By Brian Batty
Now before you go and say that title makes absolutely no sense, I’m aware. I chose it because it fits the profile of the most polarizing college athlete of all time. No player has ever had more opinions thrown his way on his every day behavior than Johnny Manziel.
The scrambling, Heisman winning, mind-blowing statistic gathering Texas A&M quarterback sure picked one hell of a time to be a successful 20 year old athlete in America. No single college kid has ever gone through as much scrutiny for being a college kid as Johnny Manziel has. Some reasons being his fault, others being completely out of his control
Even his nickname became a week long debate on ESPN. Johnny Football. So simple, yet somehow a topic of discussion on television seemingly every single day for a month. That nickname made it extremely easy to talk about him, something uncomplicated for the TV networks and the Twitter-sphere to grasp on to. Everyone from the ultimate blowhard Nancy Grace to your neighbor’s cousin had an opinion on him and his “antics”.
I say antics in a tongue-in-cheek way because in reality all he was doing was acting like almost every other regular college sophomore would act if he was given the opportunities to go to parties with famous people and basically be invited anywhere he wanted too. Hell Drake, one of the most well known musical acts in the world, is one of his best friends
After the media spewed out nothing but visceral and hate for an entire summer, doing everything they possibly could to hammer this kid and turn him into some evil villainous figure for housewives and local bar flies to dislike, the actual football started. What do you know, a college football player actually played football games. Here I thought he was just some Kim Kardashian type fame whore who people cared about for…whatever reason. I’m still trying to figure that one out
Following his breath-taking, highlight filled, Heisman trophy winning first season, who knew if he could stand up to the monster expectations put on him. I can’t remember a college athlete ever having as much pressure on him to succeed as John Pigskin had this past year. But you know what? He did it. He was the same nightmare for defenders that he was the year before. In 2012 he put up an incredible stat line of 3076 passing yards, 1410 rushing yards, and 47 combined touchdowns. All while playing in a conference littered with future NFL draft picks and current NFL prospects. This past season he answered with 4114 in the air, 759 yards on the ground, and 46 combined touchdowns.
The rushing numbers may have been down, but he tended to look downfield a little more this season. He definitely had the NFL in mind, as he ran out of bound on scrambles and generally protected his body better, which is not a knock, it was absolutely the right decision.
Now that he is done with college and the nonsensical restrictions the NCAA puts on their athletes, he is ready to be an NFL quarterback. Now I’m not in the GM’s offices so I can’t say for sure, but I can almost guarantee there are hundreds of different opinions on him as a player floating around offices around the league as we speak.
Quarterback is far and away, and I don’t even think it’s debatable, the hardest position to play in sports. Nothing comes close to the rigorous mental grind and physical beating QB goes through for an entire season. Every loss is blamed on you, regardless of what the other 52 guys on the roster did. Just ask Tony Romo, a guy who has been putting up numbers most quarterbacks could only dream of putting up for years, but is only considered a choker and “can’t get it done” and all those superlatives that you hear every day on ESPN. No position requires a higher mental capacity and quick decision making, along with all the physical attributes you already know about such as arm strength and accuracy like the quarterback does.
In my opinion you can have all the arm strength in the world, but quarterback is such a unique position that I don’t think you can really know how good a guy is while measuring him in shorts in an empty stadium at the NFL combine. There is just that certain “X Factor” some guys have. The vaunted, immeasurable je ne sais quoi that you can only find on game day. I don’t like comparison’s in QBs because they’re all different, but look at Russell Wilson. Being a Wisconsin fan I got to watch this guy for 14 games and STILL didn’t see it. Wilson was drafted in the third round because he didn’t stack up in shorts and a t shirt in an empty stadium at the combine like the rest of the QBs in his draft class did. Now he’s a Super Bowl winner in only his second year, and will never have to look for another job again. He’s the prime example of the saying “some guys just have it”.
I believe Manziel has it. You can just see it watching him play. Quarterbacking, to me, is 80 percent intangibles. The ability to get away from that first wave of pressure and make a play is so important in today’s NFL. Defenders are so big and fast these days, and even with all of the rule changes to help offenses and open up the league; it is still so difficult to protect the QB. On many occasions the quarterback getting out of the pocket, and getting those 7 yards on third down either by scrambling for them, or using their mobility to manipulate the defense and get a receiver open is what wins games.
For now though, we are all going to have to deal with the same nonsense that followed Johnny Football around all last summer. A lot of people hate him; a lot of people love him. Maybe he gets drafted by the wrong team, the same tricks he was able to get away with in college don’t work in the NFL, and he completely flames out. Maybe he does exactly what he did to the SEC and takes the league by storm and wins a few Super Bowls along the way. Either way, the legend of Johnny Football will live on forever and he will continue to be the most polarizing athlete we’ve ever seen.