If you need an example of why the so-called experts often whiff on national signing day, look no further than Kerrville Tivy’s Johnny Manziel. It’s only been three years since the good folks at Rivals listed Manziel as a "three-star" recruit as a dual-threat quarterback.
They weren’t alone in that assessment, but they seem like a pretty easy target. Mack Brown had at least one assistant coach begging him to offer Manziel as a quarterback, but he was always allergic to the "three-star" guys. Manziel made an oral commitment to Oregon about the same time another top-rated quarterback, Marcus Mariota, did the same.
I’ve read at least one account where former Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman seems to take a lot of the credit for Manziel changing his mind. But the true story is that Sherman’s quarterbacks coach Tom Rossley was sold on Manziel from the start and finally convinced Sherman to offer him a scholarship. Rossley was fired along with Sherman after the 2011 season, but surely the Aggies can come up with some way to honor the man who delivered the greatest college football player in school history.
I’m far from certain that Sherman would’ve chosen Manziel as his starter had he been retained following that 6-6 campaign in 2011. His replacement, Kevin Sumlin, didn’t recruit Manziel as a quarterback at Houston but he had the good sense to name him as the starter at Texas A&M heading into 2012. Sumlin now owns one of the most lucrative (and airtight) contracts in the country. Manziel made his head coach and university a lot of money, so it’s fitting that he’s on the verge of cashing in himself.
And once that happens this May via the NFL draft, Manziel would be wise to send an expensive gift to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Drew Brees had already proven that a shorter quarterback can have success in the league, but Wilson’s skills were more comparable to Manziel’s. He was selected in the third round by the Seahawks because they thought he had immense value. And he won the starting job over veteran Matt Flynn in 2012 despite Flynn’s three-year, $26 million contract with $10 million in guaranteed money. Wilson was the 75th pick overall in that 2012 draft. He will someday sign a $100 million contract, but for now he continues to be one of the greatest bargains in professional sports.
Wilson’s overnight success should give teams more of a comfort level with Manziel. And it’s hard to imagine the Houston Texans not selecting Manziel No. 1 overall. Whichever team selects Manziel will automatically become the most intriguing to watch in the league. That’s the sort of impact that Manziel will have on a franchise. And with Houston being home to thousands of Aggie alums, Texans owner Bob McNair will feel immense pressure to select Manziel.
I don’t believe Manziel is anywhere close to Wilson from a maturity standpoint, and that’s something the Texans have to consider. But in fairness to Manziel, not too many quarterbacks enter the league with Wilson’s remarkable poise. I asked Wilson last week if Manziel was going to owe him a bonus when he’s selected in the first round in May. Wilson just laughed and said he believes that Manziel will have a lot of success in the league. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll also weighed in on the issue before the Super Bowl.
"It’s at least turned some heads. For the other guys that have played before him that didn’t quite get the chance for that same kind of a stigma, he has opened up the doors," Carroll said of Wilson. "It’s exciting to see that that has happened because there are a lot of marvelous athletes (that) we’re seeing right now. Johnny’s a great example of an incredible athlete that might not have been considered as highly now that Russell has had the success."
To be clear, Manziel has done a lot of this on his own. He simply needed someone like Rossley to put his neck on the line for him in College Station. But Wilson has opened some doors by breaking down some of the barriers for quarterbacks who might be a shade under six feet.
It’s rare to see a player have such a major impact on the mysterious world of scouting. But Wilson’s success has caused scouts to not obsess as much about measurables at the quarterback position.
Wilson’s size caused him to go in the third round. His success will likely have a direct impact on Manziel going No. 1 overall in the draft.
Surely that warrants at least a nice thank you note from Johnny.