On a scouting trip to Texas A&M in November, St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead was led through the locker room. When he spotted the empty dressing stall of Johnny Manziel, the Aggies' rock-star quarterback who's so popular he's taking online courses this semester to avoid the crush of autograph-seeking classmates, Snead stopped and snapped a photo for his 12-year-old son, Logan.
"He's a huge Johnny Manziel fan," Snead says. "He was jacked when he got the picture."
It's too early to say if NFL teams will be as excited about Johnny Football a year from now if—repeat, if—the then redshirt sophomore enters the draft. The reason: unanswered questions about his abilities.
"We haven't scouted him," says one general manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity, "but if you ask me today, I would say his game doesn't translate to the NFL. When you see him play, he doesn't have the poise you want at the position. You're like, What's he doing? He plays like a combination of Jeff Garcia and Brett Favre. He's running and jumping all over the place, then he's like, Whatever. We might be sitting here next year, like, 'Whoa! He got his s--- together.' But right now he doesn't translate."
A longtime offensive coach was more optimistic, with a caveat. "He's talented, but he's a slender, small-body guy," he says. "I think he can make it as a pro based on what I've seen, but he's going to get hit. That's a concern because we're not talking about a Cam Newton--Colin Kaepernick--Terrelle Pryor type. They're big dudes. This guy is 6 feet, 200 pounds soaking wet."
Both critiques were made with the disclaimer that neither man had done extensive film study of Manziel (who'll be eligible for the 2014 draft because he'll have been out of high school for three years). Yet multiple personnel people admit they've sneaked peeks at Manziel while scouting other players or during free time on a Saturday afternoon, because there's no debate that the reigning Heisman winner is an exciting and intriguing talent.
"You can't help but notice him," Snead says. "I use the analogy that when you went to Oklahoma to scout their players and Adrian Peterson was a freshman, you'd have to have blindfolds on not to notice him. Same thing with Johnny Manziel."
If Manziel does forgo his final two years of eligibility after the 2013 season, he'll undoubtedly generate tons of buzz, because the read option, which is a part of A&M's attack, is viewed as a new weapon for NFL offensive coordinators.
But that might not be enough for some scouts. "What you've got to see is whether his success is the product of a gimmick offense," says one general manager. "What's he going to do when he's forced to stay in the pocket? Can he be accurate? Can he see downfield? What's his arm strength? We don't have the answers right now, but there'll be plenty of time to get them."
"He plays like a combination of Jeff Garcia and Brett Favre. He's running and jumping all over the place."
DOUG FINGER/GAINESVILLE SUN/LANDOV