By Lance Zierlein
March 22, 2014
Editor's Note: All data mentioned represents the 2013 season.
There can be no denying that Manziel is at the top of the toughness list amongst QBs in this year’s draft. In his two years as a starter, Manziel never missed a game due to injury despite how frequently he ran with the ball on called plays and when scrambling. As for his poise, I was absolutely shocked to find that the data didn’t really back my perception of Manziel’s poise.
Manziel was blitzed on 29% of his throws and his completion percentage went from 73.4% when he wasn’t being blitzed to just 61.3% when blitzed. I was also surprised to see that despite being blitzed on just 29% of his throws, 7 (53.8%) of Manziel’s 13 INTs came when blitzed while his TD% while blitzed was only 35.1%.
It is worth noting that Manziel was the best of the three QBs with a completion percentage of 70.1% in the 4th quarter. Manziel certainly doesn’t panic under pressure and I doubt any NFL team would challenge the assertion that he is a very poised QB. The data, however, suggests that maybe “Johnny Football” wasn’t quite as prolific under pressure as we had assumed based on the eye-popping plays we remember.
I’ve heard questions about whether or not Manziel can beat a team from the pocket and to do that, he has to prove that he is accurate. Was he accurate from the pocket in college? Yes. Yes he was.
When Manziel threw from the pocket, he complete 73.6% of his passes for 3,429 yards, 9.95 ypa and 27 TDs. Can Manziel scramble and hurt you with his feet? Absolutely, but to assume that his passing game primarily revolved around scrambling and making passing outside the pocket would be a mistake.
NFL QBs must be accurate on the short to intermediate throws, and Manziel was just that. I went back and researched his throws from 6 - 15 yards and Manziel completed 65.7% of those passes including 66% on his intermediate sideline throws. The one area of concern, however, was that Manziel had 7 INTs on his 111 throws from this range.
This is one of the areas that some evaluators believe Manziel could struggle with on the next level. It isn’t necessarily the arm strength that is the knock here, it is the feel and the anticipation that tends to get him knocked. I’ve seen some of the anticipation issues with my own eyes as Manziel has waited for a window to come open rather than throwing to a spot. Is this coachable? It can be.
I also believe that many NFL offensive coaches are much more flexible than in the past and understand how to tailor offenses around what a QB does well rather than asking them to fit into “the norm” as we’ve seen in the past.
Of Manziel’s 37 TD passes this year, only 10 came from behind the line of scrimmage to five yards down the field - the classic dump and dash that we see in college. According to the STATS Ice data, Manziel had 27 TDs passes beyond 6 yards including 12 that were for 16+ yards.
We know that Manziel is elite in terms of his mobility. Whether Manziel is scrambling to extend plays and make throws down the field or getting outside of the pocket and running for first downs, Manziel is clearly one of the new breed of “3rd down warriors” who are able to keep drives going with their legs and singular playmaking that most pure pocket passers can’t.
Manziel’s running ability is unquestioned, but how does he throw on the move? Manziel complete 50.8% of his passes for 539 yards after scrambling from the pocket while throwing for 8 TDs, 1 INT. According to the STATS Ice data, Manziel ran for 132 yards scrambling left, but took five sacks. While scrambling right, Manziel scrambled for 277 yards while getting sacked just three times. Manziel’s QB Efficiency was 174.2 scrambling left and 171.6 scrambling right showing an ability to beat defenses with his legs or arm moving in both directions.
The tape shows that Manziel has the ability to make throws against Cover-2 defenses and down the sideline on vertical routes. His touch on those deep throws is undeniable. However, the tape and the data also show that Manziel tends to get careless with some of his throws between the hashmarks and that will be a concern for evaluators as they project him to the next level.
Manziel’s data charts show that he’s fairly consistent throwing right and left and has the ability to attack defenses on all three levels with accuracy and confidence. His ability to attack from the pocket (despite the turnovers) should be a big check-mark in his favor as should his improvement as a passer from his first year to his second as a college QB.
Manziel’s highly competitive nature was apparent in wins and losses, in the first quarter through the fourth quarter and against losing teams and SEC powerhouses. He struggled against LSU in both matchups, but never stopped competing. Against one of the top defensive minds in all of football - Nick Saban - Manziel was able to attack and execute early in the game and then come back with big fourth quarters in both games after falling into a little bit of a lull in the middle of those games.
After pouring over the data, it looks as though Manziel doesn’t display strong tendencies that defensive coordinators will be able to attack. Of course, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and his offensive staff deserve some of that credit for their varied play-calling. Manziel is relatively consistent to both sides of the field and on all three passing levels.
His ability to extend plays with his legs while keeping his eyes down the field is reminiscent of Ben Roethlisberger while his ability to hurt defenses with his running (not just extend drives) reminds me of a more explosive Russell Wilson or even a young Michael Vick without they “pull-away” finishing speed.
Like Liam Neeson, Johnny Manziel has a very particular set of skills and they will be best served by a new school offensive mind who is willing to break from NFL convention (much like Jim Harbaugh did with Colin Kaepernick) and create an offense designed around Manziel. With that said, I do believe that the data (and to some extent, the film) shows that Manziel can fit into a slightly more traditional offense as well. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that 803 of his 816 snaps came from the Pistol or Gun so that is obviously going to have to be taken into consideration by any team that takes Manziel.