Football in America once was not the micro-managed, hyper-prepared, every “T”-crossed and “I”-dotted exhibition of paranoia and perfectionism that we know today.
The game once was not just about measurable skills and methodical propriety.
Johnny Manziel reminded us of what football once was, and should be once again.
That’s not to say the Draft-nik standards of speed, arm strength, maturity and intelligence should not be measured. Quite the contrary: There are too many careers at stake and too much on the line to draft a player — much less draft him No. 1 overall — based on an indefinable “it” factor or potential marketing coups.
But who anymore questions the measurable skills of Manziel? Coach after coach, scout after scout agree that Manziel’s arm strength matches or exceeds that of any other top quarterbacking prospect on the board. Statistically, despite playing in the toughest football conference in the college game, Manziel posted dizzying numbers unlike anything that league has seen. His speed, throwing motion and pocket presence have been compared alternately to the likes of Fran Tarkenton, Drew Brees and Brett Favre.
Those factors alone should make Manziel an obvious choice with the Texans’ No. 1 selection in the April NFL Draft. But those factors don’t tell the story of why the biggest risk when it comes to Manziel and the draft is not taking him.
Johnny Football reminded American sports fans that gameplans are supposed to be guidelines, not religious decrees. Audibles, reads and check-downs are supposed to be fluid, like a quarterbacking equivalent of interpretive dance. They are not the rigid, goose-stepping programs we see too often in today’s game, plugged into a quarterback’s ear hole as if it were a USB port.
Johnny Football reminded us that quarterbacks are supposed to define play-calls, not the other way around.
There are many skeptics of Manziel’s greatness, often leaning on the same tired and completely misguided perception that Manziel is too small or his talents won’t transfer to the League. They see his head-spinning and unorthodox style and immediately begin to quake, as if the hard-drive crashed on their football machine. They think he’s just another over-hyped captivating cult figure like Tim Tebow.
These skeptics are either wrong, scared or both.
The biggest risk is believing Manziel is a Tebow-type of manufactured icon; that the NFL game will be too big for him and flaws in his atypical approach will be exposed.
The narrative of those who doubt Manziel’s ability to star at the next level is that there’s no guaranteed Andrew Luck-type of lock in the NFL Draft this year. The narrative is the Texans should therefore take the safe pick or trade back in the draft. They say there is too much on the line to take a chance on a kid who isn’t afraid to be himself off the field.
What they forget is that being himself on the field is what makes Manziel the most attractive prospect in the draft. Being himself literally could be an NFL game-changer.
He has the statistics — almost identical senior-season numbers to Andrew Luck’s, in fact. He has the production, the wins in big games, the speed, arm and any measurable by which you want to rate him.
But what Manziel has that others do not, is the gall to paint the portrait free-hand. In the connect-the-dots world that the NFL has become, there’s no better player out there to save the Texans.