Two items, both Johnny Manziel related, the second of which “inspired” the title of the blog post:
1) On the Herd yesterday, Colin Cowherd was expressing skepticism about Johnny Manziel’s NFL potential. Cowherd doesn’t say that Manziel won’t make it at all. But he does think the former Heisman Trophy winner won’t be an especially good NFL quarterback. No particular argument here – I really have no idea whether Manziel will be any good and am increasingly humbled by how difficult it has proven to be to predict NFL success for quarterbacks (or any position, really). Certainly, there have been a long list of Heisman winners who haven’t panned out at all in the NFL – Ryan Leaf, Danny Wuerffel, Eric Crouch, Chris Weinke, Matt Leinart and so on and so forth.
But as is often the case, Cowherd beat to death a single data point in support of his argument. In this case, Cowherd doubted Manziel’s potential because he has played poorly against LSU. In two career games (yes, two), Manziel has thrown one TD and five interceptions. Why is this especially significant? Because, as Cowherd reminded his audience repeatedly, LSU is something of an NFL defensive back factory. In fact, Cowherd kept noting, LSU has a dozen DBs alone in the NFL. The upshot – when Manziel has to play NFL-level talent, the windows are too small and he can’t really compete.
There is no doubt that in comparison with, say, Duke – the opponent Johnny Football torched on New Year’s Eve in the talking cow chicken Bowl – LSU provides a better laboratory in which to gauge Manziel’s future pro prospects. But it’s two games, for crying out loud. And when you’re basing virtually your entire analysis on such sample sizes, you’re leaving yourself especially vulnerable to pretty simple counter arguments. In this case, there’s another program in the SEC that is little more than an NFL team-in-waiting. You know, the one that, were it not for one of the flukiest plays of all time, would be playing for its fourth national championship in five years this coming Monday night.
And how has Manziel fared against a program that currently has three dozen NFL players, including about ten defensive backs? In this season’s game against the Crimson Tide, which the Aggies lost 49-42, Manziel merely passed for 464 yards on thirty nine attempts (for an extremely gaudy 12 yards an attempt), threw five touchdown passes and ran for another 98. He did throw a couple of picks, but against a defense stacked with future NFL players, Manziel was simply unstoppable. In the nine games following the A&M game, this same Alabama defense gave up a total of 50 points.
In 2012, as a redshirt freshman, Manziel essentially cemented his Heisman Trophy when he waltzed into Tuscaloosa and knocked off the previously unbeaten Tide. In that game, Manziel completed nearly eighty percent of his passes, threw for over 250 yards and ran for another ninety one. The 29 points the Aggies scored against Alabama in that game was the most Alabama gave up to any opponent in 2012 and, in fact, only one other team all season managed better than twenty points against ‘Bama. In fact, at home in 2012, only one other team was able to score more than ten points against the Tide’s vaunted defense.
So, in two games against the Sabans, Manziel racked up over 700 yards passing, nearly 200 yards rushing, seven touchdowns against only two interceptions and amassed a point total the equivalent of virtually an entire season’s worth against ‘Bama.
Does any of this mean that Manziel is the next Joe Montana? Certainly not. Manziel may be too small. And his crazy scrambling ways may make him especially injury prone at the next level. But to reduce the case against him to two games against LSU makes no more sense than anointing him a future Hall of Famer based on his two stellar games against Alabama.
Sample size, sample size, sample size.
2) The New York Times had a curious write-up of Manziel’s bowl game and then surreptitiously edited the piece. At one point in the original version, writer Ray Glier referred to Manziel as an “unsubmissive huckster.” More interesting is that the original version of the article online noted that Manziel’s “payday” gesture “has enraged purists and opponents who feel Manziel…enriched himself by illegally taking money for autographs while in college,”
What exactly makes Manziel a huckster was never clearly explained. In any event, whether Manziel got money for autographs or not – that act is most certainly not illegal under United States law. It is only a violation of NCAA rules. That sports commentators are frequently incapable of making this distinction says a lot about how successful NCAA propaganda efforts have been in shaping public discourse about what athletes should and shouldn’t be allowed to do. In this case, that there is any debate at all about whether adult Americans should be able to make some money off of the selling of their names and likenesses when someone else is making a killing do so is simply preposterous.
What’s interesting is that if you access the article now, the phrase “unsubmissive huckster” has disappeared. Even more interesting – the word “illegal” has been replaced. The relevant clause now reads “enriched himself improperly…” I suppose it’s a sign of progress that the Times felt compelled to edit what is an egregious error. But there is no correction noted at the bottom of the new version of the article. The Times, it appears, tried to slip this one past the goalie.