Archive for December, 2013

Friday notes: One declares, one to follow, Houston’s dilemma

Friday, December 6th, 2013

It’s the time of year when we start to hear which underclassmen are declaring for the draft. The prospects involved in Bowl games will likely wait it out. For the others, there’s no reason to hold back their intentions.

Tennessee announced left tackle Antonio Richardson will turn pro today.

Despite suggestions he held back this year, Richardson has massive potential. And it’s not the only thing that’s massive — he’s 6-6 and 327lbs, but holds the weight well.

Teams are going to be all over this guy. I remember in 2010 — Anthony Davis was a late addition to the class after opting to leave Rutgers. He too was a huge, athletic tackle who faced claims he hadn’t played his best football during the season.

Ultimately, the potential won out. Davis looked the part of a NFL tackle, tested well and was drafted 11th overall by the 49ers.

Richardson has even more potential. He’s exactly what teams are looking for — quick on his feet, huge frame, long arms, rarely beaten by pure speed and forces defensive ends to take difficult angles to attack the quarterback. He also flashes a nasty streak from time to time, which is a big plus.

While a guy like Jake Matthews will be considered a ‘safer’ option, he simply can’t compare to the upside on show here.

In fact there’s maybe only Auburn’s Greg Robinson who can compete when it comes to pure potential. My favourite tackle in this class — Cyrus Kouandjio — can only dream of a ceiling as high as Richardson’s. Fortunately for Kouandjio, he’s much more technically and fundamentally sound. There’s less bust potential, but he’s not a freak of nature.

The question to Richardson will be — can you deliver on that potential? When scouts and coaches look into his eyes during this process, will they see a man determined to be as good as he possibly can be?

That for me seems to be the one thing that will determine how high he goes in the draft. If he can convince people he’s ready to dominate — he’ll go very early.

Tony Pauline is reporting that Louis Nix will likely begin training for the combine at the beginning of January.

It’s not a major shock that Nix is planning on heading to the NFL. He turned down the option of going pro last year.

Yet in terms of his stock, that extra season could be costly.

Twelve months ago Nix was seen as the dominating, immovable force of Notre Dame’s defensive line. Nobody came out of the National Championship smelling of roses, but Nix’s fantastic 2012 season had him touted as a likely top-10 pick.

This year, he’s struggled to emulate that level of play.

He’s looked heavier for a start — and it doesn’t look like good weight. It’s a good thing he’ll start his combine prep immediately — he could do with trimming down.

The league values speed more than ever, even with the big guys. Dontari Poe was a top-15 pick purely down to his athleticism and size. His tape was nothing special at all, with almost nothing to highlight and say, “that’s why we need this guy”.

It’s vital that Nix can show quick twitch movement and mobility — because we all know what he’s capable of when it comes to filling a gap in the running game. Even this year it’s hard to knock his ability against the run — he anchors well, he’s strong in the upper body.

It’s good to see he’s getting a head start as he tries to prove he can also have an impact against the pass. Two-down linemen don’t tend to go in the top-15.

Finally a thought on Teddy Bridgewater — the default early pick at quarterback this year. I say that with respect for Bridgewater, who is a pretty good player with a future in the league at the right spot.

However — I saw a lot of comments yesterday suggesting the Houston/Jacksonville game was the ‘Bridgewater Bowl’. Let’s take a rain check on that.

Bridgewater’s first half display against Cincinnati last night was a perfect review of how he’s played in the last month.

Shaky.

By half time this was his stat line: 6/14, 86 yards. One touchdown, one interception.

At that point he’d only thrown three touchdowns since the end of October. For whatever reason, he was in a slump.

Admittedly things picked up in the second half and he threw two more touchdowns. Louisville squeezed past Cincy and life was good again.

But it made me question, once again, Bridgewater’s status in this draft.

He is a good college quarterback with a reasonable skill set. Is he a special player though? That’s what I keep coming back to. Is he special enough for a team like the Texans to feel he’s worthy of the #1 pick?

