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Mark BradleyMark Bradley

Johnny Manziel: Great college player, bad NFL risk

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This became the greatest moment of Manziel's greatest night. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

This became the greatest moment of Manziel’s greatest night. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Stepping back from the Atlanta Falcons and/or Jadeveon Clowney for a moment, we turn our attention toward Johnny Manziel, whom Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing believes ESPN is determined to make into the new Tim Tebow as a driver of 24-news cycles. And there are, I’ll concede, similarities. Both played in the SEC. Both won Heisman trophies early in their college careers. (Tebow as a sophomore, Manziel as a redshirt freshman.) Neither plays — or played — the way a classic pro quarterback plays.

I saw both as collegians at their absolute collegiate best. (Tebow against Alabama in the 2008 SEC championship game, Manziel in the 2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke.) Watching, I felt much the same about each: That if I were a college coach, I’d love to either as my quarterback, but if I were an NFL general manager I’d be leery.

The pro game is, as we know, different. It’s not as much about making great plays — though great plays certainly figure — as about making the routine ones and (this above all) avoiding the terrible ones. As a second-year pro, Tebow made enough great plays to get the Denver Broncos to the playoffs and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers once there. The playoff victory came in January 2012. It’s now 2014, and Tebow is no longer employed by an NFL team.

The comparisons aren’t nearly exact: Tebow was a tank; Manziel is a jackrabbit. Manziel throws the ball better than Tebow did, though still not as well as an NFL quarterback should and must. From Scouts Inc.’s Manziel assessment via ESPN:

Not likely to sustain NFL success until consistency of ball placement from inside pocket improves on all three levels and that will require greater discipline with lower-body mechanics. Has developed bad habits on vertical throws (and fades) of either throwing off back foot (with no weight transfer in follow through) or opening wide and falling away, which leads to ball sailing and/or accuracy issues.

Also this:

Makes more critical errors as a decision maker (throwing across field, up for grabs, ignoring checkdowns, etc.) than any QB we’ve ever stamped with a first-round grade.

I think Manziel can play in the NFL longer than Tebow. (Although that wouldn’t be hard, would it?) I would be surprised if he’s ever an All-Pro. I would be shocked if he wins a Super Bowl. This is apples-to-oranges, but I see in Manziel a lot of what I saw in Matthew Stafford, an SEC quarterback who did fit the physical prototype of an NFL quarterback. Stafford believed his mighty arm rendered fundamentals irrelevant; Manziel believes he can get away with anything, on the field or off, because he’s the famous Johnny Football.

For a GM, drafting a quarterback in Round 1 isn’t the same as drafting an offensive tackle or a defensive back. A Round 1 quarterback figures to be your starter someday, and the starting quarterback is the most important player on any roster. You have to be able to trust his talent, but you must also trust his judgment. I’m not sure Johnny Manziel’s talent fits the NFL, and I’m not sure he’ll be amenable to changing what he does for the greater good.

For all the comparisons to Tebow, I believe the more apt comparison — at least temperamentally — is to Matthew Stafford. I wrote back in 2009 that I wouldn’t have drafted Stafford No. 1 overall. I wouldn’t draft Manziel in Round 1 now.

From myajc.com: 10 reasons the Falcons need Jadeveon Clowney.

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