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Johnny Manziel lands on SI cover; Bucs, Vikes front-runners to draft QB? (photo)


If there is one player in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft that has prompted the most discussion, dissection and disagreement among the so-called draft experts, Johnny Manziel is that player. His draft stock and risen and fallen, and then risen again, and then dipped again, sliding up and down the experts’ boards the same way the Heisman Trophy winner dips up and down and slips and slides around in the pocket.

That is why there is no single player more deserving of landing on the cover Sports Illustrated’s annual “NFL Draft Preview” issue.

The standout quarterback is shown holding a football while surrounded by quotes from the likes of Rich Gannon and Mike Holmgren.

Speaking of Gannon, the former NFL MVP in 2002 and Minnesota Viking told the Twin Cities’ Pioneer Press that it would be “foolish” for his former team to take a quarterback with their No. 8 overall pick.

“Based of my knowledge of these players that are coming out (in the draft) and the Vikings’ situation, I think they’d be foolish to take a quarterback at No. 8,” Gannon said in a phone interview. “That’s just my personal opinion. They’d be foolish.

“I think they’ve hedged their bets with Ponder and Cassel. …. Whether they trade back into later in the first round or get a (quarterback) in the second round, to me that makes more sense… And you can still get in the quarterback market next year.”

Despite Gannon’s bold prediction, is speculating that not only will the Vikings likely draft a quarterback with its first round pick, the team currently is the odds-on favorite to draft none other than Johnny Football at No. 8, according to its estimation and assessment of the upcoming draft situation.

We aren’t buying Mike Zimmer’s contention that there are plenty of red flags with Manziel, or at least enough to scare the Vikings off. In fact, the new Vikings coach came off as disingenuous in his remarks after Manziel’s pro day, which he called a “sideshow.” That he went on a radio show to make the comments casts even more doubt on his sincerity. Yeah, we know, Zimmer is a defensive guy, but as a defensive guy, he knows what a nightmare it would be to game-plan for an Adrian Peterson-Manziel tandem. Pick No. 8 might be the only obstacle to making this marriage happen; a trade-up might be in order.

Zimmer did in fact characterize the pro day where Manziel impressed onlookers as a “sideshow,” as well as later go on talk radio and talk about red flags and whatnot. The belief that this is all a smokescreen by the Vikings fits in well with how general manager Rick Spielman has handled previous drafts he has presided over for the team. Deception and smokescreens are Spielman’s specialty on draft day.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are considered the second most-likely team to draft Manziel.

Tampa Bay, which picks just ahead of Minnesota at No. 7, has been regularly linked to Manziel’s Texas A&M teammate, WR Mike Evans, which makes a ton of sense. But the Buccaneers reportedly have Manziel on the short list of players in consideration for their first-round pick. It also makes sense since the Bucs have a system in place (solid defense and running game) that could support a player like Manziel. Josh McCown can’t be looked at as a long-term solution, and with a new regime, the jury is still very much out on second-year man Mike Glennon.

Slightly diminishing the chances of the Bucs taking Manziel is that the team may be a bit hesitant to pick a quarterback high in the draft after being burned so badly after taking Josh Freeman with the 17th-overall pick in the 2009 Draft. Granted, neither new general manager Jason Licht nor new head coach Lovie Smith were with the organization at the time, there may be some residual institutional awareness standing in the way of the Bucs going quarterback in the first round in the near future.

The fact remains, despite all the calculation, speculation and forecasting, no one knows exactly where Johnny Manziel will go in the draft next week. Not Manziel, not the teams who may get the chance to select him, and definitely not the draft experts whose opinions can change with a shift in the direction of the wind.

But should Manziel somehow fall to the Vikings at No. 8 and the team takes him, that would mean there would be seven teams that Johnny Football would have the opportunity to exact revenge upon after the chip on his shoulder changes from a Frito to a Dorito.

Seriously, one of the great quotes out there.

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