Houston, I presume, aren’t seeing this as the start of a major rebuild job. Unlike Seattle in 2008, they have a ton of young talented players — including possibly the best all-round player in the league.

Whoever replaces Gary Kubiak will inherit a roster with enough players to bounce back quickly.

Owning the #1 pick is a bit of a luxury. And much like the Chiefs last year, they should be doing better. Everything is set for a rebound season in 2014.

Yet Kansas City needed a quarterback and didn’t take one with the #1 pick. They drafted a right tackle and traded for Alex Smith long before the 2013 draft.

Could the Texans take a similar path?

Here’s some names for you — Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford.

Cutler is a free agent next year, and the Bears have to decide whether to pay him a hefty salary to keep him. Their lukewarm approach to contract talks and public admission that the franchise tag isn’t ideal could mean anything. It could be leverage. Or it could be a sign that all is not well between the two parties.

The Rams look set to own a top five pick on top of their own selection. Will they go in a different direction, potentially leading the way to Bradford’s departure?

That’s just two examples. You may be able to think of more. Theoretically the Texans could look at either player, or another veteran, just like Kansas City did. And that would give them the opportunity to draft Jadeveon Clowney with the #1 pick.

Alternatively, they could just take a quarterback with the #33 pick. It’s a deep enough class to consider that option. They could even move back into the first.

What I’m trying to show here is — just because the Texans are picking early and need a quarterback, it doesn’t mean they’re just going to draft Bridgewater.

And right now, I’m not convinced Bridgewater — or any quarterback for that matter — is worthy of going before Clowney. For all his negative publicity this year he still remains a generational physical talent. He has the ability to come into the league and become a superstar.

Those chance are greatly improved if you’re lining him up next to J.J. Watt. That could be a duo for the ages.

If you’re going to say “no thanks” to that proposition, you better make sure the other guy you take is very good.

Is Bridgewater good enough to win Houston a title one day? Maybe. He’d have weapons. It’d probably be a better spot for him than Jacksonville.

But is Bridgewater + whoever you get at #33 better than Clowney and A.J. McCarron? Or Clowney and whatever veteran you can add?

That is the big question facing the Texans. And it’s far from a foregone conclusion they decide to go quarterback if they get that top pick.

2014 mock draft: 4th December

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Time for the first mock draft of the year.

I wanted to mix things up a little bit compared to some of the mocks out there, but here’s a few pointers…

- Whichever team gets the #1 pick, I still think they’re going to find it very difficult to pass on Jadeveon Clowney. When you pick that early, you want a special player. Or at least a player with the potential to be special. Clowney and J.J. Watt could be a partnership for the ages, and something Houston simply has to consider even if they feel Case Keenum isn’t the guy. If I’d done a second round projection, I would’ve had the Texans selecting A.J. McCarron at #33.

- Sam Bradford has had a tough time in St. Louis. Multiple offensive coordinators. Very little consistency. A dearth of weapons. And his huge pre-CBA contract has severely limited the Rams’ ability to really attack free agency. At the same time, he has one year left on his contract. And because he’s been earning so much these last four seasons — any extension will need to be massive. I don’t see how you can make that commitment. The Rams have the luxury of two picks and could even end up with the #1 choice. They need to consider taking Teddy Bridgewater.

- The two positions of strength in this class are offensive tackle and receiver. That’s my take. But a ton of league sources are raving about the cornerbacks. I’ve tried to represent that in this mock.

- I’m not a Washington Huskies fan. I’m not a fan of any college team. The reason Bishop Sankey is in the first round of this mock is down to one thing and one thing only. He’s a hell of a football player.

- Cincinnati needs to find a quarterback. Andy Dalton teases the Bengals fans with 4-5 games every year where he looks the part. The rest of the time he wastes all that talent on the Cincy roster. That’s not to say Johnny Manziel is necessarily the answer. But surely the Bengals have to weigh up their options here? They’ll have to pay Dalton in a year. Do you really want to make that long term commitment?

