When I decided to become a sportswriter, I felt compelled to learn as much history as I could on the NFL. Documentaries, top 10 countdowns, sports articles, statistical analysis, studying MVP charts and Super Bowl scores to where I can name ever Super Bowl MVP in order, most of the NFL MVPs, all Super Bowl results, most of the scores, and a large knowledge of draft history.
Now, I’m not saying this to brag, but to help illustrate an upcoming point. In the past eight years since I got into the writing game, I’ve seen a lot of NFL history happen right before my very eyes. Giants upset Patriots, a lot of “Gates,” a lockout, an accused rapist drafted top overall, things ignored and things overblown. A lot of history happens in eight years my friends.
Since I fancy myself as a historian, I often am put in an awkward position. Because when a complete and utter fool like Johnny Manziel comes along with a first-round draft choice tag attached to him and behaves like it’s his 21st birthday every weekend, the term potential draft bust gets thrown around. By now, with Johnny on the cusp of being cut on Wednesday March 9 sometime after 4pm, he will have that tag attached to him permanently because there is no plausible reason to think he’ll ever be back in Cleveland to redeem himself.
Even if Johnny does succeed in the future somewhere, he’s an all-time draft bust for Cleveland and he’s got a case for being an all-time draft bust in all of NFL history. Which is where my predicament comes in, because now I have to go back on the history I’ve read and make a decision on where I’d put him on the all-time draft bust lists.
Fans in general love all-time lists especially with bulleted numbers and points. They argue hard on forum boards to pass the time. Well, instead of giving fans exactly what they want, I’d rather focus on the range of where I’d put Johnny Football.
That’s where it get tricky. The NFL has lots of all-time draft busts and there could be a top ten list for QBs alone. Where it gets trickier is I’m unconventional to a degree when it comes to calling players busts. Take Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter who tore a ligament in his in first preseason game. He had injuries from day one hurting him and while he didn’t produce as well as he should have, it’s not fair to label a player of such a situation with such a negative term like “bust.”
Sure, life isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean I have to join the party. I’ll make my bust list off guys who shot themselves in the foot, thanks. Manziel definitely qualifies. Since he’s a quarterback as well, he will be quite high on the list. So let’s analyze where the…well I can’t really call them pros and cons; more like cons and things that keep him from being the all-time worst.
Johnny Foulup is in a unique position. He was not just a bad quarterback, he was historically bad. His rookie start was, if memory serves, the worst first start by a quarterback ever by several metrics. He was 10/18 for 80 yards, that’s right 80 yards, and threw two interceptions. His quarterback rating was 27.3. QB rating isn’t the best stat to determine quality, but it’s fair to say that 27.3 is an accurate reading for a stinkaroo performance.
But that’s not the worst of it. This is a guy with more off-the-field issues than some whole teams put together and he’s only 23! He’s been in the league just two seasons and he’s been to rehab already.
I can’t hate Johnny for liking a good party. I’m a partyholic when the party is good with hot women, good beer, good music, and preferably a 2-1 women to men ratio. But Johnny is different. He’s the big man at any party, so no matter what the circumstances are, not only is he popular, he’s popular enough to make a bad party get bigger and better. Aka a celebrity. So his vices, no matter what they are, can be fulfilled in a matter of minutes because people want to be around Manziel.
In order for Johnny to succeed in the NFL, he would have to limit the partying and he didn’t. I think partly because he was addicted to the lifestyle and partly because he didn’t take his job seriously. Athletes often let their egos get the better of themselves due to the fact that they’ve been reinforced by success.
Success in anything builds confidence, and the immature personality overbuilds the confidence and it becomes arrogance. With arrogance comes a lack of seriousness. Peyton Manning, the recently retired all-time quarterback, was confident too. Where Manziel and him differed is he never skated on preparing and working at his job. In the NFL, no one is a NATURAL. The NFL is where natural talent has to be cultivated or else you will fail.
I’d wager even the Lord himself in human form would attend practice. Johnny’s arrogance combined with his tendency to get in trouble when he partied was his downfall.
First big arrest came for fighting and having a fake ID two months shy of his 20th birthday on 6/29/12. Roughly a year later, he tweets about wanting to ditch A&M. A month later, he leaves the Manning Passing Academy earlier. He claimed he had dehydration, but it smelled fishy because he’s from Texas. He should know to drink water in the heat.
