itself, consider that it came against one of the best defenses the BCS division has seen in the last decade – a squad that plays the largest role in a debate about whether or not Alabama could beat an NFL team. Note the 77.4 percent completion rate against the nation’s best pass defense coming into that game. One could argue that offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury’s playcalling within his Air Raid offensive scheme kept the Tide on its heels. That would be an accurate assessment. (In fact, it’s very rare to see a top-ranked defense look as though it was caught off guard to the extent Alabama did against Manzeil & Co. during the first quarter while A&M sprinted out to a 20-0 lead.) But instead of taking away from the quarterback’s performance that line of reasoning should add to it: The kid demonstrated that he has the tools to pick apart a defense in a multitude of different ways, and can do so from a number of different formations with little to no mental errors.
What will NFL scouts make of Manziel? He will likely play at least one more season in college, so the jury isn’t out by any means. But the stats above make a rock-solid argument for the case that the boy called Johnny Football can produce in spades.
In terms of physical skill set, Manziel’s a virtual home run too. His lone attribute that will be a negative is his pedestrian height (6’1”). But his imposing build offsets that issue (at 200 pounds), along with the Tebow-like strength it holds. In fact, it was mentioned during the A&M-Alabama TV broadcast that opposing coaching staffs said they’d welcome Manziel as a safety on defense because of his all-around physical stature and toughness. Johnny Football can move that body too. nfldraftscout.com documents Manziel’s best 40-yard dash time at 4.52 seconds. (The uber-gifted Cam Newton and Andrew Luck both posted a time of 4.59 at the NFL combine.) While it’s true that unofficial 40 times should be taken with a grain of salt, these highlights should erase any doubt about his in-game speed. Manziel’s arm hasn’t looked like a cannon thus far, but he throws the ball with great accuracy and a deft touch. For a freshman he’s shown an uncanny instinct for knowing when to throw and when to run. He also keeps his eyes downfield looking for receivers when he’s flushed out of the pocket, which can take years of practice even for pro pivots.
In terms of intangibles, it’s clear that the freshman can digest a complex offense and run it with poise. He commands the respect of coaches, as evidenced by his winning the National High School Coach Association Football Player Of The Year award as a high school senior. Manziel is also one of those dreamy all-around athletes that so often describe a talented quarterback: He was scouted as a baseball player in high school and is reportedly a scratch golfer. Actually, when asked by a reporter what Manziel thought was harder – a three-wood over water or Alabama, the kid said, “a three-wood over water” with little pause. Clearly he’s fearless too.
By school rule, as a freshman, Texas A&M does not allow Manziel to talk to the media. But his play so far during his first year commanding the Aggies offense is speaking volumes, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t keep lighting up scoreboards as he and his team return from a 3-0 road trip to play at Kyle Field this weekend.
UPDATE (17/11/2012): On Saturday against Sam Houston State (I know, I know) Manziel became the first freshman QB to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000.