Tag Archive: Johnny Manziel


Hey all,

I’m back, I bet y’all thought I forgot I had a NFL Draft Blog.

First of all, thanks for putting up with me not posting any of my scouting reports on here this year. I meant to get some additional ones up that I didn’t cover in my NFL Draft guide, but I’ve been so busy with work it just didn’t happen. If you haven’t picked up a draft guide yet they only cost $5 and I’d say they’re worth well more than that given all the work that went into them. There’s plenty of great stuff left on non 1st round draft prospects, so pick one up now here.

Now onto the NFL Draft pick recaps:

#1 Overall- Houston Texans- Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina- This is a fantastic pick, I’d give it an A. This is the perfect place for Clowney to go because if you have any questions about his work ethic or motor those should be eased knowing that JJ Watt will be working closely with him to help him maximize his potential in the offseason and during the season. I seriously don’t know how offenses are going to account for both of them once Clowney starts to really fill out his game from a technical standpoint. Those two are going to terrorize offensive backfields for years to come, and it’s going to be fun to watch.

#2 Overall- St. Louis Rams- Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn- I’m giving this pick an A as well, Robinson is one of the most talented offensive linemen that has come around in a long time, and he has franchise tackle upside. He is the rare offensive tackle that can be a dominant force as a pass blocker and as a run blocker, and that makes him worth the pick here even if he is still a bit raw. He’s an immediate upgrade in both phases of the offense regardless of where the Rams play him.

#3 Overall- Jacksonville Jaguars- Blake Bortles, QB, UCF- This is harsh, but I’m giving this pick a D. I don’t hate Bortles, in fact I had a late 1st-Early 2nd round grade on him, but #3 is way too high for him in my opinion. I don’t think he’s a franchise caliber player, and I don’t think he’s going to live up to the pressure that this high of a selection puts on him. He’s not as NFL ready as other QB’s in this class in my estimation, and still needs time to develop and season, but I’m not sure he’ll get a lot of that in Jacksonville particularly now that he was picked this high. I’ll own up to this if I’m wrong, but I think the Jaguars made a mistake selecting him this high.

#4 Overall- Buffalo Bills- Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson- I’m giving this pick a B- even though I’m a big Sammy Watkins fan, and here’s why: Watkins is a top talent, and I had him as my #1 WR in this class for a reason, but I’m still not sold on him as a top 5 pick and I don’t think he’s going to be an elite WR in the NFL. He’s a playmaker without a doubt, and he’s going to be fun to watch in the NFL, but giving up a 2015 1st and a 4th round pick to move up for Watkins in a draft that is overflowing with talent at the receiver position is baffling to me. I like that they want to surround EJ Manuel with talent, but this isn’t the right way to go about it in my opinion.

#5 Overall- Oakland Raiders- Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo- The Raiders got it right this year picking a very talented player in Khalil Mack who is going to be a very good defender for them for a long time. It was a predictable pick, but it was the right pick, and I give it an A. The Raiders needed a hit on this pick, and I think they got a very good player here even if it wasn’t as flashy as a player like Sammy Watkins or a quarterback.

#6 Overall- Atlanta Falcons- Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M- This isn’t what I was hoping for at #6 for Atlanta, but it’s a smart pick even if it isn’t the pass rusher that I really wanted. Sam Baker is not the long term answer for the Falcons at left tackle in Atlanta, and they needed a dependable player that would be able to start there for the next decade and they got that in Jake Matthews. He doesn’t have the insane ceiling that Greg Robinson has, but he’s going to be a good tackle for a long time and solidifying that position is the correct move in this situation. It’s not sexy, but it’s absolutely what had to happen given the way the draft board broke. I give this an A-. It could have been better, but with Mack off the board this was the right pick.

#7 Overall- Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M- This pick gives the Bucs a very intriguing combination of receivers in Vincent Jackson and Evans, and that’s going to be hard for any team outside of the Seahawks to neutralize. I didn’t think Evans was a top 10 pick, but he’s got a lot of upside and with a guy like Jackson to learn from it should speed up his learning curve significantly. He’s a match-up nightmare because of his size, athleticism, and leaping ability, and if he can polish his game he and Jackson will be able to terrorize defensive backfields with their size and ability to win jump balls downfield.

#8 Overall- Cleveland Browns- Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State- I’m not a big Gilbert fan, but I’m giving this pick a B for one reason: Joe Haden. I think Haden is the kind of player that will mentor Gilbert, help speed up the learning curve that all rookie CB’s have to endure (namely, getting burned once they get on the field) and a guy with Gilbert’s athleticism and ball skills has to be intriguing. I’m still not a huge fan of him in coverage and he’s not physical, but if Haden can help Gilbert reach his ceiling as a corner then they will have a very dangerous duo in Cleveland for a long time, plus Gilbert is an impact return man.

#9 Overall- Minnesota Vikings- Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA- I am not a big Barr fan, but his athleticism is undeniable. One of the reasons I didn’t want him in Atlanta is because he is so raw and I’m not confident in their ability to develop him and turn him into a dominant force off the edge. With Mike Zimmer in Minnesota I don’t have that same concern, and I really think this is a good fit for him from that standpoint. If you want him to make an immediate impact you are going to be disappointed outside of situational pass rushing, but he’s got a very high ceiling if he can improve his technique and round out his game, and I think Zimmer and that staff have a good chance to do that. I’m giving this pick a B+, but if they can coach Barr up he could end up being one of the top 5 players in this class.