- Keep an eye on UCF’s Blake Bortles. He’s a very modern NFL quarterback — a big, mobile presence with an arm. I can see Cleveland going down that road with one of their two first round picks ahead of someone like Derek Carr. And I like Carr, just not necessarily in round one.

- For the Seahawks I took a tackle. Brandon Scherff is a punishing run blocker and looks like a Tom Cable prospect. I sincerely hope the Seahawks find a way to keep Breno Giacomini, but it’s going to be tough to pay him and the likes of Richard Sherman, Golden Tate, Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett. You can see some Scherff tape at the top of this piece.

All thoughts welcome in the comments section.

#1 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
Jadeveon Clowney next to J.J. Watt makes it acceptable to wait until round two for a quarterback.
#2 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
The Rams are coming to a crossroads with Sam Bradford. Either they pay him mega bucks, or they move on. I’d move on.
#3 Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
Gus Bradley’s new athletic LEO. Their defense needs a guy with his speed off the edge.
#4 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
With the top two DE’s gone, this is the other big need in Atlanta.
#5 Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)
The best tackle in this class for me. Superb talent. Not sure why he has so many critics.
#6 Re’Shede Hageman (DE, Minnesota)
Athletic specimen. Why else have they stashed Josh Freeman? He must be the plan for 2014. Surely?
#7 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
Who wouldn’t want a Vincent Jackson clone?
#8 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
He’d be a great compliment to Josh Gordon in Cleveland.
#9 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Robinson’s a fast rising prospect who looks the part of a NFL left tackle.
#10 Antonio Richardson (T, Tennessee)
Athletic ‘beast’ of a player with limitless potential. His play has been inconsistent this year, however.
#11 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Looks like a difference maker at tight end. Ebron’s production hasn’t dipped despite the change of quarterback at UNC.
#12 Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
Keep an eye on this guy against Ohio State. He could be the top corner for 2014.
#13 Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
Elite speed off the edge, 12 sacks this year. Welcome to the modern day pass rusher.
#14 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
The Rams defense is perhaps a great safety (or corner) away from being very scary.
#15 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Solid, if unspectacular, offensive lineman. New York needs to rebuild in the trenches.
#16 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
He’s making plays and getting good reviews all year.
#17 Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
He’s not been dominant in 2013 and it’s a concern. Has he added too much bad weight?
#18 Cameron Erving (T, Florida State)
Converted defensive lineman. Big upside. Would test well at the combine.
#19 Zack Martin (T, Notre Dame)
A lot of people want to convert him to guard. I like him where he is — at left tackle.
#20 Kyle Van Noy (DE, BYU)
Philly desperately needs talent on defense. Van Noy is a playmaker.
#21 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Terrific, polished, explosive receiver. He could go earlier than this.
#22 Loucheiz Purifoy (CB, Florida)
Inconsistent corner but plays the run well and a decent athlete.
#23 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Criminally underrated because he lacks elite physical tools. He could be a star.
#24 Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon)
Solid all-round corner prospect who can play outside or in the slot.
#25 Bishop Sankey (RB, Washington)
Dallas reached for a center last year, so why not a running back? Sankey is a stud.
#26 Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
Average 2013 season could prove costly. Still, the talent is there.
#27 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
Andy Dalton has had more than enough time to prove he’s the guy. Someone is going to roll the dice on Manziel.
#28 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
Big, mobile quarterback who can get the ball downfield. Could begin a quick rise up the boards. Having a great season.
#29 Jason Verrett (CB, TCU)
Small but highly competitive corner.
#30 Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)
Athletic freak who can play tackle or guard. He has a ton of upside.
#31 Marcus Roberson (CB, Florida)
They need to add talent to that secondary. Roberson has character red flags.
#32 Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa)
Punishing run blocker with attitude. Looks like a Tom Cable type player.

Monday notes: Mariota staying at Oregon

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

The big news of the day (aside from Jim Mora’s decision to stay with UCLA) is the announcement by Oregon that Marcus Mariota won’t declare for the 2014 draft.

