The mystery and magic of Johnny Manziel was, you never quite knew where the elusive Texas A&M quarterback was going to wind up.
Sort of like now.
Will the Houston Texans make him the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft? Is he a fit for Jacksonville at No. 3, Cleveland at 4, Oakland at 5, Tampa Bay at 7, or maybe Minnesota at 8?
“Whether it’s 1 or 200, I’m just ready to get back on the football field and start playing football,” Manziel said Wednesday during a pre-draft event at Chelsea Waterside Park that included 30 of the top college prospects, most of whom will be selected in the first round Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall.
The draft is divided into three days, with the first round Thursday, the second and third rounds Friday, and the fourth through seventh Saturday.
Manziel is one of the pivot points in this draft. If he’s taken early, it could trigger a run on quarterbacks. If he slides, other quarterbacks could tumble too.
“I’ve never been more confused about the quarterbacks heading into the draft in my life, as far as where they’re going to go,” said Mike Mayock, NFL Network draft expert. “I think Manziel’s going to be OK on the field going forward. I believe he’s going to make the transition he needs to, and that he has that ‘it’ factor. I just get concerned about managing him. Is he going to be the face of the franchise? I think there are some people worried about whether they’re going to have to manage this kid every day for five years. That’s the biggest issue.”
Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, now an analyst for the Pac-12 Network, called the 6-foot Manziel “a Houdini” for his ability to escape pressure and make plays.
“I think he’s special,” said Neuheisel, once offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. “Maybe I have more of an appreciation for that kind of creativity than guys like [ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback] Ron Jaworski, who I certainly respect. I think he’s got this image of a guy who’s going to drop back five steps, work through a progression, has to be able to see over an offensive lineman and play the game as he recalls it.
“To me, [Manziel] is more of a new-era quarterback, where you may say he’s an undisciplined player, I think the Texas A&M Aggies loved his ‘undiscipline.’ I think it was part of their offense. His creativity was like a point guard. Just work it down the middle and find somebody.”
Manziel drew the biggest crowd of reporters Wednesday, and, unlike the other players, left before the event was over. He patiently answered questions for about 20 minutes, but after that a woman who works for him announced to reporters that he was leaving.
There have been questions about Manziel’s partying, focus and dedication to football. He said teams “have been getting to know me on a more personal level, and I’ve answered every question, anything they’ve wanted to hear from me. There’s nothing to hide.
“I don’t think it’s wrong of me to enjoy my life and have fun. But throughout this whole process, I’ve continued to work hard and do that thing I need to do to become a better player.”
Known for his spectacular improvisational skills on the field, Manziel said he’s more than a draw-it-up-in-the-dirt quarterback.
“To say I’m just a backyard-football quarterback, I don’t think you do what I did in college and do some of those things,” he said. “I don’t think that’s extremely fair. I hear it, but for me, I know it’s all about my work ethic and my will to get better. That’s very alive inside me.”
There’s a good chance the Texans will go another direction, even though they’re in the market for a quarterback. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is widely favored to be the No. 1 pick. If Houston does take him first, it will be reminiscent of 2006, when the Texans drafted defensive end Mario Williams first, instead of the top offensive prospect, running back Reggie Bush.
Clowney said Wednesday that he expects to be the first pick.
“I don’t think they’ll pass [on me],” Clowney said. “No indications. I’ve just got a great feeling about it.”
There’s speculation the Atlanta Falcons might try to trade up from No. 6 to get Clowney, although most trade-minded teams in this draft are looking to move down because there is so much depth and value at several positions.
“When [Clowney] woke up this morning, he was the most talented defensive lineman on the planet,” Mayock said. “He will be tomorrow morning, he will be the next morning. It doesn’t mean he’s going to be the best, though.”