#10 Overall- Detroit Lions- Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina- This pick is a B for me. It’s not a bad pick by any means, but I don’t like the value for Ebron here. I know he probably wouldn’t be available later, but despite his combination of size and athleticism his drops still give me pause and I consider him Jermichael Finley but with better blocking, and I say that as a UNC fan who has watched Ebron since he was a freshman. He gives the Lions a legit weapon other than Calvin Johnson and they will be able to pick up a receiver any time on Day 2 or 3 and get production because of how deep this class is, but if I’m picking a TE top 10 I want him to be an impact player with great hands, and while Ebron can be an impact player who makes great catches he still has issues with concentration drops.

#11 Overall- Tennessee Titans- Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan- Lewan isn’t squeaky clean off the field, but you can’t question his toughness and ability on it. If you need to infuse attitude and toughness up front then Lewan is your guy, and that’s why I give this pick a B. He’s going to be a good tackle for a long time whether he’s on the left or right side, and he’s going to give you a toughness and an edge up front that every offensive line needs.

#12 Overall- New York Giants- Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU- I have been an OBJ fan since he was a freshman, and watching everyone catch on to how talented he was over the past couple years has been a real treat. He’s going to be really fun to watch playing opposite Victor Cruz, and he’s going to be able to make an immediate impact as a receiver and as a return man. I give this pick an A-.

#13 Overall- St. Louis Rams- Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh- A+. Slam Dunk. I am a huge Aaron Donald fan, and oh my god is the Rams front horrifying now. They already had a terrific front, but plugging Donald into the middle of that is going to make it even more fierce. How do you block all that talent up front? I seriously have no idea, and I don’t think there’s an offensive line that matches up with their pass rush talent across the board. Donald is going to have it easy going against one on ones on this unit, and that’s why it’s the top grade I’ve given so far. It doesn’t get any better than this.

#14 Overall- Chicago Bears- Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech- I’m giving this a B+ because it’s earlier than I expected him to go, but he’s a good football player. He’s got injury concerns and I’m worried that he will have trouble shaking those nagging injuries which is why I didn’t think he’d go this high, but he’s as well rounded of a corner as there is in this draft, and he’s going to be ready to play DAY ONE whether it’s outside or in the nickel, and you don’t have to worry about this guy filling or tackling. He’s a complete corner, and those are tough to find, but the injury concerns scare me as big a fan of his game as I am.

#15 Overall- Pittsburgh Steelers- Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State- Shazier is such a fantastic athlete and he plays with such great instincts I think he is a great fit for the Steelers as an inside linebacker. Keep him clean and let him make plays by flying to the football. I give this pick an A-.

#16 Overall- Dallas Cowboys- Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame- Many thought Martin could stick at LT, and he made me believe that he had a chance to do so after the Senior Bowl, but playing inside at guard will likely be best for him, and the Cowboys made a wise investment filling a need up front again this year. With Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin up front they have turned a weakness into a potential strength. I give this an A- since it’s earlier than I thought he’d go, but it’s still a very good pick even if it isn’t flashy.

#17 Overall- Baltimore Ravens- CJ Mosley, ILB, Alabama- This is such a Baltimore Ravens pick. I give this an A because Mosley is the kind of leader they needed inside after losing Ray Lewis, and he gives them two very talented inside linebackers between him and Arthur Brown who they got at the end of the 2nd round last year. They’ll be young in the middle of that linebacking corp, but Mosley is a talented player even if he can’t catch to save his life.

#18 Overall- New York Jets- Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville- I’m giving this a C+ because I have never been a huge Pryor fan. I love watching him deliver big hits and he’s a good tackler, but I’m still not sold on him holding up on the back end despite solid range. I may be proven wrong here, but I don’t think he’s going to be a really good coverage safety in the NFL, and as fun as big hits are they just aren’t as valuable as coverage is in the modern day NFL.

#19 Overall- Miami Dolphins- Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee- James is a solid player who I seriously think could have played left tackle for a lot of college football teams, but if they slot him at right tackle he will be good there as well. He wasn’t widely regarded during the season because of his teammate Antonio Richardson, but he’s a good player in his own right. I’ll give this a B because it’s earlier than I expected for him, but he’s a nice player.

#20 Overall- New Orleans Saints- Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State- I’m giving this a A because this a perfect fit for the kind of player Cooks is. They’ll get him the ball in creative ways and let him make plays in space, and he’s going to get a lot of opportunities to do so in addition to returning. They needed a guy that could get a lot of YAC now that Sproles moved on and Cooks fills that need perfectly.

#21 Overall- Green Bay Packers- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama- This grade should be an A just because HaSean has had my favorite college football name for a long time now, but the Packers badly needed an upgrade at safety and they got a rangy, talented, ball-hawk in Clinton-Dix. He’s exactly what they needed, and while they haven’t had much luck at safety since Nick Collins got hurt (Morgan Burnett hasn’t lived up to expectations in my opinion) I think Clinton-Dix will be a quality starter for them particularly in coverage.

