NFL Draft 2014 Risers/Fallers: Johnny Manziel's LSU headache
Is LSU's defense simply the kryptonite for Johnny Manziel? Or is how he plays against the Tigers a sign of larger, more worrisome issues with his game?
Those are the types of questions that NFL front offices will spend the next few months attempting to figure out, assuming Manziel heads to the 2014 draft as expected.
Twice in his career as Texas A&M's starting QB, Manziel has run into LSU. Twice, he's been corralled. LSU held Manziel's Aggies to 10 points on Saturday; previously, A&M had not scored fewer than 41 in a game this season. Manziel completed one touchdown pass, to Derel Walker, but mostly flopped en route to a 16-of-41 outing with two interceptions. And while Manziel led the Aggies with 54 yards rushing, LSU's defense mostly kept him contained and confused, forcing him from his comfort zone on countless occasions.
Manziel did not respond well to LSU's focused effort. Part of the reason he topped 50 yards rushing is that his first move on passing downs often was to drop his eyes, portending a quick exit from the pocket. When he did stay and throw, he had issues reading the defense and hitting his mark, possibly influenced by an apparent hand injury suffered early.
NFL defenses will make nothing simple for Manziel at the next level, so teams are left wondering if he can progress his game enough to be more comfortable against challenging attacks. There is a lot of positive Manziel tape out there for evaluators to study. LSU has provided at least two glances at the spectrum's opposite end.
• Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State: Urban Meyer said this week that he does not believe QB Braxton Miller is ready for the NFL yet. Hard to believe he'd hold the same opinion about Shazier, who just keeps producing in his junior season.
The latest outburst: a 20-tackle showing against Indiana on Saturday that included five tackles for loss and a sack. So long as teams can look past his lack of bulk, Shazier ought to find a home nice and early at the 2014 draft.
• Tracy Moore, WR, Oklahoma State: Moore is closing his college career in style -- he's made TD catches in each of the Cowboys' past four games, including one in a 126-yard performance vs. Baylor. At 6-foot-2, Moore plays a fairly physical game; he has all the makings of a player who carves out an NFL role after being a mid- to late-round pick.
• Andre Williams, RB, Boston College: Williams may not be rising so much as simply cementing his status as a player who deserves much more attention in the coming months. Saturday, he rushed for 263 yards in a win over Maryland, bumping him to 2,073 yards for the season on the ground. He's seen a high number of carries -- 320 -- but the rushing total has been well-earned.
• Allen Hurns, WR, Miami: Rather quietly, the 6-3 Hurns has stayed Stephen Morris' top target throughout the season. With 126 yards receiving in a win over Virginia, Hurns now has reached triple digits in each of his last three games. He's also within 35 yards of a 1,000-yard season. Hurns will not blow anyone away with his measureables, but the production speaks for itself.
• Tom Savage, QB, Pitt: I've been meaning to loop Savage into the Risers/Fallers discussion for a few weeks -- not necessarily because he's flying up the board, but because he's progressed from a draft non-factor to someone who might have an NFL shot. The NFL Network's Gil Brandt was so impressed with him earlier this season, in fact, that he issued a Troy Aikman comparison. That's probably reaching too high (Savage is not exactly setting the world ablaze), but he's been a major factor in Pitt attaining bowl eligibility. Savage threw for 218 yards, one TD and one interception in a win over Syracuse this past weekend, a solid showing right in line with what he's done most of the season.
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• Damien Williams, RB, Oklahoma: One of the country's top senior RBs, Williams was dismissed from the team with little explanation this week. That's a colossal red flag for a player who had sat out two games already in 2013 on account of off-field issues. Williams rushed for just shy of 1,000 yards last season and had another 553 and seven TDs this year. It will be hard to overlook this latest situation, though.
• Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor: Baylor's loss to Oklahoma State was more or less a total team meltdown, and Petty's numbers -- 28-of-48 for 359 yards and two touchdowns -- actually turned out rather strong. Those stats belie what occurred in the game, however, as Petty was unable to get his offense moving against the Cowboys.
Overall, Petty has been brilliant in 2013: 26 touchdowns to just one interception, with 3,351 yards passing. Right now, all signs point to him returning for his senior season with Baylor, especially given the deep class of QBs headed to the 2014 draft. Saturday's outing likely was merely a blip on the radar, but he has failed to get to 60-percent passing in each of Baylor's past three outings, a worrisome trend for someone playing in such a quarterback-friendly attack.
• Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: As mentioned in our Week 12 mini-Mock Draft, Arizona made Mariota look pretty bad on Saturday. Though he hit on 27-of-41 passes for 308 yards and two touchdowns, most of those numbers were of the hollow variety. A pair of interceptions and a general inability to move the chains left Oregon way behind the eight-ball. There's still a very solid chance that Mariota heads pro after this season ... and he should be a top-10 pick if he does so. That said, there are enough concerns about where he is in his development to keep scouts busy.