Friday, June 28, 2013

Slow Down, Sport

After a certain age, every one of us remembers the days of our youth. We look back on those days now and realize just how good we had it- well, most of I assume. We all remember being young and uttering the phrase "I can't wait until I grow up", and now that we look back we wonder why we were in such a hurry. Well, that rush to grow up isn't solely a desire of children. Soon-to-be-professional athlete Johnny Football is no longer a child but he is all too eager to grow up. The young QB Johnny Manziel, from Texas A&M, has tweeted in the past weeks his desire to leave college life behind and join the ranks of the pros. This is largely in part because of the media (and campus) circus that follows him around now that he's hit the big-time. Perhaps he has forgotten that the reason for all this fuss is largely his own doing because he makes a spectacle of himself. In my opinion, Manziel should rethink his stance on the NFL because, at the moment, his pro prospects just aren't that good, for several key reasons.

The first reason being that there are significant questions about his arm strength. The offense that Manziel anchors for the Aggies isn't one predicated on driving the ball deep down the field. Kevin Sumlin's offense relies much more on quick drops and firing the ball out to a back or receiver running a short to intermediate route. While arm strength and accuracy down field are certainly things that can be worked on at the pro level  with coaching and a proper training and exercise regimen (see: Aaron Rodgers), it's a skill that the NFL scouts are going to want to see from Manziel before anyone thinks about spending a high draft choice on the kid.

The next reason is, oddly enough, a by-product of one of Manziel's biggest strengths, his athleticism. The combination of Manziel being such a talented athlete and Sumlin's offense has lead to Manziel not being great at going through his read progressions. He has a tendency to look to his primary target, and if he isn't open, instead of finding the second or third option, making something happen with his legs. This is a fine and effective strategy for a college quarterback, but it's going to get him hurt at the next level. The linebackers are much bigger and much faster than those he faces, even in the vaunted SEC. If Manziel wants to survive in the NFL, much less become a star in it, he's going to need to learn how to effectively run an offense from the pocket, only running when he has run out of options. Not as the second option.

The third reason is he doesn't seem to have any sort of pocket awareness. Far too often he is seen breaking the pocket and making something happen with his legs, even when there was a clear pocket from which to throw and minimal pressure around him. Part of this is the style of offense that Manziel plays in, but I think that it's more his personal mentality at this point. He knows that he's a better athlete than most of the guys on the field, and he relies heavily upon that instead of trusting his ability to beat the defense with his arm. To me, that shows that he doesn't trust in his abilities as a pocket passer. While non-traditional quarterbacks are seeing a rise in popularity due to the Michael Vick's and RG3's of the world, the fact remains that only "pocket-passers" have had ultimate success in the NFL. Running around making plays with your legs is nice, but it's the quarterbacks who can stand in the pocket and make the big throws who win Super Bowls.

The final, and most unfortunate, reason that Manziel's prospects for the pro's don't look that good to me is his size. While being listed at A&M as being 6'1" 210 lbs, anyone who looks at the game tape and pays attention to Johnny Football can see that he is not what he's listed at. I think he's more like 5'10" 185 lbs. That kind of size would make him a success at the slot-receiver position, but the fact remains that no quarterback under 6' has ever had a large amount of success. It's entirely possible that guys like Russell Wilson (and maybe even Manziel himself) will go on to buck that trend and pave the way for the smaller quarterbacks to be given a serious look by NFL scouts, but we just aren't there yet. Wilson is only going into his second year, and his team didn't reach the Super Bowl, let alone win it. Until a short quarterback goes on to win a Super Bowl or two, they're never going to be looked at as a serious option for long-term success.

If Manziel can work on all of these (except for the height, there's nothing that can be done about that), then he may yet have a chance at being a high draft choice, but as of right now he still has a long way to go. He's only a sophomore, he has a lot left to learn, and the time to do it if he allows himself that opportunity. If there's one piece of advice that I could give to him, it would be this: "Slow down, sport. Enjoy the time you have here. You only get this opportunity once in your life, and it's only going to get harder from here. Stop making a spectacle of yourself, sit back, and enjoy what you have. You'll look back in a few years and wish you had."