#22 Overall- Cleveland Browns (via PHI)- Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M- Mr. Football himself! I give this pick an A because there was a chance, however remote, that Manziel could have gone top 5 and they got him much later at #22 overall and they got to get another talented player earlier in the round as well. Manziel is going to be electrifying if nothing else, and he won’t be forced into the starting role immediately either which is perfect for him in my opinion. It remains to be seen if Manziel will quench the thirst of Cleveland Browns fans for a good quarterback, but I think he’s the best chance they’ve had at having an impact player at that position in a very long time. If Shanahan will mold his offense to Manziel instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole then I think the Browns can definitely be successful with him long term. I’ve long maintained that he elevates the play of those around him, and I still feel that way. I think he can be a good NFL starting quarterback as long as he’s willing to work at it, and I think he is, so I say this is a good pick. Only time will tell if Manziel’s magic will translate.

#23 Overall- Kansas City Chiefs- Dee Ford, DE, Auburn- I didn’t like this pick much initially, but it gives them a good player to develop so that Tamba Hali becomes expendable next offseason if he pans out (which would save them $9 million if I remember correctly). Ford has a great motor and should be able to contribute immediately as a situational pass rusher, and while his lack of size hurts him in a 4-3 I think he will be a good fit in the 3-4 defense the Chiefs employ. I give it a B.

#24 Overall- Cincinnati Bengals- Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State- I give this pick a B+. The Bengals have invested a LOT of resources in corners lately, but Dennard is a very talented player who fits their style of defense well, or at least he would have fit in well under Zimmer. He’s big, long and physical, and if they don’t have a lot of faith in Dre Kirkpatrick this pick makes a lot of sense.

#25 Overall- San Diego Chargers- Jason Verrett, CB, TCU- This pick is an A for me. All that Verrett is lacking is height, the rest of his game is terrific, and he has a fantastic vertical to make up for what he lacks in height. He won’t match up with Calvin Johnson well, but he’s going to be a very good corner for a long time. The Chargers got a good one here.

#26 Overall- Philadelphia Eagles- Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville- I didn’t have a 1st round grade on Smith, but he is a good fit for the Eagles defense that clearly places a premium on athleticism. He’s got significant pass rushing upside, but he still has room for improvement. I wouldn’t have picked him this high, but I’ll give it a B- because it’s a good scheme fit.

#27 Overall- Arizona Cardinals- Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State- I’m giving this grade a C- because I think this is way too early for Bucannon, and it feels like a reach in a fairly thin safety class. I don’t think he’s as good in coverage as his interception numbers might lead you to believe, and even though he is a fierce hitter I don’t place a premium on that from my safeties. This is one I could end up wrong on because I’m being harsh, but I never thought Bucannon would go this high.

#28 Overall- Carolina Panthers- Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State- Wow did this pick surprise me, I thought this would definitely be Marqise Lee, but instead they drafted a match-up nightmare with drop issues. He’s a raw player that still has a lot of room to grow, but rolling the dice on a receiver with one year of production in the 1st round is never a good idea, and I think this pick could very likely end up being a bust in a couple years. I’m giving it a C- because I get what they were trying to do, but this is early for Benjamin in my opinion and there were better options at receiver available.

#29 Overall- New England Patriots- Dominique Easley, DT, Florida- This pick gets an A+ from me because Easley is a top 10-15 talent that slipped because of his two ACL injuries, and while it’s a risk because of those injuries I love the dice roll here. He has impact player potential and I think this is a great fit for him as well.

#30 Overall- San Francisco 49ers- Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois- This pick is an A in my opinion because Ward is a very talented and versatile player. He’s got good range, ball skills, and he can play free safety or drop down and play in the slot. The 49ers have three capable safeties now in Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea and Jimmy Ward, and that gives them a lot of flexibility on defense, and it gives them a long term secondary of Reid and Ward which could very well develop into one of the better tandems in the NFL.

#31 Overall- Denver Broncos- Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State- I’ll give this pick a B because I think Roby is a very talented player, but I’m not sure this is the best locker room (or State… think about it) for him to be going to. Von Miller hasn’t managed to stay out of trouble, and I have to say I’m a little worried Roby will get into a little trouble on this team. From a talent standpoint it makes sense particularly because he’s such a good athlete, but I have my reservations.

#32 Overall- Minnesota Vikings- Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville- A+++. Bridgewater is my #1 QB and I never wavered on that despite all the ridiculous things people decided to knock him for, and he’s still a very good quarterback prospect. I never claimed he was an elite or “franchise QB” but I think he can be a good or very good NFL starter, and the Vikings desperately need a player who can be a quality starter at that position. The fact that he went 29 picks after Blake Bortles is an absolute joke in my opinion, but the Vikings did a great job not only to end up with Bridgewater, but to get him at the very end of the 1st round so they have the option to control his rights for five years versus only four years had they picked him in the 2nd round.

 

And that concludes my 1st round recap… It’s good to be back, and hopefully next year I won’t get swamped with work during 70 hour work weeks during the time that I’m trying to finish all of my scouting reports.

Don’t forget to check out the draft guide and follow me on Twitter for more NFL Draft insight!

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

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Johnny Manziel: Enough Is Enough

First of all, I just want to say that I am a little frustrated with myself for even writing this article. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject of Johnny Manziel and the outrageous attention he has been receiving this offseason, and as a result I am very passionate on the subject. But as much as I have wanted to write this article for the past few weeks, I also regret doing it because it is just adding to the list of articles and news stories talking about him, and that is not something I am proud of doing. I am proud of what I have written here, but I am not proud of continuing to excessively discuss Manziel and everything that has happened to him. I think we have gone beyond overkill, and I think we all as members of the media and society need to take a step back and think about what we are doing and the impact it could have. However, in order to do that, I must talk about myself a bit to help create some context for why I think the way I do.

