By Russ Lande
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- As expected, Texas A&M's pro day -- otherwise known as the Johnny Manziel & Mike Evans Show -- was a circus. Not only were there more NFL front office personnel than an owners' meeting, but there were lots of random curious bystanders in attendance as well. At one point, I had to make way for a cart carrying former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. Small details became comically big news, as the buzz grew early on that Manziel would be going through the workout in his helmet and shoulder pads. A few minutes after hearing that, it was confirmed, setting off more excitement.
But first, the undercards. Before Manziel worked out, two lesser known prospects, tight end Nehemiah Hicks and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., showed off their skills. At 256 pounds, Hicks looked the part of an NFL player, but he did not blow anyone away with his workout. He ran in the high 4.9's on his 40s, vertical jumped 29 inches and broad jumped 8'11. He was one of the receivers who caught passes during Manziel's workout and, while he displayed good hands, he did not show good all-around speed or explosion out of his cuts. Hurd looked muscular and well built, but otherwise did not impress either. At 178 pounds, he ran in the 4.6's on his 40s, 4.19 on his short shuttle, 6.69 on his 3-cone, 11.75 on his 60 shuttle, broad jumped 9'2 and vertical jumped 31 ½. Hurd was put through his positional workout by former A&M cornerback and current Jets scout Aaron Glenn and despite showing quick feet in the drill, he struggled flipping his hips to change directions. I did not see the quick twitch athleticism that NFL defensive backs need.
Once Hurd finished his workout, it was time for Manziel and Evans to strut their stuff. Although some criticized Manziel for wearing his shoulder pads and helmet during the workout, I think it was a great move -- after all, that's what he's going to be wearing in games (as Manziel himself explained to NFL.com). He threw 63 passes (with two drops) and, while Manziel doesn't have a cannon arm along the lines of Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco, he proved that he can make all the NFL throws with ease.
Taking every snap from under center, Manziel was quick and efficient in his drop back and on straight "drop and throw" passes, he did a good job of driving off his back foot and getting rid of the ball quickly. He threw 25 passes less than 10 yards and all were within the receiving radius of his receiver (in my opinion, seven of them were not throw to the ideal location, as they were either slightly behind or high). When it came to medium length passes between 10 to 19 yards, he was accurate on 14 of 15 passes, but of those 14 eight were not thrown to the ideal location. When Manziel threw the ball over 20 yards, it reinforced what I had seen on film and makes me confident that he is one of the three best deep ball throwers I have ever evaluated, along with RGIII and Jeff Blake.
On the day, he was accurate on 16 of 17 20+ yard throws and only missed the ideal location on three of those 16. It was remarkably impressive seeing him make outstanding 30+ yard throws down both sidelines while on the move, both rolling into his throw and throwing against his body. What surprised me is that Manziel often seemed to be throwing to his receiver and hitting him in the numbers, rather than leading receiver -- on "out" routes especially. This may be an issue because many teams base their passing offense around throwing to a spot to lead the receiver, and if he does not improve in this area he will struggle within the confines of a traditional timing-based NFL passing attack.
While many may have been caught up in the Manziel hype, plenty of NFL people were here to see receiver Mike Evans - and he mostly did not disappoint. A big player, Evans moved with remarkable ease and fluidity throughout the workout. His routes were crisp and he consistently got his head and hands around quickly when coming out of breaks. Although he double caught one deep pass along the sideline, he caught the other twelve balls thrown his way cleanly and made one spectacular catch down the sideline on a deep throw. This was all good to see, but one should temper expectations just a bit. Despite running a better than expected 40 at the Combine, Evans did not show the elite explosiveness and speed that rare huge receivers like Calvin Johnson have.
Overall, I came away impressed with the performances of both Evans and Manziel, but was not "wowed" by either one. I think the best way to sum up Manziel's performance is that if you already liked him, you came away convinced that he is the top prospect you thought you saw on film. However, if you came to the workout with questions about his arm strength, release quickness and accuracy, you may have felt a little better about those areas and will likely go watch more film to figure him out better. At this stage, my gut says Manziel will be drafted by the Vikings in the first round (they hold the 8th overall pick), and that Evans will be selected between picks 10 and 25.
Russ Lande writes about college scouting and the NFL draft for Sports on Earth. He is GM jr. scouting and college scouting director for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and the Big 10 Network. He is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and former scouting administrator for the St. Louis Rams. You can follow him@RUSSLANDE.