It’s not that much of a surprise really.

Mariota has a very intriguing skill set, but he’s not the finished product by any stretch. He can work on his arm strength — there’s definitely the frame there to add some extra upper body muscle. A third year starting will be a big plus, and it seems he’s keen to get his degree (always a good thing).

I voiced some concern in this piece about how he might project to the NFL. Nothing about this decision will harm him.

And despite a few odd results recently, Oregon are too good to suffer a catastrophic, stock-destroying season like we saw with Matt Barkley and USC last year.

It does make things very interesting at the top of the draft.

UCLA’s Brett Hundley shouldn’t declare, but will he spend even more time considering his options now that Mariota is staying in the PAC-12? The quarterback market has thinned at the top, after all. Although he too would really benefit from another year starting.

Hundley also needs to be aware that teams are not reaching for needs at the position. Last year several high profile quarterbacks sank into the middle rounds. An impressive physical skill set is no guarantee you’ll find a home in round one.

The Mariota news could help the likes of A.J. McCarron, Derek Carr (see his recent performance vs San Jose State below) and Johnny Manziel (assuming he declares). All three, for me, still look like early second round picks. Especially with the quality and depth on the offensive line next year.

It also wouldn’t be a surprise to see teams going receiver early (there’s a few good ones this year) and then looking to get a quarterback in round two — just like Cincinnati did with A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. There’s no receiver out there as good as Green, but there are superior quarterbacks to Dalton.

One name to keep an eye on — Blake Bortles at UCF. Physical, good athlete and playing well this year. He could be a quick riser over the next few weeks.

I’m putting my first mock draft out there tomorrow. Bortles will be part of it…

Derek Carr vs San Jose State

Seahawks needs no clearer

Nothing really has changed as far as the Seahawks are concerned. It’s mostly about who they can keep in the off-season.

Right now there aren’t any glaring holes. The pass rush is much improved — both off the edge and inside. Pass protection has seen a noticeable improvement since the return of Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini. And the sheer depth of Seattle’s secondary is testament to the front offices’ ability to find corners without spending high picks.

We can’t say what Seattle’s needs will be today. We won’t know until free agency comes and goes.

Who will they cut? Who will they re-sign? All mysteries right now.

But just take a moment to realise what that means. How on earth are there not major, clear holes on this roster? There’s depth and talent right across the board.

That’s incredible.

And it’s no surprise Football Outsiders continues to rank the Seahawks as the #1 team in the NFL.

Instant reaction: Seahawks destroy Saints, reach 11-1

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Mr. Consistency had another productive day

What a truly satisfying night of football.

There’s been a lot of talk this week. Brandon Browner’s suspension. Walter Thurmond’s suspension. Percy Harvin’s injury status.

In pre-game, Trent Dilfer questioned the legitimacy of Seattle’s defense.

There were plenty of doubters. I’ll admit I wondered whether all the talk would be a distraction.

Well, that was some statement to the critics.

Let’s cut to the chase — Russell Wilson is the second best thing to ever happen to this football team. Right behind Paul Allen buying the franchise and keeping it in the city.

I’ve been following Gregg Rosenthal’s NFL.com series ranking the quarterbacks. Every week he lists Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in a class of their own (Brady is consistently way down the list, although I’m not sure why).

Gregg is going to have to make room for Wilson at the top table.

He doesn’t have as many touchdown passes as Manning and co, but it’s purely by design.

Tonight was a masterclass.

He wasn’t totally flawless. He probably should’ve been picked off in the first half on a downfield throw to Golden Tate. He missed an open Doug Baldwin in the third quarter.

And that, my friends, is about the grand total of the struggles Wilson ‘endured’ against a supposed top defense.

On a night when Marshawn Lynch was held in check, the quarterback put the team on his back. He ran. He threw. He improvised. He notched up twice as many yards as Brees.

League MVP? Why not?

