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Draft King Analysis
August 8, 2013
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com

Reader feedback is always welcomed here on Draft King. Sound off with your thoughts on Twitter (@LouPickney) or via email at LouPickney@gmail.com.


Don't ask me how it happened because I'm not quite sure, but somehow a column that I wrote on 5/3, not long after the 2013 NFL Draft, didn't go online until today. Guess it slipped my mind. Then again, the older I get the faster time seems to go, somewhat like the opposite of dropping down a dream level in Inception. For those younger readers here, just wait, it will happen to you, too. Time waits for no man.

Inexplicably, what I wrote in early May is somehow is less dated than the column I started writing and subsequently accidentally deleted this past Saturday that mostly centered on Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel. Sometimes things just work out like that. I know this: when the Hilton in Las Vegas pulled the Alabama/A&M game off the board this past Sunday, it was a telling sign. Vegas always knows the inside scoop.

Manziel already was poised to be the top subject of debate going into the 2014 NFL Draft before the autograph scandal broke. Now? There will be some who will argue that Manziel is going to be a first-round selection even if he doesn't play another snap for A&M, while others will question if a 6'1" scrambler who had two of the best offensive tackles in college football in 2012 (and still has one of them, Jake Matthews, returning this fall) can pull that same bag of tricks out in the NFL and not get his head taken off by someone like Cowboys DE/OLB DeMarcus Ware.

At this point, for what it's worth, I fall somewhere in the middle. It's easy to forget now, but Manziel's first-ever college game came against Florida due to Hurricane Isaac forcing the postponement of A&M's game at Louisiana Tech. Not the easiest way to make your debut, be it Manziel as an active college player or A&M as a member of the SEC. And, as it turned out, when A&M and L-Tech finally played it ended up being one of the most exciting games of the season, a wild 59-57 win by A&M that would have ended up with a four-digit "Greatest Game" score in NCAA Football 13 had it happened there. And, in many ways, it felt like a video game with the defensive sliders turned way down.

But what impressed me the most out of that game was the effort that Manziel showed on this play where he chased down two different L-Tech defenders following a fumble. Heart and hustle make a huge difference, particularly at a position like quarterback that involves so many intangibles.

And I don't care if he likes to do what plenty of other college students in Texas like to do, go out and have a fun time, even in the era of smartphone cameras and Twitter and instant critics. Some people seemed to have an almost enthusiastically rabid readiness to jump down his throat when he posted a photo on Twitter of himself at an Oklahoma casino, even though he was of legal age to be there. Some states actually allow young adults to have some freedoms, if you can imagine that. It's a novel idea in this country, I know.

But, ultimately, my concern with Manziel isn't the off-field attention or compensation for autographs or the bar scene in College Station. What I wonder is if a 6'1" QB who relies on scrambling to buy time can translate effectively to the NFL and remain healthy long-term. It's easy to forget now, but Vince Young was a Pro Bowl QB as a rookie -- when Young was healthy, linebackers had to respect his scrambling potential, providing him with intermediate passing lanes that weren't there when he was eventually hobbled by the various injuries that quarterbacks in the NFL inevitably endure.

Johnny Football has the accuracy that modern NFL QBs must have; Manziel threw for 68% on the year while playing in the toughest conference in college football in 2012, including beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa. But can he play with his Yakety Sax scrambling style at the next level and stay at least somewhat healthy?

Anyone who has read much of my writing on here knows of my palpable disdain for the way major college football programs make countless millions on the backs of players who are prevented by NFL rules from going pro until they are three years removed from their high school class graduation. It's a system so broken that South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, who would have almost for sure been one of the first players selected in this past April's draft, was unable to go pro due to being only two years removed. There is no committee to allow for special dispensations, which is sad, but I suppose the NFL throws its free minor league system a bone sometimes.

To take it one step further, you could argue that it's sports prostitution where the major college programs are the pimps, the players are the whores, and the fans (including you and me) are the johns. But instead of sex, our vice is witnessing violent and often dangerous competition on the gridiron. Enjoy it now before it's made illegal.

Perhaps you disagree with me about that, but the notion that college players can't profit off their own name or sell items that they own free and clear (e.g. conference championship rings) without facing sanctions is ludicrous. ESPN's Jay Bilas, a basketball expert who normally wouldn't be referenced in a football-related column like this, pointed out the NCAA's biting hypocrisy on this with a brilliant post on Twitter revealing how searching for Marqise Lee on ShopNCAAsports.com brought up a USC jersey with his number on it. In this case it's an exact replica of what is worn on the field since USC doesn't have names on the backs of its jerseys.

What was the NCAA's response? It disabled the search function on the site. Seriously. Score one for Bilas and ESPN.

Speaking of ESPN, for as much as that network gets bagged on by many in the internet community, it has some great talent there. It will be interesting to see how the soon-to-be debuting Fox Sports 1 network competes with it. FS1 debuts on 8/17, replacing the soon-to-be rebranded SPEED auto racing channel. Taking an established niche cable network like SPEED and going all sports with it is a bold move -- and it sure beats starting from scratch and trying to fight your way into those coveted lower-tiered slots or, even tougher, those hotel TV lineups that give you maybe 30 channels if you're lucky. But the price of entry with that approach is not cheap: just ask the execs at WWE about that.

The real winners in all of this should be the viewers. Competition tends to lead to stronger performances, kind of like how the EA Sports Madden NFL video game series has stagnated without 2K Sports licensed to create a competing game anymore. ESPN will be forced to evaluate areas of possible weakness in ways that it might not have otherwise done.

The shift from SPEED to Fox Sports 1 is not as abrupt as what Viacom did with TNN circa 1999, the cable equivalent of a 100kw FM country music formatted radio station flipping to sports-talk, but make no mistake: the major players know that there is long money to be made in live sports programming. It's DVR proof in an era where almost nothing else is, it has multiple built-in targeted money demos (any cut you want to take from the male 18-54 audience), and it involves a product that tends to evoke emotional responses out of even the toughest, most stone-faced guys.

Next time I'll have more on the actual players and teams, both college and pro. The NFL preseason started this past Sunday in Canton, but it begins tonight for most teams, and we're not far away from the start of the college football season. We're more than six months removed from the Super Bowl, and that rabid sense of excitement and anticipation that has long been an August tradition is now here. Soon enough the games that count will begin, and that's when the real fun will start.


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