So the NFL Draft is coming up this Thursday, and while there are always a million interesting storylines flying around I feel like the biggest one involves Johnny Football. People have been waiting for this guy to turn pro since November 10th 2012 when #15 Texas A&M, in their first season in the SEC, knocked off #1 overall Alabama. That game single-handedly propelled Johnny Manziel into the Heisman Race (a race he would win).
However, Johnny Football was both exciting and infuriating for a lot of college football fans. The summer between his Heisman season and his final season of college football he made news constantly for all the wrong reasons. Partying, drinking, missing sessions at the Manning skills camp. Johnny took all the flack we knew he would. However, that never bothered me. Johnny is fun to love as a hero or a villain alike.
With guys like this the narrative is always that it would be better for them to drop in the draft. Better for them to get a chip on their shoulder, to refocus and re-motivate them for the next step of their careers. The idea is that guys have gotten too much too fast, they don’t deserve it, and they’re just burning too hot. They need a chance to sit behind a veteran and cool off. Moreover, the later you’re picked in the draft, the better your team should be. That minimizes the chance that he’ll be a bust. A team picking at #32 would have just won the Superbowl, so adding a young quarterback with character red flags to a championship team would be a lot safer than adding him to the worst team in the league where he’ll be expected to lead from day one when he can’t even compose himself.
This year is different though. The Texans have the #1 overall pick. However, as Ryen Russillo pointed out a couple months ago, they’re not the worst team in the league. Their last two seasons before this year they won 12 games and a playoff game (2012) and 10 games and a playoff game (2011). They’ve had a quarterback controversy for what feels like the last 5 years. Fans abandoned Matt Schaub a long time and and this year it finally blew up. The team won their first 2 games, then turmoil on and off the field pushed them toward losing every one of their remaining games.
My point, however, is that this is one of the most talent rich teams to pick #1 overall that I can remember. Their defense is loaded so Johnny will never be expected to make miraculous 20 point comebacks. JJ Watt is an NFL superstar, Brian Cushing is a tool and pops steroids like pez but it makes him a beast on the football field, Johnathan Joseph is one of the 10 best corners in the league. The defense is set. More importantly to a QB, however, is the fact that the offense is stacked. Arian Foster is one of the best Running Backs in the league. Moreover, Houston is far removed from the David Carr puree years of giving up 50 sacks a year. They are primarily an elite run blocking line, but they can at least keep a quarterback upright. Moreover, with Johnny’s running ability and the rise of the pistol offense in the NFL they could either script plays for Johnny to run the ball behind that mammoth line, or he could use his legs to keep plays alive and make up for any pass blocking shortcomings they may have. Most importantly though, is that he would have an absolute stud receiver in Andre Johnson. Injuries and age have worn on Andre, but at his peak he was the 2nd best receiver in the NFL behind only Calvin Johnson. This would give Johnny the same kind of safety net he had in college with Mike Evans.
In short then Houston could be a great landing spot for Manziel and I really believe he could be a savior in Houston. However, I don’t think remaining in the state of Texas is the best thing for him.I’m a big proponent of guys changing their environments at least once in their young adulthood. It can just be too distracting or too stunting to stay in the same town your whole life. Now that’s not always true. I feel like this doesn’t hold true if you’re from somewhere like New York or Chicago… a city bigger than most small countries or bigger than a lot of states in terms of population… but Johnny is from Rural Texas. There, more than anywhere, a football star could overstay his welcome. High School football in Texas is bigger than pro sports in some places. Its a religion on par with soccer in Europe. Now, that kind of environment could be good for Johnny. He could get some support from people who have been really invested in him since he was 15, but if we’re really worried about Johnny “growing up” then part of that to me seems like it should be changing environments and succeeding in a new environment. We should want him to leave his childhood home, and try to start crafting his adult life somewhere else.
Either way I can’t wait to hear Johnny Football’s name called in the draft. The dude already has his entire marketing campaign built in and ready to launch with whichever team grabs him. He’ll be a hero or a villain, but it doesn’t matter because anyone will eat up news about him voraciously, love or hate. Moreover, I don’t even think it matters if he busts or succeeds because if he goes down in flames, it’ll be the brightest white hot flame we’ve seen since Ryan Leaf, and who doesn’t enjoy a good high speed crash.
I hope he succeeds because this guy was incredibly exciting to watch on a college football field, and even more exciting to read about off the field. In the post Michael Jordan Era where all pro sports stars are so concerned with preserving their image and their marketability, it is unbelievably refreshing to see a guy who just is who he is… a kid who makes exciting football plays and has fun. I’m all in on Johnny Football, and I hope the train keeps rolling.