One month after his five-touchdown performance in Texas A&M's 52-48 victory in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, Johnny Manziel's draft stock is still rising. With the success of non-traditional, mobile quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, coming off a Super Bowl win his second year, Manziel's projected NFL career is also trending upwards. Several early mock drafts had the Texans taking Manziel first overall, including HoustonTexans.com's VanderMock 1.0 and ESPN's draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.
"He's an intriguing guy," Kiper Jr. said via espn.com. "He's a unique type of player coming into the NFL. I've compared him to Fran Tarkenton who had one heck of a career in the NFL. The NFL was different then than it is now. Now it's even more suited to a Johnny Manziel. So, if he takes care of business off the field, there's no reason to believe with the improvement and the strides that he made throwing the football this year, that he can't be a whale of a quarterback in the NFL."
Staying out of spotlight and working on his craft this offseason has only helped Manziel. He has been one of the most watched and scrutinized players off the field, but the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback still has a buzz that surrounds him. Dynamic, mobile, and fun to watch, Manziel has natural talent but also puts in the work necessary both on the field and in the film room to succeed.
"Johnny's work ethic, something a lot of people overlook, his passion, his drive, is unparalleled," ESPN's Sam Khan said in an interview with HoustonTexans.com. "(Texas A&M head coach) Kevin Sumlin, someone's who's been around great quarterbacks, called Johnny the most competitive guy he's ever been around."
Manziel's progression from Year 1 to Year 2 hasn't been a coincidence. He has evolved as a passer, not just relying on his feet to make plays, but going through his reads and remaining patient in the pocket. In 2013 Manziel increased his completion rate from 68.0 to 69.9 percent and passed for an additional 408 yards, 11 more touchdowns, despite having just five more attempts on the season. He also scrambled less, rushing for 651 fewer yards.
"In the offseason there's no doubt he became a much better passer," Khan said. "You can tell he tried to stay in the pocket and tried to wait for his receivers to get open a lot more, whereas in the first season there was a lot of times where he bailed after his first or second read were gone. This time, he was definitely going through progressions, and I think people see that and that's one reason why he's rated as high as he is. He's not just an athlete playing quarterback, he's becoming a total quarterback and you've got to give him his credit for the hard work he put in this offseason to do that."
For the past two summers, the Kerrville, Texas native has enlisted the help of his personal quarterback coach George Whitfied in San Diego. Whitfield groomed two other former No. 1 NFL Draft picks, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton. This offseason is no exception for Manziel who has been working with the quarterback guru since last month.
"The last two summers before his red shirt freshman year and then before last season, he's gone out to San Diego and worked with George Whitfield and spent a lot of time trying to fine tune the finer points of his game," Khan said. "He's out there now; he's actually moving out to San Diego for a couple of months to work with George and get prepared for all of the pre-draft workouts. So, that's been a big part because George, you look at the roster of guys he's worked with, it speaks for itself. I think it helped Johnny a lot."
In 2012 Manziel became the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy. The 21-year-old declared for the 2014 NFL Draft following his redshirt sophomore year. He joins a record number of underclassmen (85) who have been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine to be held in Indianapolis February 19-24.