It seems pretty clear to me that Manziel is overwhelmed by everything that has happened to him, and I can’t say I blame him one bit. I am a NFL Draft analyst and I pride myself on finding potential stars or breakout players before the season starts, and even a week or two into the season I had never heard of Johnny Manziel. In that sense, watching him play and develop over the course of the season was beautiful to me. I didn’t see it coming at all, and that was refreshing. As I strive longer and harder to turn covering or participating in football into my long term career I am finding that making football my job removes a little bit of the fun from watching it. I can’t help but look up players I have never watched before when they make a play that sticks out to me. I can’t help but analyze the plays as they unfold, and I find it harder and harder to turn off the scout inside me and just watch the game to enjoy it. In a weird way, that is why I think I, in some miniscule way, understand what Manziel is attempting to grapple with.

Let me be very clear: I have never played a down of organized football. I worked for Beloit College’s football team for three years doing film work while I attended the school, but I have never played. I realize that makes what I just asserted seem completely ridiculous, but I have no interest in deceiving people by making them think that I too was a superbly talented quarterback who had to struggle to comprehend and control his own fame. That has never happened to me. However, I did grow up in affluent suburb called Edina in the state of Minnesota and I think I understand, in very small way, how Manziel has grown up. I lived in the same house for my entire life until two years ago when my parents told me they were getting a divorce. I visited during my school’s October break my senior year of college and everything was the same. My parents were clearly unhappy, my basketball hoop was still intact in the backyard, and all of my possessions were in my room or downstairs in front of our big screen TV. I was happy with things remaining the way they were, but I knew they wouldn’t be that way for long. When I came back for Thanksgiving just a month later my mom had moved into a new house 30 minutes away in the country and my dad had moved into an apartment ten minutes away, but still in the city of Edina. My house was empty and on the market, and I felt like I was robbed of the chance to say goodbye to it. It was my own fault for not doing so ahead of time, but I still I felt like I had missed the chance to pack up all of my things one possession at a time, reminisce about all the memories I had made in that house, and then make my peace as I moved on with my life. When I go home I still drive by my old house, thinking about all the memories I made living there for over 21 years of my life, and how lucky I was to have not had to move out of my family home until I had nearly graduated from college. But this clarity and perception of what was happening has only come to me after having been removed from that time period, and I am hopeful that the same will be true for Manziel, though by then I am afraid it might be too late.

Let me pose you all a question. How often after a tragic event happens to a celebrity or someone who is perceived to “have it all” do we all say “it’s always the happy ones” or “no one saw it coming”? I did not anticipate Junior Seau, a Hall of Fame linebacker with thousands of adoring fans, committing suicide as he unsuccessfully grappled with his life post-football. The point is, it’s not “always the happy ones,” it is always the ones that are perceived as happy from the outside, from fans, and from the media. As unfortunate as this is, Wright Thompson’s brilliant article on Manziel and his family have made it obvious: A tragic event may be coming. There are signs, the writing is on the wall, and yet no one is letting up. Everyone who writes about him continues to push him further and further to the brink. Why? Because he won a Heisman trophy? Because he tries to escape his own persona by living a normal college life? Because he makes mistakes??

I realize many people think Manziel is spoiled, and as a result have absolutely no sympathy for him. After all, he and his family are wealthy, if he wants something he can buy it, and even if he doesn’t succeed as a NFL quarterback he likely won’t ever be working two low-paying jobs just to pay the electric bill. But isn’t there an old adage that money doesn’t buy happiness, or did I just make that up? Just because you or I – complete outsiders as it pertains to Johnny Manziel’s life – think to ourselves, “Wow, if I had everything he has then I would be very happy with my life,” doesn’t mean that Manziel is happy. That likely has everything to do with his perspective as well as your own, but I don’t think there is anyone who has read an article about him that would argue that he doesn’t seem like he is troubled, or perhaps even deeply troubled. I have no proof of this, but I believe Manziel is partying and trying to have fun to escape the reality that he has stumbled into. And you know what? I don’t blame him. I’ve never been under nearly the same microscope that Manziel has been under, and yet I have gone out and partied to try to deal with the stresses of my life in a similar, albeit likely less extravagant, fashion. This all dawned on me over this past weekend that I spent in Madison, Wisconsin with my best friend since I was in middle school.

I woke up on Friday, July 26th and as I do most days I got up, grabbed my phone, and checked Twitter. I tend to get on Twitter and read my timeline like a personalized newspaper, catching up on things that may have happened over the hours that I was sleeping. It may seem ridiculous, but there have been many nights I have gone to bed at 2:00 or even 3:00 am and woken up the next morning behind on a story regarding a suspension, an arrest, or even at times, a death. That was the case on the morning of July, 30th when I woke up and saw an ESPN alert that Texas A&M’s Polo Manukainiu, and incoming Utah Ute Gaius Vaenuke had tragically lost their lives in a one vehicle accident.

