Johnny Football Fools
Johnny Manziel turns big-time coaches into fawning, drooling fools
Johnny Manziel remains the most buzzed-about player in football — even in a week when Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are squaring off for a Super Bowl berth.
Jameis Winston's largely subpar bowl game performance, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair's smart Jadeveon Clowney love and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's apparent draft stock drop cannot come close to competing with Manziel Mania either.
If it's not Mel Kipper declaring Manziel the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, it's the big-time coaches in Houston for the prestigious Bear Bryant Awards turning virtually breathless at the mere mention of Johnny Football. Excitement over Manziel seems to be at an all-time high — no small feat considering how hyped his Heisman offseason was.
"He's one of the best players — if not the best player — I've ever coached against," said Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, the deserved Bear Bryant Coach of the Year winner.
Manziel is the quarterback who makes grown coaches squeal like kids.
That's no small praise from a guy who coaches against the SEC's elite, which Malzahn modestly called "the best league in college football."
You don't have to be an SEC honk to love Johnny Manziel though. Stanford coach David Shaw — who moonlights as a draft analyst for the NFL Network — was equally taken with the ever-darting 21-year-old quarterback.
"He's a jackrabbit," Shaw says. "You can't catch a jackrabbit. You can get a bunch of buddies together, chase him around the field ... and you still can't catch him.
"It's a unteachable skill. This kid's going to move the chains. He's going to score points."
And you thought Kevin Sumlin sometimes seemed in awe of his own Texas A&M University difference maker?
Manziel's effect on big-time, often jaded coaches is fascinating. Johnny Football somehow makes them remember the devil-may-care things they loved about football in the first place. Coaches believe in Johnny Manziel. Do they ever believe.
"I think he's a can't-miss guy," Baylor coach Art Briles said of Manziel. "No question. If you're great in high school and great in college, you're going to be great in the NFL."
Briles was talking in a spacious meeting room at the recently remodeled Royal Sonesta Houston Hotel, this year's new setting for the Bear Bryant Awards. There was a stack of Bear Bryant houndstooth hats in the room and a few CPR training dummies, brought by the American Heart Association which the Bear Bryant benefits.
"He's one of the best players — if not the best player — I've ever coached against," said Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.
There's no real reason Johnny Manziel should be on everyone's minds in this setting. His coach wasn't up for Coach of the Year (for a change). Texas A&M finished 21st in the final BCS rankings, and the second (Auburn), fourth (Michigan State) and sixth (Baylor) ranked teams were represented at the Bear Bryant.
Still, Johnny Manziel brings the most passionate comments — because he's Johnny Manziel.
It's a fascinating phenomenon grounded in one simple truth that's apparent to the men who watch the most game film in America: Despite the Winston hype, Johnny Manziel stood out as the best player in college football (again) this season. I wrote that back in early December, and Manziel and Winston's respective bowl performances only drove home the reality.
The Texans No. 1?
Briles' theory aside, dominating the college game does not necessarily translate into NFL superstardom. Manziel is going to be an NFL impact player, but is he going to be the best pro in his draft class?
It's hard to imagine that with a super athletic pass rusher like Jadeveon Clowney sitting there for the taking. Players with Clowney's combination of size and speed are once-in-a-generation talents. That's your No. 1 pick, and I've argued the Texans need to grab him on numerous occasions.
The fact that McNair — a University of South Carolina grad whose love of players with ties to the state is well documented and often rewarding (see Johnathan Joseph over Nnamdi Asomugha in 2011 free agency) — agrees is a testament to the power of Clowney's talents. And the realities of holding the No. 1 overall pick.
If new Texans coach Bill O'Brien is not absolutely certain that Johnny Manziel is as sure a thing as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III — and how can he be? — there is no way general manager Rick Smith can afford to take Johnny Football No. 1.
"I think he's a can't-miss guy. No question," said Baylor coach Art Briles.
Despite the Houston media haters who cannot see Case Keenum as anything but a University of Houston fluke, there's no reason O'Brien couldn't craft a more than capable quarterback out of a competition between Keenum and a high second-round draft pick. You're not going to find another Clowney for drafts and drafts to come.
None of this takes away from Johnny Manziel's brilliance and how he's managed to make himself the most talked about player in football. Yet again.
He's the quarterback who makes grown coaches squeal like kids. Malzahn still sounded more surprised that his team survived Johnny Football than awed that it toppled Alabama.
"To be honest, it was probably that Texas A&M game," Malzahn said when asked what made his team believe it could play for the national title. "At the time A&M was a top 10 team, and Johnny Manziel was the best college football player in America.
"To stop the best player in college football ... that meant a lot."
It's going to mean plenty on NFL draft night finally rolls around in May too. Those silly, largely manufactured controversies over autographs, clubbing pixs and College Station tweets seem long gone. "I think [Manziel's] become a better leader," said the strait-laced Shaw, who described his own team's old-school offense as "Cro-Magnon."
It's awfully good to be Johnny Manziel right now — even when he's not living every 21-year-old guy's dream life in the hot clubs or on the most famous fairways.
Still, it all doesn't add up to No. 1. No matter. Johnny Manziel will bring the buzz wherever he goes.