Social media has been a revolutionary tool at revealing people who are trying to keep social activities secret. Johnny was caught at the University of Texas partying and was asked to leave because he was still only 20. Then he was caught at another party wearing a New York Jets Tim Tebow jersey. I wonder if even Tebow would say to Manziel to wake up at that point.
Manziel announced he was sorry for his “goofball” decisions. He took responsibility for his actions which in part helped convince Cleveland to draft him. By July of 2014, he was partying again and Cleveland was concerned.
In August, during a preseason game, he gave the Redskins the finger and was fined. The next day, Brian Hoyer was named the starter. In November, a fan alleged that Manziel’s entourage beat him up in a lobby in downtown Cleveland. The fan apologized but it smelled funny. Cleveland fans have a reputation for let’s say…protecting their athletes.
In later January of 2015, Johnny checked into rehab. He left in April. Within at least six months, he was drinking again. A domestic charge was looked into regarding an incident with his girlfriend in the car. No charges are filed (often the case) and let’s not forget previously in June, where a fan heckled him at a golf tournament. He handled himself well, but still spiked a water bottle in fan’s direction.
Move forward to November of 2015 where he twice was caught partying and he missed a concussion check while partying. What definitely proved that he KNEW he was breaking the rules was he was wearing a disguise in Vegas. Evidently not very good. What did you use bro? A pair of Groucho Marx glasses with a plastic nose and mustache?
In very late January of 2016, he’s found partying again, accused of assaulting his girlfriend, and even searched for by the police in a HELICOPTER!
Early February revealed a report that he threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend and himself too even. The next day his dad is reported to fearing his son won’t make his next birthday if not rehabilitated oh and his agent drops him, which is rare; unheard of in my personal experience.
This was one month ago. We should get an update soon. Maybe we’ll get a report that his head is actually where it’s only metaphorically been all this time. I’ll give you three guesses as to which body cavity it’s jammed in.
The biggest tragedy here for me personally is as a Texan, I actually heard about this all-time draft bust when he was in high school. My close friend Tom McCoppin and I went to the Cowboys training camp back in 2011 when I was going through a rough time. We drove to Dallas and Tom told me about this kid named Johnny Manziel who was excelling on the football field. He was fast with a cannon arm; the talent was there. I was skeptical because hey it’s high school, but then ended up at A&M and the talent showed. Heisman winner right off the bat and a fellow Texan, how could I not want the guy to succeed?
After all this, he’s made it easy for me to not be a fan anymore.
That’s his cons, the case to making him an all-time draft bust. Now on to the things that spare him somewhat
Things that don’t make him the No. 1 bust
Something tells me this won’t be a big list. Ok, beyond Jerry Jones (who was stopped from taking Manzie) there was no one besides the Cleveland Browns who were looking at Johnny closely. I think if Cleveland hadn’t, Jerry wouldn’t have been tempted to take him in round one. Anyone following the draft knew that Cleveland or Dallas would be the only ones to take Johnny in round one.
Johnny’s stock rose high to where Mel Kiper had him top overall to Houston originally in 2014, but Manziel had more issues than a weekly magazine. Kiper’s expertise is limited and questionable plus mocks always change between January and April.
There were major physical problems with Johnny and what made me never consider him top overall especially that he’s my height. 5’11 3/4. It’s annoying to be that close to 6’0 and not be over it. Thankfully, shoes help, but by today’s standards, Manziel would be considered an NFL midget to some guys. Drew Brees is the best comparison and he was a second-round pick in 2001.
I think people used Brees as a copout comparison because Brees is actually an exception to the rule. He’s also a pure pocket passer who had a torn labrum that led to him being cut by the Chargers in 2006. Meaning he’s still fallible and Johnny relied too much on his legs in college. Johnny’s 207 lb. frame would need to get lots of additional muscle if he expected to handle blitzing linebackers chasing after him that weighed in the 250-260 range.
Johnny’s character got put under a microscope and suddenly Mr. Manziel had critics. Former Cowboys coach Barry Switzer summed it up with: “I don’t like his antics. I think he’s an arrogant little prick. I’ve said that and I’ll say it again.” A friend of mine and I had a conversation about Johnny. Like Johnny, he is one of those guys who is at constant parties, but he gets in because he’s universally liked instead of celebrity. His words were, “Manziel’s a dick.”
I even met Manziel’s cousin, who looked quite a bit like him, and he even admitted Johnny was chasing the money. That’s not a good thing to say about someone because true, money is important, but if that’s the first thing people are saying about you, your motivation is questionable.
Now the character part is definitely a reason to rank him high on a draft bust list, but the reason it’s here is that the Browns really knew ahead of time what Johnny was about. The owner wanted to make a splash in Cleveland, Johnny was the biggest name, and like my friend and colleague—and Publisher, CEO and Editor of this website—Robert Cobb said in his article here, the front office was more focused on hoping he was the guy rather than doing homework and trusting any negative intuition about Manziel.
Reality is Manziel was a second-round pick whose hype convinced a dubious team into making a completely idiotic error and now they’re paying for it. It’s sad because Cleveland fans are likable people for the most part.
Don’t forget that pick placement does and should matter in rankings. The all-time draft bust can’t be no. 22 overall, he just can’t. Not when 21 teams (including Cleveland) passed on him once. When more than half the league is saying no, then you’re not an all-time bust.
Johnny Manziel is in the 3-4 range of the all-time draft busts. It’s probably between him and Art Schlichter, a Baltimore Colts pick in the early 80s who was banned for gambling. He’s now in prison and his gambling addiction not only ruined his athletic career, he transformed into a con man basically in order to get more money to feed his high.
There are other guys that people will definitely argue are worst. Tim Couch for one, another Browns QB, but he was never the head case that Johnny was. Running back Lawrence Phillips was pretty bad, but if people learned more about that man, they’d see he was mentally and emotionally disturbed from the get-go. He never got the help he needed and while it doesn’t justify his violent acts, he sure gets some mitigation from me.
Offensive lineman Tony Mandarich would have a case to supplant Manziel but he made a decent comeback with the Colts and he was a lineman, not a quarterback. Akili Smith was a bad quarterback, but again, Manziel’s issues go well beyond bad play.
Nos. 1 & 2 all-time are Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell consecutively. Higher draft choices and Leaf’s immaturity was astonishingly well hidden going up to the draft before the Chargers were almost forced to take him.
I may change my mind and put Johnny lower because while people were very high on Leaf and at least hopeful about Russell, anyone with eyes in the back of their mind knew Johnny Manziel would fail. If people removed their sense of hope or genetic optimism, the truth was there was zero reason to believe Manziel would wake up and do his job. It would’ve taken a biblical intervention parallel to Saul becoming Paul for Johnny to change his personality and become mentally what a team needed. Physically, he was something that would struggle always unless he became Drew Brees and that was going to take a lot of work.
But for now, Johnny’s recklessness is deserving of 3-4 because here’s where it REALLY gets me. It’s one thing to blow your rookie deal due to partying and being dumb. Some guys need that to wake them up. Cris Carter was blowing coke and Buddy Ryan cutting him from the Eagles saved his career and his life. Carter went to the Vikings, forged a Hall of Fame career, and even Eagles fans, while bitter, can be proud to say that their coach and organization saved a life.
Manziel was connected to Dallas before 2016 even started. I’m positive that Jerry Jones would’ve given him a tryout to be Romo’s backup. At rock-bottom minimum, a look. Not anymore now after Johnny’s been connect to domestic violence allegations with his girlfriend. Jones and Dallas took enough heat from having Greg Hardy and with Johnny screwing up even when he knows he’s got to be squeaky clean in order to get a backup job? Are you kidding me? No way is he in Dallas. I’d be stunned out of my shoes. Even if Jerry is crazy enough to try it (he is by the way), I think Jerry’s son, Stephen, would have his papa admitted to the psyche ward for it.
There’s this idea that he may end up in Denver, but I don’t buy it. Von Miller being a former teammate isn’t going to snow job General Manager John Elway. I doubt Elway sees Manziel for anything than what he is especially after all his mistakes.
I don’t care if Johnny’s 23, still has talent, and a name. He’s done. His career is over. He will never be anything more than a college superstar who burned his own bridge out from under his own feet. Maybe he’ll coach (don’t see it) maybe he’ll become a business success (still don’t see it) or maybe something else (convict I can see).
In short, no matter what he does in life, this chapter will always define him to some degree. No matter what he does in the future to mitigate the past, it won’t fully erase what he is. He’ll always, at least partly, be what he is now.