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Monday, February 25, 2013
The SEC's best 25 players: No. 1

By Edward Aschoff

We've come to the end of our countdown of the SEC's best 25 players, and No. 1 should only surprise those who spent the 2012 season literally living under a rock:

No. 1: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M, RFr.

Johnny Manziel
Quarterback Johnny Manziel beat teams through the air and on the ground this past season.
2012 summary: The Heisman Trophy winner was also a consensus All-American and All-SEC performer after he broke the SEC record for total yards (5,116) in 2012. Manziel, who won the Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's best quarterback, was third in the SEC in passing with 3,706 yards and threw 26 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He also led the SEC with 1,410 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns. Manziel ended the year averaging a league-high 7 yards per carry and had a passer rating of 155.3.

Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the 2012 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Manziel: It was hard to find a more exciting and more dangerous player in the country. Despite not throwing a collegiate pass before the 2012 season, Manziel finished the year with the Heisman Trophy in hand and real celebrity status. He dazzled all year with both his arm and feet. While he had a tendency to improvise when he had the ball in his hands, he usually came out on top at the end of plays because of all the time he created with his feet. He was so slippery in the pocket that any window given to him usually resulted in a big play for Manziel and the Aggies. Teams had to completely change their game plans in order to defend him, because giving Manziel too much time in the pocket left secondaries vulnerable to his arm, but collapsing the pocket gave the elusive Manziel the opportunity to light defenses up with his speed and agility when he took off. Johnny Football finished the year with six games in which he threw for 200-plus yards and rushed for 100-plus yards. Naturally, the Aggies were undefeated when he did that, but when he rushed for 60 yards or less (twice) the Aggies failed to win. Manziel averaged 286.1 passing yards and 87.2 rushing yards against SEC defenses last fall. He was a rising star for most of the year, but he really threw his hat into the Heisman ring when he gashed No. 1 Alabama's top-ranked defense for 345 total yards and two passing touchdowns in A&M's 29-24 upset win in Tuscaloosa. What really showed in that game was his pocket presence, improved decision making and his accuracy, as he made some big-time throws against the Crimson's Tide defense, especially on a the Aggies' two-play 66-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter that ended up being the game-winning drive for A&M. Manziel capped his stellar first year on the field with a bowl-record 516 total yards in the Aggies' 41-13 thumping of No. 11 Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Manziel seemed to get better and better with each week, leading the Aggies to 11 wins in their first year in the SEC.

The Rundown