BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The final college football game of 2013 is also expected to be the final college game for one of college football’s biggest superstars. Though he has still two remaining years of eligibility, Texas A&M redshirt sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel plans to declare for the 2014 NFL Draft, according to a report from NFL.com’s Gil Brandt.
Manziel might not be the only Aggie to leave College Station early. Wide receiver Mike Evans, also a redshirt sophomore and projected first-round pick, also plans to leave school with two years of remaining eligibility, according to Brandt’s report. Redshirt junior right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi could also be a candidate to leave early for the NFL and be a first-round pick if he declares.
Declarations from Manziel, Evans and Ogbuehi would likely give the Texas A&M offense four first-round picks, as senior left tackle Jake Matthews could be selected as early as the No. 2 overall selection.
Those four prospects, as well as some sleeper talent on both the Aggies (8-4) and Duke Blue Devils (10-3) should make the Chick-fil-A Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) well worth watching if you’re in front of a television on New Year’s Eve.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M, R-So. (6’1”, 210 lbs)
As soon as Johnny Manziel enters the 2014 NFL draft, he will likely become the class’ most polarizing prospect. Though he has been one of college football’s elite players over the last two seasons, winning the Heisman Trophy as a freshman and making dazzling plays seemingly every game in the past two seasons, there are many reasons why NFL scouts should be skeptical of Manziel as an NFL prospect.
Manziel could finish his two-year college career with more than 10,000 yards of total offense (he goes into Tuesday’s game with 9,534 for his career), and he has accumulated that yardage playing against many of the nation’s best defenses. He is a true dual-threat, a great athlete whose speed and quickness make him a dynamic open-field runner, while he also has the arm strength to make big throws down the field.
That said, his passing is often erratic. He is very inconsistent with his passing accuracy, and lacks consistent downfield touch especially on his deep throws.
Manziel’s greatest asset is his ability to extend and create plays under pressure. He is a dynamic scrambler who can run away from pass-rushers, often reversing field multiple times before making a throw downfield or taking off and running. That ability, however, also often gets him in trouble. He has happy feet in the pocket, and consistently tries to extend play by turning away and retreating from pressure, which can often result in greater losses of yardage. Additionally, he has a tendency to make throws back across his body or off his back foot under pressure, and can make some very questionable decisions that result in interceptions.
Manziel does not have the mechanics of a conventional NFL pocket passer, and if he turns out to be closer to 5’11” than his listed height of 6’1”, he will not have the size either. His style of play makes him overly reliant on his pass protection, and on an NFL team where might not have first-round talents at offensive tackle while going up against better defenses, that could be problematic.
Still, Manziel’s uncanny playmaking ability should not be ignored, especially considering he has done it against even the best defenses he has faced. He is a rare threat from the quarterback position to turn any play into a big play, something defenses must always account for. While his game must develop for him to have long-lasting success in the NFL, teams might just end up missing out on a special talent if they allow him to drop too far in the draft.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M, R-So. (6’5”, 225 lbs)
While Manziel’s NFL decision will get the mainstream attention, wide receiver Mike Evans is actually the better prospect among the two redshirt sophomores expected to declare. In an outstanding sophomore season in which he has caught 65 passes for 1,322 yards and 12 touchdowns, Evans has made a strong case for being the top wide receiver prospect in the 2014 draft class.
Evans has outstanding size for the wide receiver position and he uses it well. He is a physical outside receiver who has terrific body control and does a great job adjusting to and high-pointing passes in the air, then making contested catches through contact.
He might not run an impressive 40-yard dash time in pre-draft workouts, but the rest of his skill set makes up for any deficiency he has in speed. He has shown the ability to make big plays in the open field by exhibiting great field vision and bouncing off of contact. While he may some trouble separating downfield against faster, more physical NFL cornerbacks, his size, leaping ability and strength should allow him to continue to make many catches against coverage at the next level.
Evans is a willing and active blocker who can also be an asset to a team’s rushing offense in that capacity.
Evans’ route-running is still developing and he has occasional concentration drops, but his overall body of work makes him a top talent and a potential top-10 draft pick should he declare for the 2014 draft.
Jake Matthews, LT, Texas A&M, Sr. (6’5’, 305 lbs)
Rarely can a college football team have a player selected with the No. 2 overall pick and have no drop-off at that position, but Texas A&M has had that luxury this season thanks to Jake Matthews, who went from being one of the nation’s best right tackles in his first three seasons to one of the nation’s best left tackles this season.
As a result of his continued success, Matthews is the early favorite to follow in Luke Joeckel’s footsteps as this year’s No. 2 overall selection.
Considered by some to be the best overall prospect in the 2014 draft class, Matthews has just about everything scouts covet in an NFL offensive tackle. He has outstanding feet for an offensive lineman, both in his quickness and technically. He has great length, good size and has the physical power to drive opponents off the line of scrimmage.
Whether pass protecting or run blocking, Matthews can quickly slide between defenders to pick up multiple blocks without compromising his positioning or leverage. He does a great job of kick-sliding outside to shield the pocket as a pass blocker, while he uses his quickness off the line of scrimmage to pick up lead blocks at the second level as a run blocker.
An NFL team might look for Matthews to add some muscle and become stronger, and he should go after pass-rushers more consistently rather than retreating and catching them. That said, there are no significant flaws with Matthews’ game, and he projects as not only the 2014 draft’s safest pick but also one of its most likely All-Pros.
His value is increased by his positional versatility, as a team can feel comfortable with Matthews starting out on either side of the line with his experience at both positions.
See page 2 for a look at Ogbuehi and more prospects to watch on New Year’s Eve night.