NFL

NFL AM: Is Marcus Mariota the Next Johnny Manziel?

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Is Mariota this Year’s Johnny Football? 

It is unfair to compare Marcus Mariota to Johnny Manziel. The former is loaded with all the intangibles you could want in a franchise quarterback — competitiveness, leadership ability, work ethic — while the latter is just plain loaded. But when it comes to the NFL Draft, Mariota may be destined to follow a Manziel-like path down the draft board.

The same questions that plagued Manziel, at least when it comes to on-field performance, are present in Mariota’s portfolio. He is a system quarterback who still must master the fundamentals of the position, including huddling up, taking snaps from under center, reading defenses and going through progressions. His skill-set indicates he can handle all of these things, but until he gets it done on the field, everything is merely projection.

With so many questions surrounding his ability to transition to the pro game, it is no wonder teams are eager to gather more information. The Buccaneers, Jets and Chargers will all work him out, while the Redskins will fly him to Virginia for an interview and physical. Three of those teams select in the top-six, while the Chargers (No. 17) would likely only be players if Philip Rivers forces a trade sometime in the next four weeks.

Mariota is this draft’s great enigma, a role Manziel filled in last year’s player selection meeting. With questions surrounding Manziel’s ability to adjust to a more orthodox offense, he fell from a potential top-five pick all the way to Cleveland at No. 22. The Browns felt they had a steal, the same way the Packers landed a steal when Aaron Rodgers fell in 2005, but instead Cleveland got a train-wreck both on and off the field.

There is little risk of Mariota following Manziel’s missteps away from the field. But on the field? That is still open for debate.

“I think for any rookie quarterback it’s going to be an adjustment, stepping up into this new level,” Mariota said. “For me, I’m going to continue to absorb as much as I can, learn from as many people as I can, and do my best in whatever situation I get into.”

For Mariota, getting paired with the right team is paramount. He would love to go No. 2 overall to the Titans, who are led by renowned “quarterback whisperer” Ken Whisenhunt. It helps that Tennessee would be willing to start the season with Zach Mettenberger atop the depth chart, giving Mariota time to sit and learn. San Diego would also be a nice landing spot, but only if Rivers is still on the roster, which seems an implausible scenario.

There could be no better landing spot than Philadelphia, where Mariota would be reunited with his former college coach, Chip Kelly. Already Kelly has gone on record saying he will not target Mariota in the draft, but given that every other word out of Kelly’s mouth is a lie, it would be no surprise to see him push for a reunion.

The places Mariota needs to avoid are New York and Washington … it is difficult to imagine two worse quarterbacks to learn from than Geno Smith and Robert Griffin III. If Mariota were to pick up even 10 percent of their bad habits, it would prevent him from ever reaching his immense potential.

Finally, we have the worst-case scenario: Mariota could follow Manziel’s footsteps all the way to Cleveland, which would leave him in need of career rehab … and a stiff drink.

Clowney Encouraged by Rehab Results

While the Buccaneers figure out what to do with this year’s top overall pick, the Texans are still trying to figure out what they can get from last year’s No. 1 selection.

Coach Bill O’Brien and owner Bob McNair have both stated their expectations that Jadeveon Clowney — who underwent microfracture surgery on Dec. 8 — can recover the explosive form he demonstrated at South Carolina. Clowney supported those assertions over the weekend with his first public comments since going under the knife.

“I’m very confident about [getting back to 100 percent],” Clowney said. “This rehab’s going to help me a lot to get back towards playing.”

Clowney’s comments came while making a public appearance at a Puma store in Houston. He did not have a visible limp.

These are all promising signs for the Texans, who got just four games and seven tackles from the third No. 1 overall pick in franchise history. It was, in essence, a lost season for Clowney, who also dealt with a meniscus injury, a sports hernia and a concussion before undergoing his season-ending operation.

If Clowney can get right, it will be a major boost to a Texans team that stayed in the playoff race until Week 17 last season. He would team up with reigning Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and free-agent pickup Vince Wilfork to anchor one of the best defensive front sevens in the entire league.

The potential is there. But in the NFL, potential is a four-letter word. And in Clowney’s case, so is “knee.”

Briggs Visits the Bay Area

The 49ers have already lost two linebackers to retirement this offseason. On Monday, they will visit with an accomplished potential replacement who is close to hanging up his cleats, as well.

Lance Briggs, a future Hall of Famer who spent his first 12 seasons with the Bears, will be in the Bay Area for a visit. It would be a homecoming of sorts for Briggs, who grew up just a couple hours from Levi’s Stadium and opened a restaurant there last year.

Briggs, 34, has battled injuries over the last couple seasons, including missing eight games because of a groin injury in 2014. But when healthy — as he insists he is now — he has been one of the most productive defenders in the league. He missed just four games over his first 10 seasons and owns impossible-to-appreciate career numbers: 1,173 tackles, 15 sacks, 16 interceptions, 19 forced fumbles and five touchdowns.

It is unrealistic to expect Briggs to keep posting such stellar numbers at this point in his career. But if nothing else, he can fill a void in the defensive rotation and add some invaluable veteran experience to a unit that’s under new leadership.

And if things don’t work out and Briggs decides to call it a career, the 49ers are well versed at hosting retirement ceremonies.

Want to talk more about these and other headlines? Join Michael Lombardo for his weekly NFL Chat on Friday at 2pm EST. But you don’t have to wait until then … you can ask your question now


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.