Seattle has the best record in the NFL. Wilson is the teams best player. Seahawks fans should celebrate every day the decision to draft the 5-11 quarterback so many teams were sceptical of.

They should also celebrate the teams offensive coordinator. Darrell Bevell will be coveted in the off-season. Big time. And while people love to complain when things don’t go swimmingly, this really was a genius piece of game-planning tonight.

He constantly kept the Saints guessing. Bevell used all his weapons and found a way to get Wilson rolling without gimmicks or tricks.

I’ve always been surprised by the grief Bevell receives from some fans. He gets no credit for Wilson’s quick rise to prosperity. When things go well he’s rarely praised. And if you run through a list of currently active offensive coordinators — who would you swap him for?

Seattle gave Bevell a pay rise last off-season to make sure he stuck around. It might be time to start writing up a new offer.

Elsewhere — the pass protection issues are in the past following the return of Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini. Doug Baldwin is making it very easy to get over Harvin’s hip injury. And Zach Miller really is Mr. Consistency. While a shiftier tight end probably walks into the endzone on the 60-yard play — Miller once again provided a reliable target for his quarterback.

Back to the defense — very few teams shut down Drew Brees. They made the New Orleans offense look positively ordinary.

Going into MNF, Brees was on a 43-game streak of 200-yard passing games. The NFL record is 45, held by Dan Fouts.

That run ended tonight with a 147 yard effort.

I’ve had the opportunity to watch the Saints a few times this year. Every time their screen game stood out. It was fearsome. Teams knew what was coming, and they couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

K.J. Wright and the Seahawks made it look like a piece of cake, something nobody else has done this year to my knowledge.

Time and time again, Wright identified the screen, shed a block and made a play. His performance was completely understated on a night when others got the plaudits.

Earl Thomas has achieved Luke Kuechly status. By that I mean — every tackle is lauded by the commentators, he’s constantly talked about as an MVP candidate and any mistake is quickly glossed over.

Cliff Avril continues his march to becoming Seattle’s most effective pass rusher. Another strip-sack today — his speciality — led to Michael Bennett’s early touchdown. These two have had a major impact this year. Avril is signed up for 2014 — but they need to find a way to keep Bennett too.

Byron Maxwell had one bad play by my count — a slightly slow recovery to a Jimmy Graham inside slant for a first down. Apart from that? A really encouraging display.

Seattle held New Orleans to seven points. Seven. Points.

I started this blog in 2008, anticipating a rare opportunity to cover a top-five draft pick for a competitive and injury-hit Seahawks team.

By the end of 2009, it became apparent this was actually a major rebuild. All those dreams of winning a Championship had vanished. Seattle was old, injured and going nowhere fast.

Now, we almost take for granted this is an eleven-win team with four weeks to go in the regular season.

Life is good.

Now go beat the Niners.

Questions continue with 2013 quarterback class

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

A.J. McCarron -- better than some people think, but how good can he be?

This is going to be one of the toughest groups to work out.

At various points this season all of the ‘big names’ have looked the part. They’ve also shown worrying trends and suffered dips in form.

And really, I’m not sure there’s anyone I’d want to hang my hat on.

Not as a franchise-changer, anyway.

Teddy Bridgewater is going to be the first taken, I’m pretty sure about that. But I’m not overwhelmed with his potential. He’s an extremely competent college quarterback, and very traditional in his approach.

Is he a special player? I’m not sure.

What’s his upside? What can he become?

He doesn’t have great mobility, but he has enough to avoid pressure and extend the odd play. He won’t be particularly elusive or much of a runner.

He’s accurate, but not flawless in that regard. He can hit receivers in stride, he’ll make plays downfield. His timing can be inconsistent though and he will miss in frustrating fashion on occasions.

Arm strength, size, personality — all above average, yet not mind-blowing.

I think overall he’ll be considered a safe option for a team that has seriously underachieved in 2013. It’s quite fortunate for Bridgewater that there are some candidates in that regard, rather than the usual bevy of useless teams that usually fill up the early picks in a draft.

