HOFers conflicted on Manziel's NFL future

May, 5, 2014
5/05/14
10:00
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CLEVELAND -- No prospect in this week’s NFL draft has been dissected, debated and discussed more than Johnny Manziel.

Everyone has opinions about the Texas A&M quarterback. Some think he has the attitude and personality of a star. Others are rubbed the wrong way -- he’ll be a bust, they say.

Ask a few dozen Hall of Famers about Manziel and you’ll get two central themes: one is that he's too talented a player at the most important position to pass up; and the other is there are too many red flags with his personality and reckless style on the field to take a chance with a top pick.

Just days before a team will take a chance on the former Heisman Trophy winner, one former NFL quarterback had some advice for Manziel: Be open to change at the next level.

“I hope he can adapt his game,” Warren Moon said at the Pro Football Hall of Fame FanFest this weekend. “I don’t think what he’s doing right now in college can adapt to the NFL and keep him healthy, or keep him from really turning the football over because he takes a lot of risks when he’s out there as a quarterback.

“In the NFL, if you take a lot of those risks, they come back and burn you.”

Manziel has earned a reputation as a freewheeling quarterback who can go off-script and make plays with his feet. One member of the Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters” of the early 1970s sees similarities between Minnesota’s quarterback of the era and Manziel.

“People equate him to Fran Tarkenton, who I played along with,” Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller said. “I think Manziel has some of those qualities. Tarkenton improvised and that’s a good quality to have as a quarterback in today’s game.”

Former Detroit Lions cornerback Lem Barney, who played against Tarkenton for over a decade, agrees with the comparison.

“I think he’s gonna be an early pick in the draft. I really do, with his skills, the talent, the fundamentals,” Barney said. “Scrambling puts him in a different position than the other quarterbacks who don’t have that escapability. He is like a Fran.”

Tarkenton told USA Today recently that Manziel plays like he did for the Vikings.

Former San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Fred Dean wanted to pump the brakes on Manziel.

“I really like him. But you’re kind of looking at the Doug Flutie [type of player with] his height (6-foot-1) and everything,” Dean said. “I just wonder if he can keep up with those guys that are really speedsters because he likes to move around a lot.

“If he can adjust and do the things that Joe Montana can do, then I could give him the big plus. But until then, I have to hold up on it.”

It’s a viewpoint shared by most of the former players taking part in the Hall of Fame’s inaugural FanFest: Manziel has plenty of potential but several question marks.

Bruce Matthews, whose son Jake Matthews protected Manziel’s blindside at Texas A&M and is expected to be selected early in this week’s draft, isn’t without reservations about Manziel.

“The boys love him. Kid plays hard. He’s competitive. That’s going to be the thing that he has to temper, obviously,” Matthews explained. “They’re bigger, stronger, faster in the NFL. He has to learn how to take care of his body.”

Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes said he “likes” Manziel but pondered the same issues.

“He hasn’t seen anybody like these NFL guys,” Haynes said. “They may not catch you, but if you’re not down when they catch up with you, you’re gonna get hurt. You’re gonna get hurt hard. I think that’s what happened to [Robert Griffin III] a little bit. It’s a different ballgame.”

Manziel, who is 21, brings an attitude on the field that attracts some but miffs others. One Hall of Fame quarterback wants to see him tone it down.

“His attitude, maybe he ought to quiet down a little bit and have a little success at the professional football before you tell everybody what you’re going to do,” Len Dawson said. "'Talk is cheap [but] it takes money to buy whiskey' -- that’s what my old teammates used to tell me.

“Go out and do it, but you don’t talk about it.”

Moon wants Manziel to let his work ethic do the talking.

“Just put his nose to the grindstone and just work,” Moon said. “You look at Russell Wilson. The reason why he had so much success early is he came in and outworked everybody. He was the first one in the building and the last to leave.”

Moon believes such an attitude will rub off on Manziel’s NFL teammates. As for concerns about Manziel fitting into a locker room, some Hall of Famers saw no issues.

“I’d embrace it,” former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jack Ham said of having Manziel as a teammate.

“Oh absolutely,” agreed former New England Patriots guard John Hannah. “He’s a fighter. I’d love to have the kid.”

The debate about Manziel won’t end when he is drafted later this week. Questions will continue, intrigue will grow and fans -- even Hall of Famers -- will be watching to see what happens.

“I think he’d be an exciting player,” former Bills guard Joe DeLamielleure said. “If you’re gonna roll the dice, that’d be the guy I’d roll the dice with.”

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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