However, last Friday, something much different happened. I looked at my Twitter notifications and to my shock and awe David Pollack, an ESPN analyst and member of the College Football Gameday crew, had followed me on Twitter. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was to me. I watched Pollack dominate the SEC as a Georgia linebacker as I was growing up, and I watched him blossom into a very good NFL player prior to his career ending neck injury. I was relieved to see him land on his feet with ESPN and continue to be involved with football, something not all football players manage to do after their careers end whether on their own terms or someone else’s. Not only was I honored to have him follow me at all, but he was just shy of 95,000 followers (he has since exceeded that total) and follows under 100 people. It absolutely blew my mind, and I really couldn’t wrap my head around it. I immediately texted my best friend, asked him what he was doing this weekend, and in minutes it was decided that I would be heading up to Madison, Wisconsin – one of the country’s greatest college towns – to hang out with him on his last full weekend before he went back to school. I needed to get away and share the absurdity not only of David Pollack following me on Twitter, but of Bomani Jones, a man I have been reading and watching on ESPN First Take since I was in high school (if not longer) following me on Twitter two weeks beforehand. I may not have been Johnny Manziel but, not to toot my own horn, I felt like I was getting popular on Twitter. I began to think about whether or not I should get a personal account for my high school and college friends to interact with me on, something I never thought I would do, that I honestly thought was a ridiculously egotistical thing for anyone to do when I first created my NFL Draft Blog and Twitter account. “Why would I ever need a personal account and a professional one? Will I ever be that egomaniacal?” It seemed absurd to me, and yet here I was, contemplating the very thing that just a few years ago I practically swore I would never take myself seriously enough to do.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, the craziness did not end there. I went out with my best friend and some of his friends from college and had a great night. It really helped me get out of my own head. I woke up at 8:00 am the next morning, and while my friend slept in the other room, I began working on my Arkansas Razorbacks prospect preview by watching their entire Spring Game on YouTube prior to watching the games I have on my external hard drive. I completed my evaluations of about half of the players that I wanted to include in the preview, but decided to delve deeper into my evaluation of Travis Swanson, Arkansas’ highly touted senior center prospect who I have seen regarded as the top center in this class. He has all the size, football IQ and leadership capability you could want in a center, so without having scouted him it made sense that he would be discussed in such a way. However, upon watching him play I was disappointed. I expected a 1st or 2nd round player, but I felt like I was watching a 4th rounder. That shouldn’t sound like an insult (though I realize it likely comes off that way) because being drafted at all is a monumental accomplishment. I elected to tweet my thoughts about Swanson being a “mid-rounder”, not knowing what would ensue that afternoon.

A local TV reporter in Arkansas happened to see my tweet and in his response he casually mentioned that my opinion of Swanson seemed to fly in the face of what the Razorbacks’ new head coach, Bret Bielema, seemed to think of the senior center. We had a brief, civil discussion, and as a result I received tweets from a few Arkansas fans eager for me to further explain my position. Understandably so. I continued to watch Arkansas games to further improve my evaluation of Swanson as well as the rest of his teammates that I was including in the preview, when all of a sudden I saw a new interaction pop up on Twitter. I paused the game, opened the Twitter tab on my laptop, and to my complete surprise, Bret Bielema had seen the tweet, looked at my Twitter page and sent a response. Without quoting it directly, he essentially insinuated that because I was a “former” draft analyst at the web site NFL Draft Monsters (where I cut my teeth in my coverage of the NFL Draft) my opinion should not be trusted, and that his evaluation of his center was correct. I was not offended by this, rather I enjoyed the confrontation and another insinuation that I simply didn’t know what I was talking about. I thrive in those situations as Alex Holmes and his family found out when they attacked my credibility as it pertained to my evaluation of his brother, Khaled Holmes, after I projected him as a 4th round draft pick in June 2012 prior to his being drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 draft. I simply couldn’t believe that Bielema, the former head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers (whose town I was staying in for the weekend) and the new head man of an SEC football team had taken the time to look at my Twitter profile and respond to my tweet, even if it wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence in my skills as a draft analyst. I respectfully responded and, as I expected, received no response from him, but that didn’t stop a number of angry Arkansas fans from calling me a hater, looking through my past scouting reports to find guys that I had missed on, or simply telling me I had no idea what I was talking about. My phone went off with new tweets for the rest of the afternoon, as well as text messages from friends who thought it was absolutely hilarious that I had ruffled Bielema’s feathers enough to get a response out of him.

As the night wore on I went out to have some fun and get my mind off of this new Twitter interaction, and after a couple particularly specific shots at my credibility I responded to a couple of angry Arkansas fans in a less than professional manner. I didn’t swear at them, but I did use a heavy dose of sarcasm and I was less than nice to them. I was tired of being attacked, particularly since they hadn’t even gotten to read my analysis of Swanson because I hadn’t even written it yet! The next night I again went out with my friends and had fun, but unfortunately got in an argument with a Vikings fan who disagreed with my selection of David Fales in a Twitter mock draft I had been participating in. He wasn’t being very respectful, and I was pretty short on patience after my bout with the unhappy Arkansas fans the day before, so I wasn’t very respectful back. It was just another ridiculous Twitter interaction, and I was starting to get overwhelmed by the whole thing. This was capped off beautifully by gaining a number of influential followers who were beat writers or reporters in Arkansas and Kentucky following discussion of the Razorback prospects and the release of my Kentucky Wildcats prospect preview on Monday, July 29th. That same day, I was followed by Chris Smith and Trey Flowers, two very talented starting defensive ends on the Razorbacks, just days after their coach insinuated I wasn’t exactly credible. The brightest moment of all was, without a doubt, one of my all time favorite players, Alge Crumpler, following me on Twitter. Crumpler was a star tight end on the Falcons back when Mike Vick was on the team, and I have been a huge fan of his for at least the past ten years. Seeing him finally follow me on Twitter was a huge moment for me, and yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds. But later, to top it all off, I got dragged into a pissing match that a New York Post beat writer found himself in after mistakenly tweeting about the read option being a formation, rather than just a play. If you had told me on Thursday night when I went to bed that within the next four days I would be followed by all those people, tweeted at by Bielema and involved in any of those absurd arguments, I would have told you that you were crazy.  And yet…here I was.

