The last two Heisman trophy winners, Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III, have very similar playing styles. They both are great pocket passers, but their biggest weapon is when they get outside the pocket and pick apart defenses with their feet. During their Heisman seasons in college, and even now in the NFL with Griffin, both of them were at their best when they scrambled outside the pocket and defenders didn’t know whether they were going to run or pass.
Coming into this season, Manziel was unknown by college football fans. Most people expected Texas A&M to have a rough transition going from a good conference in the Big 12 to the nation’s best conference, the SEC. A&M would also have to make their transition after losing quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who declared for the draft and was a top 10 pick of the Miami Dolphins.
Manziel was the third quarterback on the depth chart during the preseason, but won the starting job as a redshirt freshman and ran with it from there. The 6’1”, 200-pound quarterback astonished football fans with his video game-like plays. He would be swarmed by defenders in the backfield, burst out of the pile, and either run it for a big gain or find one of his receivers for a big gain through the air. Manziel led the revitalized Aggies to an 11-2 record, including a road win over national champion Alabama and a victory over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, where he put up unbelievable stats.
Griffin knew he was going to be the starter for the Redskins this year. He was the second overall draft pick, and he was and is considered a “once in a lifetime” talent because of his rare skill set. He combines the speed of a running quarterback like Michael Vick with the arm of a pocket quarterback like Aaron Rodgers and is able to run Kyle Shanahan’s West Coast Offense to perfection. The offense leans heavily on the run and the play-action passing game. Griffin’s uncanny ability to deceive the defense is what makes this offense so successful. Because Griffin is a threat to both run the ball and throw the ball downfield, and because nearly every play starts with a handoff or a fake to running back Alfred Morris, the defense often does not know who has the ball. Many times this year, Griffin would sell the handoff to Morris, get the entire defense to converge in the middle, and either run the ball to the sideline, or throw downfield to one of his receivers. Griffin’s five interceptions are the least among QBs who were their teams’ starter the whole year (San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick had less, but he took over the starting job in Week 11). Griffin was the driving force behind the Redskins’ turnaround this year, even though an unfortunate injury kept him from beating the Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
One of Manziel’s greatest talents is the way that he runs with the ball. Manziel has great instincts. He can start, stop, and change directions so quickly, the defense doesn’t know what hit them. Manziel also avoids taking big hits, which will help him stay on the field both at A&M and in the NFL. Manziel can literally score from anywhere on the field on any given play against any given defense. If the defense blitzed six or seven guys to keep him from running, “Johnny Football” threw it over the top to Mike Evans or Ryan Swope. If the defense dropped back to stop the pass, Manziel would scramble outside the pocket and make plays with his feet. This unique skill set led the turnaround of the Texas A&M football program, made Manziel the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and will make the quarterback one of the NFL’s top draft picks whenever he decides to leave A&M.
Griffin and Manziel both had breakout Heisman years. Manziel unexpectedly burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman this year, as did Griffin as a redshirt junior at Baylor in 2011. These dual-threat quarterbacks will be fixtures in discussions of who is the best quarterback for years to come, as Manziel is only 20 and Griffin is only 22.
Although both of these outstanding players played their high school football in Texas, neither received scholarship offers to play quarterback at the University of Texas. I bet Mack Brown and the rest of his staff would like to have another chance at these players!