Head down, Johnny Manziel walked toward the podium in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine.
He was assisted by a trio of NFL officials who brought him from the back door past empty work stations, where media sat before Manziel’s arrival was announced.
It was a brief moment of low profile for the Texas A&M star.
He looked small. Though Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson doesn’t measure as the biggest man by NFL standards, he stands with a sturdiness that didn’t appear to rest on Manziel’s 5-foot-11, 207-pound, sweatshirt-covered frame. Yet, the two share almost identical height and weight measurements.
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A gambling innovator who gives tradition the heebie-jeebies, Manziel is the biggest wild card in the NFL draft, which begins Thursday. He could be the next Fran Tarkenton or the next I-told-you-so.
Manziel is not the only curiosity among the quarterbacks. There’s a 6-foot-5 quarterback from Central Florida, a former top-pick possibility slipping down draft boards, and a handful of others who could be first-round picks or left double-checking the ringer on their cell phones to be sure it’s on.
Quarterbacks have always been the face of NFL teams. In this pass-happy version of the NFL, they have never been more important.
That’s when the conversation shifts to measurables. Despite Wilson’s success, quarterbacks are still expected to be a gleaming 6-5, 230 pounds and rocket-armed. But, football isn’t a drill. And, assessing Manziel in particular, isn’t just about measurements.
“I play with a lot of heart, play with a lot of passion,” Manziel said at the combine. “I feel like I play like I’m 10-feet tall. A measurement to me is just a number.”
Wilson is the modern blueprint for the elusive, mid-sized quarterback. Not 6-feet tall, Wilson has turned to creation when necessary, not as a matter of preferred practice. Each time he’s asked, Wilson will explain he never wants to run.
Yet, his mobility often rescued the Seahawks.
After each game when another defense could not seal in Wilson, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and the opposing coach would explain in unison: quarterbacks on the move are the hardest thing to defend.
Which brings Manziel to the fore.
His creativity is his greatest benefit – and detriment. As Wilson has, Manziel will need to learn to listen when self-preservation kicks in. Gain and get down. That can be counter to extreme self-determination.
“I’m probably one of the most competitive people on the face of this earth,” Manziel said. “Whether it’s sitting here playing tic-tac-toe or rock, paper, scissors or whatever it may be, I want to win. It’s something that really dates back all the way to being a kid. I don’t like the taste of losing, leaves a really sour taste in my mouth. I’m an extremely competitive person, at the same time I want to be a great leader as well.”
His top competition, Blake Bortles, had four scholarship offers out of Oviedo (Fla.) High School. Two were to play tight end. He leaves Central Florida with a chance to be the first quarterback selected this year.
He possesses the beauty marks Manziel does not. At 6-5, 232 pounds, Bortles fits that natural quarterback description.
However, he’s not sedentary. Bortles can move efficiently enough that he’s been compared to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Because of Bortles coming into college with questions whether he could even be a quarterback, he has plenty to polish. Which could mean he lands with a team that already has a veteran starter and will make Bortles the backup for a season. That’s the situation for the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants with Carson Palmer and Eli Manning, respectively.
“I have no problem with that,” Bortles said. “There’s no doubt I need coaching, I need help. I think everybody in the game does.”
Taking a different tact is Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.
“I feel that I’m the best quarterback in this draft,” Bridgewater said at the NFL combine. “I’m not just going to sit up here and say it. There’s obviously actions that have to back up these words, and I’m just confident in myself and my capability to be able to play this position. I’m just going to go out there and prove that I’m the best guy.”
Bridgewater, 6-2 and 214 pounds, is between Bortles and Manziel in size.
At the start and end of last season, Bridgewater was considered a top candidate to be the top pick. Now, he’s unlikely to be the first quarterback drafted despite throwing 31 touchdowns and four interceptions his junior season.
Some draft experts even have him being selected after the first round.
Bridgewater made steady progress throughout his three seasons at Louisville. He interceptions dipped from 12 to eight to four. His touchdowns went from 14 to 27 to 31. He completed 71 percent of his passes last season.
Those three, along with Fresno State’s Derek Carr, are expected to make an appearance in the first round.
None could go in the top 10.
All three could go in the top 15.
Just like Manziel’s play, their landing spots are unpredictable.
POTENTIAL NFL WEAPONS
Here are some top draft prospects at the skill positions on offense (in alphabetical order):
Odell Beckham, LSU, wide receiver
Height: 5-11 Weight: 198
Beckham broke LSU’s single-season record with 2,315 all-purpose yards last season. Can return kicks in addition to playing wide receiver.
Blake Bortles, Central Florida, quarterback
Height: 6-5 Weight: 232
The size and accuracy are enticing. But his numbers were compiled against such teams as Akron, Florida International, Connecticut, Houston, Temple and SMU.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville, quarterback
Height: 6-2 Weight: 214
Accurate when he needs either a strong or touch throw and became progressively better during college. His projected slippage could be a big benefit to a team that gets him late in the first round.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, wide receiver
Height: 5-10 Weight: 170
Cooks comes in with a lot of swagger and ambition. He’s able to turn short completions into big gains, is durable and an overall spark. Similar to Steve Smith. Needs to bulk up.
Eric Ebron, North Carolina, tight end
Height: 6-4 Weight: 250
Ebron is an athlete first. Excellent size, speed, quickness. He will be a problem for the NFL’s bigger linebackers when they are forced to cover him.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M, wide receiver
Height: 6-5 Weight: 231
Evans was the beneficiary of Johnny Manziel’s creativity and skill. Massive frame for a wide receiver who is a problem deep when in one-on-one coverage. Doesn’t have lightning speed.
Marqise Lee, USC, wide receiver
Height: 6-0 Weight: 192
Whichever team selects Lee will be expecting the 2011 and ’12 versions of him as opposed to last season’s. Lee was dinged up and a victim of horrid quarterback play in 2013.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, quarterback
Height: 5-11 Weight: 207
Some fans will be thrilled, others outraged their team took Manziel. The guarantee is this: Manziel will bring excitement and headlines. The football part could well follow.
Bishop Sankey, Washington, running back
Height: 5-9 Weight: 209
Many consider Sankey the best running back in the draft, though he is likely to be selected in the second round. Durability, inside and outside running are all skills Sankey has.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson, wide receiver
Height: 6-1 Weight: 211
Watkins is the top receiver in the draft. Strong, fast and ambitious, he could be the second overall pick.