COLLEGE STATION, Texas — At a pro day with a former United States President in attendance, Johnny Manziel was the main attraction Thursday. The former Texas A&M quarterback threw in front of dozens of NFL scouts and coaches.
And he threw well. Very well.
The scripted 65-pass session was created by Manziel and his quarterback coach, George Whitfield, who has recently worked with top prospects in preparation for draft workouts, including Cam Newton and Andrew Luck.
Every snap Manziel took was under center — he operated out of the shotgun primarily in A&M’s spread offense — and only two passes hit the ground. One was juggled by fellow first-round prospect wide receiver Mike Evans. One other throw took the receiver out of bounds so Manziel officially finished 62-for-65.
It was not quite perfect, but the projected top 10 pick lived up to his reputation of delivering on the big stage.
“I thought it was good,” Manziel said Thursday. “I was obviously going for perfection so when a couple balls hit the ground, one was on me and one was a little high, could have gotten it down for him a little bit. Overall, I thought it was really good.”
There was nothing conventional about the scene at the Aggies’ indoor practice facility, where the workout was held.
Manziel donned shoulder pads and a helmet, something that is a rare occurrence for a quarterback or any player at a pro day. Former NFL executive Gil Brandt has been covering the NFL for over 50 years and told The Sports Xchange he has never seen it done.
When reporters asked why, Manziel said “Why not?”
Manziel showed off his quick feet in his three-, five- and seven-step drops with a compact, swift release. He dropped to a three-quarters or sidearm delivery on a few throws.
His timing was slightly off on others, especially over the middle, and his low release point stood out, but there were certainly more positives than negatives to the workout. Whitfield used a broom and bean bags to represent pressure and even rushed himself with his arms above his head to simulate pass rushers in his face, similar exercises to those performed at Luck’s pro day in 2012. In typical Manziel fashion, he looked athletic escaping and moving the pocket while snapping a throw downfield.
Charting each of Manziel’s passes, 57 of the 65 passes were spot-on accurate while five were slightly inaccurate (but still completed) and three were incomplete.
Whitfield said Manziel stepped up and “knocked it out of the park.”
“I think it’s different when you put your feet on the ground and come and watch him,” said Whitfield on the importance of seeing Manziel at his pro day compared to the tape. “People watch him in games and he’s made big throws. It’s different when you have to come up on stage and the world is in here to watch it. And they say ‘Let’s see you do it.’”
Overall there were 75 NFL scouts and evaluators in attendance, making up 30 of the 32 NFL teams.
Eight head coaches and eight general managers were present, including Texans’ general manager Rick Smith and head coach Bill O’Brien, who hold the rights to the No. 1 overall pick. Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly were among the NFL dignitaries in the crowd.
Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles still seems to be the favorite to be the top pick if Houston stays put, but the in-state product Manziel will be considered. O’Brien spent a good amount of time talking with Manziel’s family and will meet privately with the former Heisman Trophy winner and local product who has publicly dared the Texans to pass on him.
If not Houston, Jacksonville (third overall pick) and Cleveland (fourth) are two other possibilities. Browns general manager Ray Farmer was not at the workout, but by no means does that make him less of a possibility for Cleveland. Does this elevate Manziel’s draft stock? Doubtful.
It was a positive step for him as the draft process winds down.
While Manziel was the main attraction, Evans was equally impressive, looking sharp in his cuts and catching everything thrown his way. He didn’t do any agility drills, only routes during Manziel’s scripted passing session, but he did enough to create some buzz among the crowd.
While Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is expected to be the top wideout drafted, there are several NFL teams who have the 6-5, 231-pound Evans as the top wide receiver on their board so it shouldn’t be surprising when Evans comes off the board early, maybe even ahead of Watkins.
With President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara in attendance, along with hundreds of cameras and media, Manziel stepped onto the field to unsensored rap music in camouflage Nike shorts as if walking to the ring for a main event.
And as his quarterback coach said, Manziel stepped up and knocked it out of the park.