I am telling you all of this not to try to put you to sleep, not to try to act like I am a hot shot, but to get all of this off my chest in what I consider to be a safe space on my blog. I may not be proud of this, but all of that overwhelmed me. I began to realize that I couldn’t just tweet whatever I wanted without ever having to face the consequences of the things or people I was tweeting about seeing my thoughts. I finally understood that I had to be more professional on Twitter, and though I had learned those lessons previously, I had never learned them as intensely as I had this particular weekend. And finally, I am telling you this because this is the context that I needed to paint for you so that I could prove to you that in some miniscule, fraction of a way, I think I understand how Johnny Manziel feels.

I have spent thousands of words trying to explain why I think I understand how Manziel feels, and yet even as I type it that sounds ridiculous to me, as I’m sure it sounds just as ridiculous to all of you. Yet I still believe it anyway. I have not felt the pressure he has, nor have I been attacked the way he has been, but on a microscopic level I have experienced a small fraction of what he has. I have let my frustrations get the better of me after reading too many negative tweets, I have lashed out at people who I felt have criticized me unfairly, and I have tried to get away from it all by surrounding myself with trusted friends who, as much as I want them to, didn’t understand what I was going through. Doesn’t that sound, just a little bit, like what Manziel is dealing with?

I have spent a lot of time trying to legitimize my claim that I get where Manziel is coming from, but now it’s time to delve deeper into what he is dealing with. It is clear to me that Manziel has stumbled into this fame without knowing exactly what to do with it, and before he knew it, partially because he was barred from interacting with the media per Kevin Sumlin’s coaching policy, Johnny Football took off and no one got to know the man behind the mask. I see people criticizing his maturity, lambasting him for poor decision making, and shredding him for how he carries himself. I see people call him cocky, arrogant, spoiled, and various other adjectives. But how many of you reading this had your life figured out at 20 years old? How many of you were vastly more mature than Manziel is at the ripe old age of 20? I certainly wasn’t. I might have thought I was at the time, but I like to think I’m smart enough now to realize that I wasn’t. I made mistakes. I screwed up. But most importantly, I learned from it. I can’t speak to whether Manziel is learning from it or not, but for his sake I hope he is. And if he hasn’t yet, I have faith that as he gets older and hopefully wiser that he will.

So is Johnny Manziel just a kid too immature for the fame he has stumbled into? Or is he a metaphor for all of college football and our society in general? We have this very talented 20 year old kid who we should be cherishing for his mesmerizing play on the football field, yet all we ever talk about is him going to courtside basketball games, going to fraternity parties, putting up pictures on instagram or tweeting things he should probably keep to himself. He is making Texas A&M and the NCAA millions of dollars, he helped Kevin Sumlin get a $1 million raise, and Texas A&M is building a new stadium, yet all Manziel has gotten out of the deal is largely unwanted limelight and near constant attacks on the content of his character. Not that he needs the money, but he is clearly a precious product on the field, yet he benefits from his performances much less than those running the show around him. He is such a bright light on the field, yet all the attention he receives off of it threatens to smother that light until it burns out. As a society and as a collective media shouldn’t we at least consider giving him a break?

Maybe it’s not fair to think that someone who has achieved so much at such a young age should even have a chance for, much less deserve, a break like that. But the more I hear about Manziel the more I keep thinking back to Ryan Leaf. Leaf was considered arrogant to a point that people disliked him, he was consistently getting in trouble off the field, and after he retired a complete disappointment he was indicted on burglary and controlled-substance charges in Texas in May of 2009. In March of 2012 he was arrested on burglary, theft and drug charges in his home town of Great Falls, Montana. Then, four days later, he was arrested again on burglary, theft and two counts of criminal possession of dangerous drugs. He was sentenced to seven years in custody of the Montana Department of Corrections, but he continued to cause trouble, including threatening a staff member and violating the conditions of his drug treatment placement. He was clearly a very troubled young man, and he never got his life together. As a result, he ended up in jail. Can’t you say similar things about Jamarcus Russell? Or Maurice Clarett?

