Count New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees among those sold on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's ability to start in the NFL. And being roughly the same size as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, he should know as well as anyone whether the smallish third-year sophomore can handle a size disadvantage.
"Yeah, absolutely," Brees told foxsports.com when asked if Manziel could be a starter at the NFL level.
The elusive Manziel has done far less running this season than last, when he burst onto the college football season with an SEC record 5,116 total yards -- 1,410 of them rushing -- as a freshman. This year, he's focused more on his development as a passer and has more impressive numbers as a result. Manziel is completing 73 percent of his passes this year, the only starter in the league above 70, and also leads the SEC in passing yards per game (331), touchdown passes (31) and pass efficiency rating (186.9).
"He is a heck of a player," Brees said. "He's fun to watch. He makes all kinds of plays. He's got all the playmaking ability to be a great player. There are] guys like [Manziel] in this league. [Russell Wilson and his ability to run the football and extend plays outside the pocket and throw the ball down the field. Intermediate [routes]. I mean, he can do it all."
Whether Manziel can stay healthy is another matter. While he and Brees are of similar stature, they're not of similar style. Brees is a solid athlete but primarily a pocket passer who has enjoyed, for the most part, a very healthy NFL career. Manziel is a dynamic athlete whose scrambling tendencies are instinctual, even though he has scrambled to throw more than run this season. The injury track record for NFL quarterbacks who run with more frequency isn't a pretty one.
For Brees, Manziel can be a starter. But for the NFL clubs that agree, the greater question may be whether he can start 16 games a year.