Texans have to take Manziel
Manziel will be everything Tebow was. And wasn't.
I was right about Tim Tebow and I will be right on a much higher level about Johnny Manziel.
What Tebow kept pulling off late in games for the 2011 Denver Broncos, Manziel will make happen for all four quarters of NFL games. Manziel has Tebow's miracle-making will, electrified by far more quickness, speed, accuracy, radar and football IQ. Manziel has Tebow's rare intangibles heightened by rarer tangibles.
Tebow was a phenomenon. Manziel will be a perennial Pro Bowler, a Michael Vick fully capable of picking you to pieces from the pocket.
So please do not say I now have my "new Tebow." That's an insult to Manziel. I wrote a year ago that Manziel was already operating on a higher level than Tebow ever had -- after Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in his first year as a college starter, breaking Cam Newton's single-season SEC total offense record in two fewer games. Now, Manziel makes Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater look like just guys.
Next season, Manziel will have the same national impact on some lucky city that Tebow did on Denver and its Broncos in 2011. And it will last.
Before Tebow's draft, I said I would take him late in the first round. Josh McDaniels, then Denver's coach, took him 25th. I said Tebow would never make a Pro Bowl but he would win games as a starting quarterback if given a chance in his college spread-option offense.
Only one team did: a desperate 1-4 Denver, the year after McDaniels was fired.
Tebow led the Broncos to the AFC West title -- and the NFL team rushing title -- and beat Pittsburgh in a playoff game with a play for the ages, an 80-yard touchdown pass in overtime. All Tebow did that season was have the NFL's best QBR in the final five minutes of games. Onward, Christian soldier.
Yet, after the Broncos landed Peyton Manning and traded Tebow to the Jets, he never had a chance to play quarterback. He lost confidence, visited his third or fourth independent passing coach, began to think too much about what had come so instinctively and regressed as a passer in his one preseason with New England.
This is how much better Manziel is: The Houston Texans, with this year's No. 1 overall pick, will forever regret it if they don't take the Texas kid with the movie-title nickname, Johnny Football.
Manziel built his legend at Texas A&M, just an hour-and-a-half drive from Reliant Stadium. About 300,000 A&M alums live in Houston, according to Manziel's QB coach, George Whitfield Jr. Johnny Football, the most electrifying college football player I ever saw, was born to win Super Bowls in Houston.
Manziel, with his infectious It Factor, would immediately turn the Texans into the It Team. They've been just a quarterback away for three seasons; Matt Schaub completed lots of passes, but never THE pass. Manziel would soon make every player in that locker room -- and every fan in that stadium -- believe the Texans finally had a star who would make THE play. With Manziel next season, the Texans would go from 2-14 to 10-6.
If I ran the Texans, and Bill O'Brien, who has never been head coach for a down of NFL football, dug in and concluded Manziel was too short and too Hollywood and too headstrong for him, I'd thank my new coach and fire him. Manziel is far, far more valuable.
While ESPN's Todd McShay calls freakishly gifted pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney a "once in 20 years player," Manziel is once in a lifetime. He'll be as great at his position as Clowney will be at his, but you have to take the face-of-the-franchise quarterback over the defensive end.
Like Tebow, Manziel certainly has his doubters -- but far fewer. Even the doubters fear he could turn into a star. "Boom or bust" is the way McShay and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. view Manziel. Kiper won't even rank Manziel on his QB list because he's not sure what to make of him. In their latest mock drafts, both have Cleveland "rolling the dice" on Manziel at No. 4.
Kiper perfectly sums up Tebow vs. Manziel this way: "Before Tebow's draft, maybe 1 or 2 percent [of NFL evaluators] liked him. But with Manziel, it's 50-50."
Jon Gruden is all-in. Gruden, ESPN's "Monday Night Football" analyst, has the advantage of studying all the top draftees for his Quarterback Camp. Gruden breaks down their college tape, grills them face-to-face on camera, tests them at the chalkboard, gets to know them during off-camera lunches, then puts them through the equivalent of a pro day on the field. He had Manziel for two days.
With the right coach in the right system, says Gruden, Manziel will be "a smash hit."
On "First Take" the other day, Gruden told me: "I think he can create offense unlike most guys I've ever seen. And he has guts, quickness, vision, and he loves the big arena, the big stage. Guys like him don't come across the map very often.
"I called plays for 14 years [in the NFL] and this is the kind of kid I'm looking for. This is the kind of quarterback I want to be around. I just get a certain feeling when I'm in the room with him. I think he permeates confidence throughout the entire building. He just has a certain magic to him."
Gruden said he couldn't quit rewinding plays as he watched Manziel's two games against Alabama, "what I think is the best defense in college football." Manziel beat Nick Saban's defense 29-24 two years ago in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, by making three fourth-quarter throws his coordinator at the time, current Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, told me "were as good as any I've been around [including three years in the NFL]."
Saban had an entire offseason to find the Johnny Football antidote, ahead of a Sept. 14 game in College Station, Texas. Manziel went for 562 total yards and 42 points. Yet an A&M defense that wound up allowing the 109th-most yards among 123 Division I teams allowed Alabama 49 points.
Saban called Manziel as tough a competitor as he has faced in 40 years of coaching. Saban also faced Tebow twice (and also lost, then won).
You scoff that Manziel will never learn to be a pro pocket passer? Scoff at this: From the pocket, he completed 73 percent of his passes last season, best among QBs from BCS automatic-qualifier conferences.
You sniff he's too short? At 5-11¾, he's a little more than an inch taller than Seattle's Russell Wilson, now a Super Bowl winner. And Manziel's hands and feet are freakishly big -- Gruden marveled at how Manziel could catch and quick-throw a special ball without laces.
You roll your eyes that scrambling, gambling Johnny Football won't be able to dodge injury in the NFL? His shoulder was hurt against Auburn (which nearly won the national championship) only because Manziel knew (1) he had a chance to put his Aggies up 14 early in the fourth quarter and (2) his defense couldn't stop Auburn. So Manziel bolted hell-bent up the middle and took on two Tigers at the 2-yard line. A third fell on his shoulder.
He missed a series while, presumably, taking a pain-killing injection, then returned to complete his next nine passes. Only an uncalled horse-collar tackle on Manziel allowed Auburn to escape 45-41.
Manziel convinced Gruden he will not take that kind of a risk in pro football. I've heard the same thing from him, that he will happily slide if cornered in the NFL. But he will torment defenses by occasionally running -- his plant-and-cut quickness in the open field will break some ankles and bruise some pro egos.
When you talk with Manziel, he can come across as the most mature 21-year-old you've ever met, a man of a boy. But of course, he also involved himself in several crazy-kid escapades the offseason after winning the Heisman, some involving excess alcohol. Lately, though, he has learned to party smarter and avoid social-media turnovers.
So how did a white kid from Tyler, Texas, manage to become such good buddies with LeBron James and Drake? Because they know unique talent. Cool attracts cool.
As Gruden says, "Why wouldn't you want LeBron James and Drake on your sideline?"
That contagious star power will come with the Johnny Franchise package. Chip Kelly gets it. Kelly says it "broke my heart" when Manziel broke a verbal commitment to play for Kelly at Oregon.
Rumors have flown that Eagles coach Kelly has been trying to figure out a way to trade up for Manziel. Kelly would be the best coaching/scheme fit for him. Imagine the rabbits Kelly could pull out of his hat with Johnny Football running his show.
So how, I asked Gruden, can the Texans afford not to take Johnny Manziel?