INDIANAPOLIS — One by one, executives and coaches hopped on large platforms, stood behind podiums and fielded questions of all sorts at the NFL Combine on Friday.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Most could not escape without a question or five about Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, a man who made more plays (and headlines) than most college players ever dream of during his two-year run as the Aggies’ starter.
NFL men are not especially prone to candor during these sessions, but they are men just the same. They make mistakes, and on this day, it was Denver Broncos general manager John Elway who committed a faux pas by inadvertently referring to Johnny Football’s size, one one of the major questions surrounding Manziel’s viability as a high first-round pick.
“I think he’s a great little player,” Elway said, before quickly correcting himself with a laugh. “I don’t (mean) little; I shouldn’t say that.”
Yet, while Elway continued by praising Manziel’s overall talent and competitiveness, the fact remains that he checked in at 5 feet 11 3/4 and 207 pounds on Friday, which is far from ideal for NFL quarterbacks but apparently not much of a concern for Manziel.
“I feel like I play like I’m 10 feet tall,” Manziel said. “A measurement to me is just a number.”
Manziel may just back it up; his hands measured in 9 7/8 inches, which should allow him to grip the ball in poor conditions (a major pitfall for smallish quarterbacks). But the truth is, Manziel’s height is just one of the questions NFL teams will have about him throughout the draft process, both on and off the field.
Manziel has a reputation for partying hard, and there were reports he saw an alcohol counselor and an anger management counselor during his time at A&M.
He denied those reports on Friday — sort of.
“No sir, I don’t believe those are true,” Manziel said. “I went after last spring: (Texas A&M) coach (Kevin) Sumlin kind of came to me and said they have an in-house guy (and he) wanted me to sit down and meet with him.
“I was more than willing to learn whatever I could from him and sit down and have meetings with him. Those continued throughout throughout the next couple years. Had a great relationship with him. It was really nothing more than that.”
For all of the questions about Manziel’s off-the-field activity, there are decidedly fewer about his talent. Noted draft analyst Mike Mayock recently called Manziel a cross between Frank Tarkenton and Doug Flutie, a hint at the creativity and play-making ability that have led some, including ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, to slot Manziel as the No. 1 pick to the Houston Texans in their most recent mock drafts.
For what it’s worth, Texans general manager Rick Smith called Manziel a “colorful, confident guy” on Friday and said he has no “problem with that.” So perhaps the biggest issue with Manziel going number one is the concept of a team selecting a 5-foot-11 quarterback No. 1 overall, which has never been done before. In fact, Michael Vick is the only 6-foot or shorter quarterback to go that high in the modern era.
Smith, however, said the recent success of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees has essentially shattered the draft ceiling for short quarterbacks.
“We talk about the genesis of these position parameters, and really, it’s just a function of history and what’s been common. Anytime you have people who fall out of those parameters who are successful, then it does open up opportunities for others that may fall out of those parameters as well, because it shows that you can have success.”
Manziel’s track record stands on his own. For his career, he completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 63 touchdown and 22 interceptions, and rushed for 2,169 yards and 30 touchdowns. He has been praised for hanging in the pocket a little longer this season (he cut his rushing total by half), which will come in handy against NFL athletes, but he knows he still has to work to do to prove he’s more than an scrambling quarterback.
“I want to be a guy who can drop back and go through my progressions, go through my reads and really take what’s given to me by the defense,” said Manziel, who added that he’s also put an emphasis on learning how to avoid big hits.
He has stated his desire to be selected first overall, but he knows he can’t force the Texans, or any other team, to take a chance on him. Manziel said all he can do is be genuine with teams and give them a chance to see what he’s all about as a person, something he repeated often on a day in which the star quarterback was, once again, set to grab another round of headlines.
“I’m continuing to learn from my mistakes and continuing to grow up,” Manziel said. “I have an opportunity now moving into a professional phase.
“This is life now — this is a job for me. I’m taking it very seriously and I’m really excited about the future.”