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Is Johnny Manziel Incomparable?

Posted by Gabe Hiatt on February 21, 2014 – 12:14 pm

(Two Heisman winners from Texas, AP)

(Two Heisman winners from Texas, AP)

A smoky garnish of sadness arrived alongside my chopped beef sandwich on an otherwise celebratory night at an Adams Morgan barbecue joint.

I was happy Texas A&M beat Duke on New Year’s Eve. I was happy to celebrate the holiday with friends and fatty cow cuts. I was a little glum I’d never see Johnny Manziel play college football again.

Manziel was as transfixing a quarterback as I’ve seen play for  scholarship dollars. The jackrabbit from Tivy High School in Kerrville, Texas, routinely stepped out of tackles, changed directions and improvised from 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage until he either ran past defenders or completed jump-balls he had no business heaving. He was also an oil heir making it rain for all to see, unapologetically  showcasing the collegiate celebrity life in 140 characters or less. Still, Manziel survived his senior season without a debilitating scandal. He missed the first half of a game against Rice, which the Aggies won by 19 points, but otherwise continued throwing up dollar signs and baiting columnists. He shared how the “Johnny Football” celebrity affected him, engendering sympathy or loathing depending on how you felt.

Now with the NFL Scouting Combine kicking off in Indianapolis, Manziel has sculpted a narrative of growth and maturity while maintaining the brashness that fuels his brand. He will address the media but won’t throw.

Until they hear from the man himself, Manziel’s best use for NFL scribes is as a comparison to past players, a swizzle stick for debate.



The first comparison I saw was Tony Romo.

The writer cited Manziel’s ability to make art from broken plays. Fran Tarkenton fit this mold, too.

Mighty mites Russell Wilson and Doug Flutie offered one template.

Prolific rushers Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham were another class of quarterbacks to use.

On Wednesday Brett Favre, who has thrown more touchdowns and more interceptions than anyone in NFL history, told USA Today watching three quarters of Manziel dismantling Ole Miss reminded him of “a young Brett Favre.”

“I liked the attitude of ‘whatever it takes,'” Favre said.




The article also presented an NFL match I had yet to see printed but often thought of, Robert Griffin III.

Both are Heisman Trophy winners who dominated college football with athletic gifts of such a high caliber they prevented their home state’s once-premium program, the University of Texas,  from recruiting Manziel and RGIII as quarterbacks. The Longhorns pigeonholed them as defensive backs or receivers.

In the USA Today piece, Tony Gonzalez said Manziel reminded him of Griffin III, but defined his comparison as one of caution.

“He’ll make a good transition to the NFL but, for me, he needs to work on that pocket passing,” Gonzalez said.

Does Manziel’s game  really equate to Griffin III’s? Let’s start with the physical similarities.

Johnny Football is somewhat slight for an NFL prospect. His measurements came out Friday morning at the Combine, where the resident inspectors recorded his height as 5-feet-11 3/4 inches, his weight as 207 pounds and his hands as an above average 9 7/8 inches. Griffin III was about two inches taller and 16 pounds heavier with hands 3/8 inch smaller. He was also viewed as lighter than the prototypical quarterback, but Manziel occupies even less space.

The pairing works better when you examine style and scheme. Each quarterback made a name for himself piloting a spread offense that evolved from the common primordial ooze of Mike Leach’s Air Raid scheme. Each was an explosive microcosm of offenses that routinely manufactured more than 40 points.



As prospective draftees, character is the chasm between Manziel and Griffin III.

An NFL Media draft profile from 2012 stated Washington’s quarterback had intangibles that made “general managers swoon” for Griffin III, who quickly built a reputation as a press conference hero.

In 2014, an NFL Media list of the most controversial prospects starts with Manziel. The first two words are “suspect intangibles.”



I have no insight into Washington’s draft plans, but with Griffin III and Cousins on the roster and Manziel projected as a top-10 prospect, I think the Redskins are safely eliminated from the Johnny Football discussion. Unless Manziel falls to No. 12 – and the New York Giants decide to gamble on him as the successor to Eli Manning – the Texan will attempt to replicate Griffin III’s rookie success outside of the NFC East.

As a rule I’m progressive on running quarterbacks. I believe with the right development, Griffin III and Manziel can have long, productive careers and reach the postseason milestones Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton have already tasted.

I think Manziel will pan out closer to Favre or Tarkenton than Ryan Leaf or Akili Smith.

But maybe I’m just sentimental.

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2 Responses to “Is Johnny Manziel Incomparable?”

  1. By abanig on Feb 21, 2014 | Reply

    When I watch him play, I think Doug Flutie!

    “Flutie Flakes” anyone! He just has that same kind of sandlot, amazing ability to improvise like Flutie did but eventhough they were small, it didn’t matter because they were smart, tough and had strong arms.

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