Johnny Smoke-Screen?

Johnny Manziel hasn’t taken a single snap in the NFL yet and he’s arguably one of it’s biggest stars already.  Johnny Football is charismatic, exciting and born to be in the spotlight.  All of those things are fine for a football fan to appreciate, but when general managers and coaches are looking for quarterbacks some only see are red-flags.

Johnny Manziel’s pro-day was televised, had celebrities in attendance and a DJ spinning hip hop tunes while Manziel was showing off his athletic goods.  The media ate it up, his fans loved it and Manziel has set a bar now for future draftees’ pro days who will come in with as much hype as he has.  For the most part people appreciated the entertainment value of his pro day and most came away impressed with how he handled himself – one person who did find anything to drool over was Mike Zimmer, head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.


Mike Zimmer saw Manziel’s pro day as “choreographed” and even called it a “side-show.”  Zimmer was hired to be the coach of the Minnesota Vikings, a team coming off a five win season and in desperate need of a quarterback.  The Vikings’ options at quarterback currently are Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel and with the eighth overall pick in the draft, most draft experts are predicting the Vikings to put a new face under center.  Considering that in this division, the Packers have Rodgers, the Bears have Cutler and the Lions have Stafford – the Vikings are the one team that has no current investment in a quarterback.  And in what has been called a “quarterback league,” it would be an understatement to say the pressure is on Minnesota to find an answer quickly.

Zimmer also said that in talking with Johnny Manziel “some flags come up.”  He doesn’t see Manziel as a guy who will study the position, try each season to get better and someone with no intention to become one who “eats, breathes and sleeps football.” What was said between Manziel and Zimmer will only be known between Manziel and Zimmer but it appears that Johnny Football is too hollywood for someone of Zimmer’s demeanor.

Or is Zimmer trying to pull the ol’ okie doke?

Maybe Zimmer does like what he sees in Johnny Manziel and is saying things to raise doubt in the 7 teams before him in the draft.  At least 4 or 5 of those teams might look to draft a quarterback in the first round and there is plenty of talent at that position this year. Along with Johnny Manziel, the other quarterbacks that come with hype are Blake Bortles of UCF, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and even Derek Carr of Fresno State.  All of these quarterbacks have their fair share of questions but none of them are the enigma Johnny Football is.  Maybe Zimmer is trying to put up a smoke screen as if he has no interest in Johnny, while in actuality he is really trying to scare teams ahead of him out of drafting Manziel, in hopes that he would fall to the Vikings at number 8.

Is it a tough move? Yes, but if you’re not looking to trade to move up, this isn’t a bad tactic.


The Vikings are one of the two teams I think would suit Manziel best (the other being the Cleveland Browns).  The Vikings have the best running back in football, Adrian Peterson to still lean on – they also have veteran Greg Jennings paired along with a future star in Cordarrelle Patterson at receiver and Kyle Rudolf at tight end.  Those are four pieces that would be very nice for any rookie quarterback to find his groove in the NFL.

Also when thinking about who they play in the division – they play the Lions twice a year who along with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley wreck havoc on opposing offensive lines.  The Bears and Packers have already made moves in the off-season to strengthen their pass rushes as well, so it would do the Vikings some good getting a quarterback like Manziel who has proved time and time again while going up against SEC defenses he has an uncanny ability to create plays while on the run.  His escapability and elusiveness is what will help extend his career because his one physical flaw is that he isn’t the biggest kid at the position.

Zimmer has been in the NFL for a long time.  Been around the game of football even longer.  Zimmer is a respected individual who has seen any and every type of player.  I’m sure if he thinks Manziel can duplicate in the pros what he did in college, he’d find ways to keep Manziel’s head on straight.  Remember it’s not that Manziel is a bad kid. He just likes to party – and not for nothing, if you’re a college kid who’s the biggest star in college sports AND you already come from money – wouldn’t you want to live it up in the spotlight yourself?

Manziel proved to me what kind of player he was on December 31st. When Duke was up 38-17 at halftime verse Texas A&M at the Chick-Fil-A bowl, I told one of my buddies “There’s no need for Manziel to play this one out. He’s going pro, he’s gonna chill out, it’s over.” Granted it was New Years Eve and I was at an open bar, but regardless, Manziel made me eat my words.  He finished the game rushing for 73 yards and a touchdown and passing for 382 yards and four touchdowns – but it wasn’t even those ridiculous numbers that stood out.  It was catching Johnny Manziel on the sidelines firing up his teammates, talking it up with his receivers, leading by example on the field – he’s a competitor who absolutely hates losing.


It’s proven year after year that every game means something in the NFL, and for the Minnesota Vikings who lost five games by close margins last season - wouldn’t they want someone under center with that kind of fire?  That kind of intensity from the opening kickoff to the final whistle?  Of course they would, anybody would.

Chances are Manziel goes before the Vikings have a chance to go back on their public word in the draft.  But if by some miracle (and it would take just that) Johnny Football was still available at number 8 – Mike Zimmer may have pulled off one of the greatest scams in draft-smoke-screen history.

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

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