He’s unlikely to transform a franchise on his own. With a decent supporting cast he should be able to move the ball around and be productive.

So really it depends on the team he gets saddled with. For me there’s little point Jacksonville going down that road because they have a paper thin roster. He’s not going to galvanise that team single handed and he might suffer long term damage by starting early for the Jags (a thankless task).

Houston, Minnesota and Cleveland make a lot more sense. The Texans should be able to plug him in quite quickly, the Vikings have Adrian Peterson and the Browns are a talented group just lacking a consistently healthy signal caller.

Bridgewater should find a home within the top five picks. He is the best available, even if he’s not quite as good as some will have you believe.

After that it’s a much cloudier picture.

Oregon’s Marcus Mariota worries me.

I hate comparing prospects and basing judgements on that kind of approach because no two unrelated players will be the same. Yet it’s watching Colin Kaepernick this year that has me wondering what type of player Mariota will be at the next level.

For starters any team that drafts him has to let the guy move around and run the ball. Reigning in Kaepernick early this year took away a lot of his effectiveness. He isn’t a brilliant pocket passer and he never was at Nevada. He’s a rangy, athletic runner with the ability to make some plays and improvise.

Restrict him to the pocket and you see a guy who struggles to go through his progressions (well documented) and looks permanently flustered under duress.

Asking Mariota to sit tight and read a defense would be pretty similar. He just looks so effective on the move. Yet if you’re drafting a guy in the top ten, you’re also going to want to protect that investment. So while a running Mariota will give you the best chance of success, it’s also your best way to guarantee he gets hurt.

San Francisco, I’m guessing, at least tried to limit how often Kaepernick ran the ball. And it has had an adverse effect. But they had to try it.

This is almost exclusively down to the Oregon offense, but I haven’t seen any evidence of Mariota going 1-2-3 with his reads and then checking down. It’s not what the Ducks do. So you have to project a quarterback’s ability without any core evidence that he can do the basics well. And that’s where my concern lies.

I have seen evidence where he’s tried to force the ball to his favoured receiver or original target. It took him an age to throw his first pick, but there were a few close calls long before the Arizona game.

And the one area Kaepernick is evidently superior is arm strength. Mariota doesn’t have a weak arm, but he doesn’t have a rifle like Kaepernick. And it’s such a huge weapon for the San Fran quarterback, I’m not sure what he’d be without it.

If Mariota declares — and that’s up in the air — I think a GM or coach somewhere will convince themselves that he’s worth a high pick. But I’m not totally convinced. Not yet.

Zach Mettenberger at LSU started the season showing major improvement from last year and the potential to be an early pick.

Those days are long gone.

In the last few weeks Mettenberger has looked lethargic. He’s started to force way too many passes.

A great example was a pick against Arkansas on Friday. Having lost Odell Beckham (back injury), he was zoning in on the equally talented Jarvis Landry. It was too obvious. And eventually his opponent made him pay, put a blanket over Landry and forced an ugly high pass for a turnover.

He has an arm, he can spread it around. But he’s also a statue in the pocket and when the going’s got tough over the last few weeks, he’s regressed back into something akin to his 2012 form.

Mettenberger left the Arkansas game with a knee injury and that could have even more impact on his stock. Right now he looks like a mid-round pick. He looks like a poor man’s Ryan Mallett.

Derek Carr leads the nation for yardage and in his last two games has 13 touchdowns.

The hype button has well and truly been activated.

I like Carr and argued his case when he wasn’t getting much attention earlier in the year. But suddenly I’m seeing him ranked as a top ten pick.

Really?

It’s a classic example of internet hype. He’s productive, he’s been winning (until this week) and people look at the arm strength and the mechanics and feel comfortable.

Let’s take a step back here. He features in an ultimate spread offense that accentuates the passing game. He’s throwing endless swing passes and WR screens and using YAC.

He isn’t being asked to negotiate through reads, break down a defense, fit the ball into tight spots. Throwing over the middle at the intermediate level has been a struggle at times.

