manziel again2

Hope can be a dangerous drug, and around NFL front offices it’s the sort of aphrodisiac that can lead to a love affair with the wrong golden boy arm. We’ve seen it so many times before, and almost yearly, with a would-be franchise cornerstone wrongfully elevated in the draft out of desperation, or a lack of depth.

But while there’s plenty of dizzying desperation out there as prospects begin checking into the scouting combine today (the land where dreams are made), depth shouldn’t be a problem according to Mike Mayock, everyone’s favorite draft czar.

Annually the period between now, the start of the combine, and early May is a whirling time among the draft guru cottage industry. It starts with (very) educated guessing before graduating to predictions and outright projections. Then finally, there’s chest thumping when the guy whose mock draft was blown up the least has something to celebrate.

The accuracy always matters little in the end, or at least it does to me. If trying to produce a pristine mock draft is your end goal, you’re doing it wrong, mostly because that’s impossible. The goal of draft season and the discussion it generates which varies from intriguing to confusing should be a simple one: self-eduction. We all know the very top prospects, and likely have surface knowledge of the next tier. But getting that thinking even deeper helps to eventually understand the direction teams are taking once they make their selections.

Back to you then, Mayock.

Mayock surfaced yesterday from his game film hibernation hole where he watches 18 hours of tape per day to do a pre-combine phone conference. When a guy who’s kind of, sort of a member of the media (he calls games for NFL Network) is so in demand for his draft knowledge nuggets that a presser is required, he’s kind of a big deal.

Inevitably Mayock was asked about the depth in this year’s draft, which is always a pressing question on everyone’s mind early in the process with not only the combine ahead, but also roughly 298 Pro Day workouts. He responded thusly:

“From my perspective, this is the deepest and best draft class I’ve seen in probably ten years. That’s been reinforced by most of the general managers and scouts I’ve talked to throughout the league. I had one GM tell me the other day that having a Top-20 pick this year is very similar to having a Top-10 pick last year.”

Early mocks seem to echo this, especially at quarterback, an offensive position that’s pretty important. The order varies (sometimes wildly), but between Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Blake Bortles, there’s usually three quarterbacks slotted in the top five, and then sometimes four in the top ten with Derek Carr. That makes sense given the prominence of passing, and the severe lack of trustworthy passers among teams at the top of the draft. The top five is oozing with quarterback calamity between the Texans at No. 1, followed by the Jaguars, Browns, and Raiders.

The problem is the top three quarterback prospects (Bortles, Bridgewater, and Manziel) are all either really good, really really good, or great. They don’t come with the same draft promise that Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III did a few years ago, which is always the difficulty in drafting a quarterback and being among the first to send out ripples in that dangerous pool.

But yearly it’s foolish to make that Luck or Griffin or Manning (both of them in their respective drafts) comparison. With the growth of wildly varied offenses from those that spread the field to others which rely on a mobile quarterback to create deception through the read-option, the right fit is nearly as important as talent if the separation at the top is minimal.

At the very top the Texans get to cast the first stone and dictate the direction of the draft. The question then for new head coach Bill O’Brien centers around exactly what kind of identity his offense will have. In New England he was blessed with Tom Brady, a pocket passer who was and remains much more than comfortable while spreading things out. Bridgewater and Bortles are the closest clones for that description, which makes them feel safe.

Then there’s Manziel, who’s a product for the more adventurous and daring. The risk is there with the questions about his circus style and if it can be duplicated in the NFL. But there are no questions about his arm strength and athleticism, and O’Brien is surely the man to reel in Manziel’s decision making. Mayock’s praise for Manziel was high as he said the former Texas A&M Heisman winner is a Doug Flutie/Fran Tarkenton hybrid.

“At the end of the day, he’s different than any quarterback I’ve done before. He’s different than RGIII, he’s different than Cam Newton, different than Andrew Luck. He’s different than Russell Wilson. I believe in the kid. I think he’s going to be a top 10, if not a top five pick, but you’re going to have to live with some of those negative plays in addition to the positive ones.”

Ultimately, this is the question for Houston, or any other team in the top five with a choice between Manziel or one of Bridgewater and Bortles: with his risk taking and scrambling creativity, will Manziel’s positive plays far outweigh the negatives eventually?

With the right coaching, the answer will be yes.

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