The Houston Texans hold the No. 1 pick and need a quarterback. A billboard in Houston — “Keep Johnny Football in Texas” — makes it clear which quarterback Texans fans want.
Johnny Manziel played his college ball only 98 miles from Reliant Stadium, making his name just down Highway 6 at Texas A&M. But he stands only 5' 11"and carries some baggage with him.
The Texans face a tough decision.
Or do they?
“The Texans are crazy if they don’t draft Johnny Manziel,” a scout from an AFC team said during Manziel’s pro day.
Manziel, 21, dazzled college football for two years. He also dazzled NFL scouts, many of whom are big fans of his game.
“He has magic,” former Colts general manager Bill Polian says. “There’s no two ways about it. And it’s hard to find players who have magic. They win games.”
Some compare Manziel to Fran Tarkenton. Former 49ers receiver Jerry Rice sees Steve Young when he watches Manziel.
But Manziel brings more pizzazz, and he’s already a bona fide star. He has established friendships with LeBron James and rapper Drake, received an unsolicited text from Katie Perry, dates a model and attracted former President George H.W. and Barbara Bush to his pro day.
Manziel selected Maverick Carter’s LRMR management firm to represent his marketing interests, which are expected to be significant. He hasn’t played a down in the NFL, yet Nike already sells the Johnny Manziel Pro Day Collection, and McDonald’s released a commercial with Manziel as James’ sidekick.
“He’s special. I’m not saying he’ll become a Hall of Famer, but I’m telling you right now, he could change the game.”
Manziel, who has warned the Texans that passing on him would be the “worst decision they’ve ever made,” evokes memories of Joe Namath with his superstar aura.
“He’s a colorful, confident guy,” Texans general manager Rick Smith says of Manziel. “You’ve got to appreciate that about him.”
Love him or not, Manziel is a draw.
His catchy nickname — Johnny Football, which his corporation, JMAN2 Enterprises LLC, seeks to trademark — has become his identity.
“I’ve been at this a long time, and I’ve never seen anyone like him,” an assistant coach for an AFC team says. “He’s special. I’m not saying he’ll become a Hall of Famer, but I’m telling you right now, he could change the game.”
Manziel will have to win, though, to sustain the momentum at the next level. He went 20–6 at A&M, passing for 7,820 yards and 63 touchdowns while running for 2,169 yards and 30 touchdowns in becoming perhaps the most entertaining, if not the best, player in college football history.
“He’s been a great player for a long time,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith says. “The guy’s a football player. He can do it all. … There are a lot of things to like about him.”
Not everyone is on Manziel’s bandwagon. Critics bring up his arm strength, his durability, his off-field distractions. But he has plenty of believers among NFL executives. Scouts, for the most part, love his competitiveness, his passion and his play-making abilities.
That’s the reason Manziel expects to become only the third quarterback standing 6'1" or shorter drafted in the first round in the modern era, joining Rex Grossman and Michael Vick.
“He’s a fantastic playmaker,” Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson says. “You can tell the charisma that he has with the interaction with his own guys. He’s got a very infectious personality as well.”
The only question remaining is: Where will Manziel go?
—by Charean Williams