The competition he’s facing most weeks is derisory. It’s a shame Fresno State couldn’t keep winning — it would’ve been very interesting to see him go up against a big school in a BCS game.

For now I think he deserves a solid round 2-3 grade with the potential to keep moving up. Putting him among the top ten picks seems a bit reactionary. I like Carr — but nobody can tell me this is the performance of a top-ten quarterback.

Johnny Manziel had another difficult day yesterday against Missouri. It followed up a tough outing at LSU.

When he’s at his creative best — scrambling away from pressure, having the time to set and throw out of the pocket — there isn’t a more exciting player in college football. When teams are able to contain his receivers and stay organised — he looks frustratingly average.

Last night he couldn’t get anything going. Not really. And when the game was on the line his accuracy deserted him. On one play he attempted a simple screen pass to Mike Evans on a crucial third down, trailing by seven. He managed to throw it high and wide of the 6-5 receiver and the play was buried before it ever had a chance to succeed.

Texas A&M never got the ball back on offense after that.

The magic he displayed against Alabama and Auburn was nowhere to be seen.

It’s really difficult to work out what he’s going to be at the next level. He’s a player of extremes. The thing about Russell Wilson (who he gets compared with far too often) is when the game is going against him, he finds ways to have an impact.

Essentially, an average Russell Wilson performance can still be a winning display. He’ll take what’s on offer, be patient. Keep battling and staying in the game.

When Johnny Manziel is having an off day, Texas A&M can forget about it. Contain Manziel, win the day. When he’s not feeling it, he drifts into struggling. He gets agitated, he starts to force things. You can see in his body language a level of irritation developing that for me, engulfs his ability to stay ice cool the way Wilson does.

At the next level it’s hard to imagine what he could be. Can he still produce the same magic as a scrambling phenomena? Has he got the arm strength and accuracy to make it count against better defensive backs and schemes that will confuse the heck out of him? On a day when the magic isn’t there, can he sit in the pocket and make simple throws faced with complex looks at the LOS?

And aside from all that, how will teams grade his mental make-up?

Wilson is a student of the game, a tireless worker. And he needs to be to succeed. I just can’t see Manziel emulating that work ethic. He’ll need to.

I want to cling to the cliche ‘it only takes one team’. I do suspect somebody will give him his shot. I just wonder whether that shot will come in round two where the risk is less severe.

Alabama’s A.J McCarron is very intriguing. I think he’s improved in pretty much every area he needed to improve — including arm strength. He’s more mobile than people imagine and he can avoid pressure and scramble when required. He’s vastly superior to his predecessors Greg McElroy and John Parker Wilson.

He’s not a great improviser and for that reason he’ll be fairly limited. He’ll take a call and execute it in the NFL, but when things go south I doubt he’s going to be able to adapt and still make a chain-moving play.

McCarron will also make errors — he’ll undersell a pass trying to thread it in behind two DB’s, he’ll miss on a crossing route by throwing slightly behind.

There’s no reason why he can’t be an Andy Dalton-level quarterback. That means completely frustrating at times and bordering on holding back his team. Then on other occasions he’ll be very productive and give the impression he’s a legit franchise starter.

Like Dalton he’s also quite an emotional character — this also leads to some erraticism.

I could see him going in the early part of the second round to a team that wants solid rather than spectacular. But he’s a decent player who has too many unfair critics. As I said, his greatest issue is a lack of improvisation. But he’ll still enter the league a much better player than guys like Christian Ponder and Geno Smith.

Of the others I think Brett Hundley should return to UCLA (debatable whether he will), Tajh Boyd has proven just a little too inaccurate and inconsistent, Logan Thomas hasn’t done enough to repair his stock (but will still go earlier than some think — round 2-3 I suspect) and Aaron Murray’s ACL injury might secure his position as an UDFA candidate.

I’ve flip-flopped on this group all year and I’m still searching for a clarity.

Thank goodness for Russell Wilson.