April 28, 2014

SHATZMAN | Learning to Love Manziel

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By BEN SHATZMAN

People love to hate Johnny Manziel. It’s understandable, really. The kid from Tyler, Texas who became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy while under center at Texas A&M is known for his confident personality that has shown both on and off the gridiron.

For Johnny Manziel the person — as opposed to Manziel the quarterback — the widespread accessibility of technology has proven to be his enemy. IPhones, Twitter and so on have enabled the media to portray Johnny Football as a sort of reckless, careless, ungrateful person who is more concerned about partying with the hottest babes in College Station than he with his future as a football player.

Of course, one must not discount his own stupid decisions that have garnered negative attention, like his arrest in June 2012. Critics point to Manziel’s off the field shenanigans as among his greatest weaknesses. His life away from football has caused many to believe that Manziel is unworthy of a top selection in the upcoming NFL Draft, while some have gone even further to call Johnny Football the next Todd Marinovich.

But my goodness, give the kid a break. If you are a Manziel-hater for non-football reasons, take a step back. This is a college student that we’re talking about, and one whose life off the field was blown out of proportion due to constant photos popping up on social media showing Manziel — the Heisman winner who everyone wants to party with and take pictures of — having a good time at college.

His 2012 arrest (originally charged with disorderly conduct, failure to identify and possession of a fake ID), though especially stupid considering he was a Division I football player, was simply a college freshman mistake that occurred before Manziel had ever taken a snap at A&M. Failure to recognize these off the field “issues” as anything more than just a college kid being a college kid is unfair to Manziel.

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Those close to Manziel know him as anything but the conceited, irresponsible person some portray him to be. His coaches and teammates have praised his work-ethic and selflessness. Fellow draft prospect and former Aggie Jake Matthews, an offensive tackle who knows Manziel as well as any, called his former teammate a “tremendous competitor, great leader, and someone that I loved playing for. I was glad to have him as a quarterback.”

Admiration for the 21-year-old quarterback is common. Jon Gruden, who met with Manziel as part of his ESPN “QB Camp” segment, said that he would “love to have him,” and later compared Manziel to Brett Favre. A brief look at Manziel’s highlights on YouTube makes it clear as day why he won a Heisman, why he is a special competitor and why so many feel he is destined for greatness.

The Houston Texans own the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. A team certainly in need of a big-time quarterback, it appears to be a perfect fit for Manziel the Texan to remain a Texan in the NFL. But not only do most people expect Houston to pass on Manziel, several draft pundits predict Manziel will be selected late in the first round, maybe not even in the first round at all. Mock drafts mean nothing come draft day, though, and loads of people still feel that Manziel will be a Top-10 pick.

Manziel is faster than almost all of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL today. He has a cannon for an arm. He is an excellent decision maker and reads pressure well, enabling him to escape out of the pocket and make game-changing plays. Critics point to his size (6’0”, 207 lbs.) as the decisive factor in determining his potential success at the pro level, but Russell Wilson is smaller than Manziel. Drew Brees is roughly the same size. They have both won Super Bowls. If any undersized QB will follow in their footsteps, it’s surely Johnny Football. He will not risk injury by taking the hits that he took in college, but that absolutely doesn’t take away from his playmaking ability, mobility and the overall threat that he poses every snap.

So why, then, would a team coming off of a disastrous year, in serious need of a top-tier quarterback, pass on Johnny Manziel with the first overall pick on May 8th? Likely because of the number of potential-loaded players in the 2014 draft class, but in Houston’s case, the amount of good that Manziel would bring both on and off the field — ticket sales, team notoriety, non-Houston fan interest — seems almost too good to be true.

Whichever team picks Johnny Manziel will be getting the ideal football player, and person, too. The criticism, the doubt and the hate are all fuel for a fire that Johnny Manziel — the once “arrogant” college kid — will build on for years to come. It’s just a matter of where.

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