It’s that time of the year again; as New York gears up for the NFL’s annual draft, fans across the world will start to ask themselves, ‘is this year the year?’ For 31 fan bases, the pain of last year can be forgotten and hope can once again return.
With the draft being the biggest event in the off-season calendar, it signifies the start of a new season, even a new era for some teams as each franchise will take it in turn to select the cream of College football’s crop. Believe it or not, two or three wrong decisions over the course of the next three days can set a franchise back just as many years, so the gravity of the event is rarely understated.
Every year emerges one hot prospect destined for stardom and more often than not this is a quarterback. However this year, there is no Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning, there is instead Johnny “Football” Manziel, one of the most polarizing prospects since Tim Tebow.
Manziel, a quarterback from Texas A&M University, and winner of the Heisman Trophy (college football’s top individual award), is a player known for his sporting heroics and Hollywood partying.
With nearly 8,000 yards thrown in two years at A&M, as well as becoming only the fifth player in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season, Manziel is widely believed to be one of the most athletically gifted quarterbacks in this year’s draft class.
His fluent and natural style of play has turned him into one of the most dynamic college quarterbacks and his ability to keep a drive alive makes him notoriously hard to beat.
As the NFL gradually moves towards using a more versatile form of quarterback, one who can run and throw, Manziel has joined the draft at the perfect time. Some of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks be it Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson have enjoyed much success in pistol run offences.
Exactly how Johnny Football plays may also be his downfall. The 21-year-old's “razzle dazzle” style is not what every team looks for in a quarterback. He’s not a traditional pocket passer, something that is generally seen as a safer draft option, and he’s small for a quarterback at six-foot.
Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon explained in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio last month that Manziel was an exciting player but also a risk taker.
Moon said: “I just think in the NFL, some of those things, he’s going to have to take out of his game. He just won’t be able to get away with some of those things that he did in college football, especially taking on people, being as physical as he likes to play the game. I don’t think you can do that in the NFL or you won’t be available for your football team.”
Along with questions regarding his style of play, Johnny Football has also gained a notorious reputation for his behaviour away from the sport.
In June 2012, Manziel was arrested following a “mutual” fight with a 47-year-old man and in August 2013 he was investigated for allegedly receiving payments for signing autographs; something collegiate players can be suspended for doing.
Manziel has often been associated with over partying and living a glamorous Hollywood lifestyle despite not yet having joined the NFL. He has also become renowned for his friendship with celebrities such as rapper Drake and NBA star LeBron James.
Manziel’s general demeanour away from football has left questions for teams about whether his personality will become more of a liability than an asset and his increasing fame and Namath like persona is not to every teams liking.
Despite this, the Johnny Football spark is something some teams will be looking to introduce. For several franchises be it Cleveland, Jacksonville or Oakland; teams absent from the playoffs for years on end, a Johnny Football is exactly what they need, a player who can re-energize and bring confidence back into a team, something Manziel doesn’t seem to be short of.
Where Manziel eventually ends up is still one of the most difficult questions being asked in the NFL. Rumours circling the league have him going number one overall as well as falling out of the first round altogether and skipped by every team at the first chance they get.
What will be a given however is that the attention towards Johnny Football’s career is likely to grow whatever the outcome on Thursday.
The NFL Draft, Live on Sky Sports 1 on Friday 12:00AM