Once again, Johnny Football's ears are burning. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Every pre-draft process is filled with uncertainty, but there's one thing we know beyond a doubt: At some point in every year, a well-known analyst will say something about a marquee prospect that has people up in arms and lighting up the social media universe.
In recent years, those polarizing takes have been the property of former Pro Football Weekly and current NFL.com draft analyst/armchair psychologist Nolan Nawrocki. But on the 2014 pre-draft leaderboard, ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski took a sizeable lead with his recent take on Johnny Manziel. From Philly radio station 97.5 The Fanatic, via Phillymag.com:
"I'm a big believer in Nick Foles, but who knows? Manziel may fall. I'm not crazy about him, to be honest with you. I've only looked at five games. I wouldn't take him in the first three rounds. That's my opinion. It's incomplete right now. But he has not done a whole lot to me."
Jaworski, who is rightly considered one of the best quarterback evaluators in the media whether you agree with him or not, was speaking specifically about the reported scouting combine meeting between Manziel and the Philadelphia Eagles. And in the context of what the Eagles should do in this draft, it could be argued that they would be a bit off-center to take Manziel unless he dropped in the draft for some weird reason and simply became too good a value to pass up.
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In the larger sense, Jaworski's comments created their own news cycle, especially when his employer got hold of them. And you can bet Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith will be knocking that one around like a piñata for days. Just as it was when Jaws claimed Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. It was clear that he didn't think Kaepernick was there yet but that he had the physical tools to outmatch nearly every quarterback who's ever played the game. And that's a point worth considering.
But what that became was the traditional soundbite, and now it's been added to his controversial opinion on Manziel, and now a guy who has been crunching tape on quarterbacks for as long as or longer than most of us have been drawing breath is thought to be just one more screaming head for the Worldwide Leader -- all squall and no substance. Which isn't really fair in this case.
Because in this case, you can pick five games of Manziel tape in which he looks everything from average to downright undraftable. And if you took the wrong five games, it's understandable.
Take Texas A&M's 34-10 loss to LSU last Nov. 23, when the Tigers bottled Manziel up in the pocket, stunted him to death with creative pressure packages and proved he struggles at times when he's forced to play within structure and without the ability to roll out and split defenses every which way. He finished that game with 16 completions in 41 attempts for 224 yards, one touchdown and two picks.
You could balance out the five touchdowns he threw against Mississippi State two weeks before LSU with the three interceptions he also tossed. And there's the two picks he threw in A&M's Oct. 19 loss to Auburn -- four touchdowns be damned. And on and on.
I don't know Jaworski, but I've done projects with Greg Cosell, his great producer for ESPN's NFL Matchup, for years. And I know from talking with Cosell that Jaws looks hard to see whether a quarterback can play consistently within structure -- to balance out those "random moments" with consistent drive production.
“He’s a random quarterback who likes to get out of the pocket and make plays with his legs,” Jaworski told SIRIUS NFL Radio about Manziel on Wednesday morning. “In the NFL, he won’t last three games playing that style. He’ll get hurt. He took a lot of vicious hits at A&M in the last two years.”
Even if you're on the side that believes Manziel is a rare talent with a great deal of NFL potential (which I am), the fact that Manziel doesn't do that enough yet is indisputable. He's a human highlight film with a foundation that needs work, and that's something he admitted when he spoke to the media at the combine.
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“I’m just looking forward to [showing] up all the people who are saying that I’m just an improviser,” he said. “I feel that I worked extremely hard this year to hone in on my game all around. I’m continuing to do that -- working out in San Diego [with performance coach George Whitfield], and getting better as a pocket passer and as a quarterback in general.
“I think there’s times when plays aren’t going to go as scripted, as people draw them up on the whiteboard. You go through your reads and you do certain things, and there are times to take off and get outside the pocket and make some plays. But at the same time, I want to be a guy who can drop back and can go through my progressions, go through my reads, and really take what’s given to me.”
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I remember writing my draft evaluation of then-North Carolina and current New York Jets defensive lineman Quinton Coples two years ago. It was the single most frustrating experience I've ever had when watching a prospect and deciding how I thought he'd do in the NFL. Coples was all over the place, in multiple ways -- he played everywhere from one-tech nose tackle to outside linebacker, and he wasn't especially dominant at any one position, though he showed enough everywhere to make you worried that you were going to miss out on a player who could be great and was just miscast in multiple roles.
That relates to Manziel because I watched more Coples tape than I've ever watched of any prospect because I was confused and I didn't feel I had the full picture. I felt an obligation to move past a few highlights and a quick statement.
In his comments about Manziel, Jaworski said his five-game view is an incomplete picture, and I believe him. I think he will go back and watch more tape, perhaps with a sharper eye on the modern quarterback paradigm, where structure may not be as important and improvisation is a valuable (perhaps indispensable) skill. Hopefully, he'll get as many good games as bad and come to the table with a more comprehensive opinion.
Because when we make statements about draft prospects, we're throwing darts in a crowded room. It's best to aim.
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