Yes, they brought this on themselves, and Manziel has brought this on himself as well, but even in spite of all he has accomplished, all the fame he “enjoys” every day, and all the money he could potentially make, I feel bad for him. He clearly doesn’t want all of this attention if you ask me. I think he wants to be a normal college kid, and I think he wants to be able to have fun and play football. But his immense success has taken that away from him, and that’s something that is hard for people to understand. They see him win games and they see him partying and think “wow, that kid has it all” but I think he parties to try to escape his own celebrity, or to at least try to wrangle it.  I think that way because I think that is exactly what I would do if I was in his shoes. The world is obsessed with “Johnny Football” the electrifying athlete who beat Alabama as a freshman, was the 5th player to ever pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more in the same season, and the only freshman to ever win the Heisman trophy in the history of the award. But they do not know Johnny Manziel the person, they only know some of the infamous things he has done off the field while he tries to escape or hide from the insatiable demand for updates on his whereabouts or activities from any news outlet you can think of. I would bet you $1,000 that all Manziel wants right now is some time to himself with his friends, with his family, without having to worry about someone taking a picture of him having fun, and without having to worry about being swarmed by strangers trying to catch a glimpse of his greatness. It’s hard to explain, and even harder for a normal person to understand, but I think that sometimes when you want something so bad for so long and you finally stumble into it you realize that it isn’t exactly what you thought it would be and it’s harder to control than you ever could have imagined. I think Manziel is finding that out right now.

It is for that reason that I am hoping and begging all of you to collectively give Manziel a break. Will that actually happen? No, it almost certainly won’t. But amidst all the overzealous analysis of his character without ever having spoken a word to him, amidst all of the criticism of how he carries himself off the field, and amidst all of the constant discussion about him and his future I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least voice my opinion on the matter and say that I am worried about him. I am worried that as the attention he garners from the media continues to intensify it will push him closer and closer to the edge of the cliff, and I don’t know what is waiting for him if he falls off of it. Drugs? Alcoholism? Jail time? Death? I have no idea what it could be, but I know I am not alone in worrying about him now that I have read Thompson’s article, which involves his parents openly agonizing about what will happen to him if he doesn’t mature and if this pressure doesn’t let up. I don’t want to find out what happens to him either, so I am hoping that Manziel finds a way to block out the pressure, live his life, and mature. I’m only 23 years old and I can’t imagine the pressure he is under, and I can see minute similarities between him and myself aside from the major difference in athletic ability and fame. I still have a lot of growing up to do, and so does Manziel, especially because he is three years younger than I am. If I was in his position I would want people to cut me some slack, and even though from a NFL Draft perspective he is raising a lot of red flags, the last thing I am thinking about right now is his NFL Draft stock. I am more worried about him as a person, and if he can’t find a way to cope with all of this pressure I think he is going to crack like Ryan Leaf did, although perhaps not in the same exact manner.

When he officially declares for the NFL Draft we will cross that bridge and discuss his draft stock, but for now I’d rather just appreciate all of the talent he has and marvel at what he can do on the football field. Shouldn’t we enjoy what we have in Manziel before he is gone? And more importantly, shouldn’t we focus on the positives and try to give him the benefit of the doubt for some of his shortcomings? Wouldn’t you want someone, or everyone, to do that for you if you were in his position? Haven’t people given you second chances in life, looked past any of your shortcomings, and given you the benefit of the doubt? I know I have, and I still believe in the golden rule that you should treat others the way you want to be treated. So tell me, are you treating Manziel the way you would want to be treated if you were walking a mile in his shoes? If you aren’t, maybe you should reevaluate how you perceive his situation. Like most things, it’s not as black and white as “he’s a hero” or “he’s a villain.” He is just Johnny Manziel, and he deserves a break.

Top Seniors:

1-      Tajh Boyd, Clemson- Boyd really impressed me with his growth as a junior and had one of his best games in the bowl game against LSU. DeAndre Hopkins helped take over that game, but Boyd’s progression makes me think he will continue to improve as a senior. I’ve made this mistake before on Jake Locker, but I have high hopes for Boyd.

2-      David Fales, San Jose State- Thanks to Ben Allbright, Fales became a very popular name amongst NFL Draft analysts, particularly on Twitter. The hashtag #EpicFales may be one of the greatest hashtags of all time. Regardless, Fales has a NFL arm and really impressed me in the limited time I was able to watch him. He is not without flaws, but he’s definitely one of my top 5 QB’s even considering juniors.

3-      Jeff Matthews, Cornell- My good friend Emory Hunt turned me on to Matthews months ago and I have to say I was very impressed with what I saw. He’s got a strong arm, he’s accurate, and he’s definitely going to become more and more popular as the process goes on. Emory pointed out that he reminds him of Matt Ryan and I definitely see the similarities.

4-      Derek Carr, Fresno State- Carr has a very talented arm, not unlike his older brother David, but he worried me with how he handled pressure and he obviously struggled a lot while Margus Hunt terrorized him in Fresno State’s bowl game. He’s got another full year to show he can improve, and his natural talent means he’s in my top 5 QB’s, but I want to see him handle pressure better.

5-      Bryn Renner, North Carolina- This might be me showing my UNC fandom, but I really think Renner is a quality quarterback prospect. He certainly isn’t perfect, and he had a great season in a wide open offense last year, but he has experience in different styles of offense, a strong arm, and I think he’s an effective leader. I think he will open some eyes as a senior.

6-      Aaron Murray, Georgia- If I expect McCarron to be the most scrutinized quarterback in this class, I think Murray is going to be a close second. He has been deemed as a player who can’t win the big game, and he’s going to have a tough time changing everyone’s minds as a senior. I’m glad he came back because I still think he has room to improve, but there’s a stigma about him that is going to be hard to shake. I do think he is a NFL caliber starter though, but he’s definitely not a franchise caliber guy in my opinion.

