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Vikings, Buccaneers front-runners to draft Johnny Manziel

  • By Andy Fenelon NFL.com
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With the exception of possibly the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts, it seems Johnny Manziel has been linked to just about every NFL team.

So where will Johnny Football ultimately land? It's still anyone's guess. Or as one former NFL exec told me: "If anyone says they know where Johnny Manziel will go, get their head examined."

Less than two weeks from the start of the draft, we try to make sense of it all, separating truth from rumor, and handicapping the race:

Front-runners (45 percent chance)

Vikings: We aren't buying Mike Zimmer's contention that there are plenty of red flags with Manziel, or at least enough to scare the Vikings off. In fact, the new Vikings coach came off as disingenuous in his remarks after Manziel's pro day, which he called a "sideshow." That he went on a radio show to make the comments casts even more doubt on his sincerity. Yeah, we know, Zimmer is a defensive guy, but as a defensive guy, he knows what a nightmare it would be to game-plan for an Adrian Peterson-Manziel tandem. Pick No. 8 might be the only obstacle to making this marriage happen; a trade-up might be in order.

Buccaneers: Tampa Bay, which picks just ahead of Minnesota at No. 7, has been regularly linked to Manziel's Texas A&M teammate, WR Mike Evans, which makes a ton of sense. But the Buccaneers reportedly have Manziel on the short list of players in consideration for their first-round pick. It also makes sense since the Bucs have a system in place (solid defense and running game) that could support a player like Manziel. Josh McCown can't be looked at as a long-term solution, and with a new regime, the jury is still very much out on second-year man Mike Glennon.

Not far behind (30 percent)

Browns: It appears the Browns are getting more comfortable with the off-the-field Manziel, but is he the guy who can lead them to the top of a defensive-driven division? It seemed more likely Manziel would end up in Cleveland with the old regime. The new one failed to show up at his pro day, which is perplexing; if you were going to draft someone as controversial as Manziel, wouldn't you want to spend as much time as possible with him and see him in every situation? We believe the interest is there, but probably not at any expense. Pick No. 4 could be a reach, and he'll likely be gone when Cleveland is due to pick again at No. 26.

Jaguars: NFL Media analyst Charles Davis sees Jacksonville as an ideal fit for Manziel. As the former defensive coordinator in Seattle, Gus Bradley has seen what can happen when you pair a mobile quarterback with a top defense. The Jaguars' defense is coming together, thanks to a free-agency binge along the line. Chad Henne is not the long-term answer, and probably not a very good short-term solution either. Manziel would provide this moribund franchise life, and help build excitement and season-ticket sales.

Rams: There's no doubt about the Rams' interest in Manziel, but pick No. 2 is probably too rich, and No. 13 might not be high enough to get it done. What's conceivable is the Rams trading down a few spots from No. 2, picking up extra draft selections, taking Manziel, and putting Sam Bradford on the trading block. You could argue it might be a little early to give up on Bradford, but he has had a difficult time staying healthy, and Manziel would offer an exciting, new start.

Stars would have to align (15 percent)

Raiders: Manziel seems like an Al Davis type of pick, not necessarily a Reggie McKenzie one, although McKenzie saw firsthand in Green Bay what Brett Favre -- a player many have compared to Manziel -- did for a struggling franchise. The Raiders aren't tied to Matt Schaub long term (his deal is essentially a one-year commitment), so spending the No. 5 pick on Manziel wouldn't be a shocker. He was described as a "good kid, humble," when he visited earlier this month. Who knows what that means. Probably nothing.

Cowboys: Jerry Jones is reportedly interested in keeping Manziel in-state, but the Cowboys owner has always been about winning now. We're not sure how picking Manziel helps them win immediately. While Tony Romo has had his struggles, especially in the postseason, he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. On the other hand, he is 34 years old and the clock is ticking on his career ... and Jerry's. However, getting Manziel to drop to No. 16, where the Cowboys pick, is problematic, and trading up might be prohibitive, as much as we'd like to see this happen.

Texans: As of today, they're the only team which controls its Manziel destiny. But taking Manziel over Jadeveon Clowney or trading back and acquiring additional picks seems like a stretch. Manziel doesn't fit the type of quarterback Bill O'Brien has worked with in the past, and the memory of David Carr is still fresh in the mind of owner Bob McNair, who recently admitted he should have let Carr sit behind a veteran QB at the outset of his career. Taking a quarterback with the top pick and sitting him is not going to play well in a city that believes its local football team is one or two impact players away from competing for a division crown. Especially if the quarterback playing ahead of the rookie is Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum or T.J. Yates. It feels like this team is willing to wait until the top of the second round for a player like Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo.

2014 NFL Draft Winds
College Football 24/7 takes a look at the rumors connecting draft prospects with NFL teams leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft.

» AFC East | North | South | West
» NFC East | North | South | West

More:
» Tracking teams' interest in top prospects

Long shots (7 percent)

Titans: Ken Whisenhunt is open to the idea of bringing in a quarterback to replace Jake Locker, though the team still would like to see what its former first-rounder can do in a full season of health. Clearly, the Titans aren't married to Locker, but the quarterback of choice for them appears to be Derek Carr, not Manziel, even if both were available at pick No. 11. Carr is a much better fit for what Whisenhunt wants to do in Tennessee.

Eagles: Seems like the Manziel-to-Eagles rumors have been out there for a long time, or is it because former Oregon coach Chip Kelly almost signed Manziel out of high school? Anyway, Manziel would be a perfect fit for the Eagles, but that might be the only thing going for this potential marriage. Philadelphia owns the No. 22 pick in the first round, and with very little draft-choice ammunition, the chances of the Eagles moving up are slim. And even if they could, would they throw away picks with Nick Foles already on the roster?

Cardinals: It's interesting to listen to Bruce Arians talk about Manziel. The Cardinals coach said at the NFL Scouting Combine that Manziel's height poses a "question mark." Arians is a straight shooter, so we'll take him at face value. Even though the Cardinals need to address the quarterback position, this draft doesn't have to be the place, especially in the picked-over latter part of the first round.

Jets: The Jets would have to admit that taking Geno Smith was a mistake last year, and that's not likely to happen with Manziel or any other quarterback in the first round. But if Manziel slipped and was still on the board at No. 18 ...

Longer shot (2 percent)

Patriots: Bill Belichick brought Manziel in for a visit, but it doesn't mean much. Belichick likes to play games and get information from any source possible. If that means bringing in a guy he has no shot at drafting, so be it. The Patriots own the 29th pick in the first round; don't expect the guy notorious for trading back in drafts to suddenly move forward for Tom Brady's eventual replacement.

Rest of the field (1 percent)

Follow Andy Fenelon on Twitter @Andy_Fenelon.

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