Johnny Manziel yelled "Boom" after firing a 60-yard bomb to Mike Evans to cap an epic pro-day workout Thursday, and his enthusiastic outburst symbolizes the hammer that he might have dropped on the rest of the 2014 QB class with his spectacular showing in front a large contingent of NFL general managers, coaches and scouts.
Manziel was terrific, completing 61 of 64 throws that showcased his tremendous talent as an athletic playmaker from the pocket. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner displayed outstanding velocity and zip on his throws, while also showing exceptional touch, accuracy and ball placement on passes at intermediate and deep range. He tossed darts to receivers outside the numbers on the move, yet also delivered a number of teardrops down the field on an assortment of fades and go-routes thrown in rhythm.
Additionally, Manziel showed the ability to throw pinpoint passes on precise timing routes down the seams, which are staple passes in most NFL playbooks.
Of course, the skeptics will point out that Manziel should shine in a scripted workout designed to accentuate his strengths as a player, but I believe it's important to give him credit for tackling a workout that featured a number of difficult throws while wearing shoulder pads and a helmet. While I'm sure some will suggest it's not significantly more difficult to throw while wearing shoulder pads, I've talked to enough quarterbacks to know that the range of motion is certainly impacted by the feel of the pads. Thus, scouts were able to see Manziel's effectiveness in conditions that were far more challenging than most quarterbacks endure on their respective pro days.
From a conceptual standpoint, Manziel's workout featured a number of routes that are staples of the West Coast offense. He tossed a number of timing seams, speed-outs, short- and intermediate-crossers (flanker-drive series) and Bang-8's (skinny posts) that showcased his rhythm, timing and precision from the pocket. Manziel tossed the ball on time following three- and five-step drops, displaying a keen sense of timing with the passing game. Additionally, Manziel executed a number of play-action passes on bootlegs and semi-rollouts that highlighted his exceptional passing skills on the move. He tossed balls to receivers at every level with outstanding touch, timing and anticipation.
He was especially impressive throwing the deep ball rolling to his right or left on the move. Most quarterbacks struggle throwing the ball down the field when rolling to their weak side, but Manziel didn't show any issues throwing the ball on the run to his left. In fact, he repeatedly delivered gorgeous teardrops on vertical throws following improvised scrambles or redirections from the pocket. This is clearly one of the strengths of his game, and his quarterback coach (George Whitfield) made it a point to highlight it throughout the workout.
If I had to cite a criticism, I would point out that Manziel didn't attempt any deep throws to the boundary from the opposite hash. Evaluators want to see if quarterbacks can rifle the ball outside the numbers on deep-outs and comebacks from across the field, but Manziel only completed those passes when rolling in the direction of the throw. Thus, he didn't make those throw from maximum distance and failed to convince evaluators that he possesses A-plus arm talent.
Overall, Manziel's workout was clearly the best of the "Big Three" quarterbacks (Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Manziel) and puts him in the mix to emerge as the No. 1 prospect at the position. While his character and durability will remain a concern based on his celebrity status and unorthodox playing style, there's no doubt that he possesses the natural talent to play at a high level in the NFL. Of course, a team must be willing to tailor its offensive scheme to ideally suit his talents as a improvisational wizard, but Manziel's pro-day workout definitely erases several doubts about his ability to play and perform at the next level.
Here's a look at a couple key questions coming out of the workout:
What does it mean for Manziel's draft stock?
A pro-day workout is a small piece of the evaluation puzzle, but a spectacular performance resonates in the minds of coaches and scouts. Manziel certainly left a favorable impression on every evaluator in attendance by putting on a dazzling show that showcased his impressive talents as an athletic playmaker. Additionally, Manziel showed the energy and ultra-competitive spirit that helped him turn Texas A&M into a legitimate contender during his time with the Aggies.
From an NFL-team perspective, Manziel has to be discussed as a potential franchise player because he has shown athletic brilliance on tape as a dual-threat quarterback. He has played well against big-time competition in the SEC and shown the ability to take his game up a notch on the biggest and brightest stage. He has also shown significant improvement as a pocket passer from his redshirt freshman season to this point. Thus, it is reasonable to expect him to continue to make strides as a pro.
With several teams at the top of the board looking for franchise-caliber quarterbacks to transform the fortunes of a playoff-starved team, Manziel's spectacular workout will force all teams to reconsider his prospects as an impact starter in the league. Given the value placed on blue-chip prospects in the draft, it's very likely Manziel will be rated as a top-five prospect, regardless of position, on several boards in the league.
What does Manziel have to prove at private workouts and team visits?
Manziel must continue to convince scouts and coaches that he is mature enough to be the face of a franchise. He must exhibit the core qualities (intelligence, leadership, big-game moxie and confidence) in meetings with team personnel, while also displaying a tremendous grasp of NFL passing concepts. Teams will want to assess where he is in his development as a player to determine how steep the learning curve will be for him as a potential first-year starter.
Additionally, coaches will put Manziel through the paces on the field to see if there are any mechanical flaws that will limit his ability to function as the starting quarterback in their respective offense. While he answered some of the questions about his ability to play from under center with his remarkable pro-day performance, wily offensive coordinators will attempt to make him uncomfortable in workouts to see if he loses his fundamentals under pressure.
If Manziel can continue to dazzle as a passer in private workouts, it's going to be hard for teams in need of a quarterback to bypass his talent at the top of the draft.