Durability is the key for Manziel’s NFL success

So much of the talk about Johnny Manziel leading up to the NFL draft has been about his ability on the field and his maturity off it. That’s missing the biggest question mark about Manziel heading into the draft: his chances of staying on the field.

Manziel has the ability. That much has been proven in his play at Texas A&M and in pre-draft workouts. The off-field stuff seems to be a thing of the past, and even when Manziel was making non-football headlines, it never seemed to affect his team.

What could have affected Texas A&M last season was Manziel’s health. He suffered a shoulder injury against Auburn, was throwing with a sore hand against LSU and had his knee buckle against Ole Miss.

Manziel never missed a game because of those injuries, but you have to wonder how much better he could have been if 100 percent healthy.

And even those injuries – the ones we know about – aren’t proof that Manziel is injury prone. By the end of the season, every football player is dealing with nagging aches and sore joints.

However, Manziel’s lack of size combined with his playing style do add up to a considerable risk for the NFL team that drafts him.

Manziel measured out at 5-11 and 3/4 at the draft combine. He was a healthy 207 pounds so he’s not frail by any means, but he’s also a lot lighter than the 300-pounders who will be chasing him.

The focus on Manziel’s size has been on his ability to see downfield, but that’s never been a problem for him. Even tall quarterbacks have to adjust to find passing lanes.

The issue with Manziel’s size is whether he his body can stand up to an NFL-level pounding – and for 16 games a season, not 12. Bigger, faster players deliver harder hits, and there are many more of these bigger, faster players at the NFL level.

Small guys get hurt in the NFL. And running quarterbacks especially get hurt. It’s just a matter of physics with the huge bodies flying around.

Michael Vick, for all his amazing athletic ability, has struggled to stay healthy his entire career. Robert Griffin III, the latest running QB phenom, has also been plagued by injury.

Russell Wilson, the running quarterback who most resembles Manziel in size and ability, has avoided injury so far. However, Wilson plays in a conservative, ball-control offense that lets its outstanding defense do much of the heavy lifting.

It’s doubtful Manziel will get drafted by a team with a dominating defense. It’s even less likely that Manziel will be able to keep himself from showing off his dazzling scrambling ability.

If Manziel runs the way he did in college, he’s going to get injured. It will happen. It happens to all quarterbacks, running QBs and otherwise, who expose themselves to too many hits.

Well, with the possible exception of Ben Roethlisberger, but he’s 6-5, 240.

It’s hard to imagine the hyper-competitive Manziel suppressing his running and playmaking instincts, but that’s what he will have to do to survive in the NFL. He will have to use his ability to extend plays and then either distribute the ball or get out of bounds. No more downfield romps.

Otherwise, Manziel could find himself sidelined as often as RG-III and Vick have been. For teams looking to draft Manziel, what’s the use of owning a Ferrari if it’s constantly in the repair shop?

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire