The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Z_CNHI News Service

January 16, 2014

Manziel's draft potential rises as he proves his NFL worth

(Continued)

Manziel’s next big test comes at the NFL's Scouting Combine, Feb. 22-25, in Indianapolis. That’s where NFL executives get to poke and prod the next group of talented, young players set to come into the game.

Size and speed will be documented, and on-the-field intelligence will be measured. Manziel should pass those tests in good fashion.

Yet, he'll need to sell himself as a trusted NFL commodity.

It's interesting to note how Manziel has tempered his critics and quietly moved up the list of potential top picks in May's NFL Draft. After winning the Heisman, Manziel drew attention, but his off-the-field antics raised concerns. Were they just actions of a silly kid who could toss a ball or something more serious?

As the season progressed, the debate changed. Questions followed Manziel as to whether he was more likely to emulate the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson, who developed a winning style often compared to former All-Pro Fran Tarkenton. Or would he follow the career path of Tim Tebow, another Heisman Trophy-winning collegiate star whose game didn’t translate to the pros?

Manziel’s rise in mock draft lists has been nothing short of amazing. A year ago, he was slate as a late first round pick at best. Now he’s projected to go in the top five.

The Cleveland Browns seem to be clamoring for him the most, which might not be good news for Manziel. The lowly Browns have gone through a laundry list of quarterbacks over the years – where are you, Bernie Kosar? - and failed to return to relevance.

Most interesting is recent talk of the Houston Texans taking Manziel with the first pick. Until now, more likely choices appeared to have been South Carolina’s  Jadeveon Clowney, the top talent, or Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, the best quarterback.

If Houston wants a gunslinger, Manziel could be the guy. He is a maverick who likes the big stage.

The question remains: Is he a risk?

Answer that one, Houston.

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

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