7-      A.J. McCarron, Alabama- I can already tell McCarron is going to be a divisive prospect. Some are going to see a “winner” that has been a key cog to Alabama’s title runs and others are going to cite his terrific supporting cast (skill position players, offensive line, and defense) and claim he is not much more than a game manager. I certainly don’t think he’s an elite prospect and his arm strength leaves something to be desired, but I don’t think he’s been coasting on the talent of Alabama’s roster either. I think he has some starter upside, but I am excited to see how his 2013 tape looks. He will certainly be one of the most highly scrutinized quarterbacks in this class.

8-      Tyler Russell, Mississippi State- I thought Russell flashed upside when he was still splitting time as a sophomore and in his last full season as a starter he flashed a lot of upside but showed that he still had a lot of room left to grow. He had a pretty horrendous bowl game and clearly needs to work on some things, but he has all the size and arm strength you could want in a quarterback. He may never live up to the expectations I have for him, but I’m willing to be patient and see if he can progress like I believe he is capable of.

9-      Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech- Thomas is another guy I really thought would progress last year but unfortunately he regressed and was essentially a massive disappointment considering some of the hype he was getting in the pre-season. He has all the size and arm strength you could ever dream of, but he was maddeningly inconsistent with his accuracy and decision making and clearly has a ton of growing left to do. I continue to hear great things about his work ethic so I believe he can still improve, I just don’t know if he will ever put it all together.

10-   Zach Mettenberger, LSU- Mettenberger was getting a lot of hype coming into the season but he was underwhelming during his first season as a starter. He’s got an intriguing combination of size and arm strength but he has to put it all together this year. He has starter upside, but he isn’t there yet.

11-   Drew Allen, Syracuse- I might be one of the few people that prefers Drew Allen to the Belldozer, but I do. I think Allen is going to win the Syracuse starting job and show that he has NFL talent at the quarterback position. This is probably higher than anyone else will have him ranked, but I am convinced Allen has starter upside at the next level.

12-   Stephen Morris, Miami- I was one of the people advocating for Morris to start over Jacory Harris during Harris’ senior year and I still think he’s the better quarterback. He’s a quality athlete with a strong arm, but his accuracy wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked to see as a junior. Miami has been through a lot the last couple of years, so I’m excited to see if Morris can end his career on a high note this season.

13-   James Franklin, Missouri- Franklin is an intriguing guy thanks to his size, arm strength and athleticism, but like many of these quarterbacks he has to put it all together and show a mastery of the position as a senior. I personally don’t foresee him being a NFL starter, but he definitely has that upside if he can show more progression as a senior.

14-   Keith Price, Washington- At this time last year Price was coming off of a masterful performance in Washington’s bowl game against Baylor’s hapless defense. This year? He is coming off of a disappointing junior year that left a lot of people underwhelmed. He doesn’t have the arm strength I thought he had, his decision making was inconsistent, and he left a lot to be desired as a junior. I’m hoping he can reverse field as a senior, but I’m not holding my breath.

15-   Corey Robinson, Troy- I don’t think Robinson is going to be in very many top 15 quarterback rankings coming into the season, but I saw a talented quarterback when I watched him as a freshman and I still believe he can play at the next level. He may be undersized, but he has a NFL arm and I am excited to see if he can prove that as a senior.

Top Juniors:

1-      Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville- Bridgewater put on a show as a sophomore last year and made a believer out of me. I think he has all the arm talent, athleticism, toughness and intangibles to be a stud quarterback in the NFL. It remains to be seen how he will do this upcoming season, but I definitely have high expectations for him.

2-      Brett Smith, Wyoming- Smith is another player Allbright pointed out to me last year. I haven’t seen as much of him as I’d like, but what I have seen was very intriguing.

3-      Blake Bortles, Central Florida- I haven’t watched much of Bortles, but what I have seen was intriguing. It was his first full season as a starter so I look forward to reviewing some of those games but also to seeing how he does as a junior and as a starter with more experience.

4-      Braxton Miller, Ohio State- I am not sold on Miller as a NFL QB yet, but he made some strides as a sophomore and he’s too intriguing of a playmaker to leave him off this list entirely. He’s got a lot of upside, it’s just a question of whether he can ever become as good of a pure passer as he is as a runner.

5-      Garrett Grayson, Colorado State- Grayson is a player I think has a lot of upside. He’s definitely flying under the radar, but I expect that he will be the starter for Colorado State and prior to his collarbone injury last year he really showed me something. He looks like he has a NFL arm, it’s just a question of whether he can keep the starting job, stay healthy, and put together some good film.

Top Sophomores:

1-      Kevin Hogan, Stanford- Hogan has future 1st round pick written all over him. He’s got the size, the arm strength (though his deep ball could use some work), athleticism and high football IQ I look for in a QB. He really impressed me when he took over for Josh Nunes, and he is embracing his role as a leader on Stanford and from what I’ve read seems to have a strong hold on Stanford’s complex offense. I think he’s going to be great this year and while he is eligible I expect him to come out after his junior season, not after his redshirt sophomore year.

2-      Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M- I know a lot of people will be surprised that I have anyone ranked over Manziel, but as far as the NFL is concerned I think Hogan is the superior prospect at this point. There’s no denying Manziel’s uncanny feel for the game, shocking athleticism and knack for game-changing plays, but he still has a long way to go before he is a “surgeon” rather than a butcher as a quarterback as Trent Dilfer would say. The upside is there, but he’s still learning.