I've been tracking potential targets for the Eagles in the 2014 NFL draft, and I want to respond to some of the feedback from last week's column on the notable collegiate quarterbacks.
Most e-mailers and commenters agreed that defense is this team's biggest need. I can certainly see that. Everyone can see that. That's why I spent this week looking at linebackers.
But ask yourself this question: Is Chip Kelly's future quarterback on this roster? I still argue no. Mike Vick is too prone to making mistakes, and Nick Foles couldn't beat Vick for the job in training camp. Matt Barkley's limited mobility doesn't fit either.
Then, consider all of the spread-option quarterbacks that could potentially be at the top of this year's draft: Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Tajh Boyd and Johnny Manziel. Can Kelly bypass a perfect fit for his offense just to draft for need?
Howie Roseman has made it abundantly clear that drafting for need was a mistake when the Eagles selected Danny Watkins. He said the Eagles picked Watkins because the team had a need at offensive line, even though he presumably knew Watkins wasn't the best player. If one of the above quarterbacks is the best player, can Kelly/Roseman say no? I argue they cannot. That's why I believe the play of these quarterbacks is set to become a massive topic in the city this year.
All of which leads to the continued question of whether or not Manziel, specifically, is an NFL-caliber quarterback. My opinion remains unchanged. He is slower than Vick and throws with less velocity than Barkley, which means he's a backup quarterback. He's a phenomenal college player, but I don't think his skills would make him a consistent starter nor a winner in the pros.
But pay attention to the comments from Manziel, Kelly and one anonymous NFC general manager in this very interesting item from Greg A. Bedard, staff writer from MMQB.
“I diagrammed some of my favorite plays at Tivy [High], and one of the Oregon coaches said, ‘We literally run the exact same offense with different terminology,'” Manziel told the San Antonio Express-News three years ago. “Coach Kelly said I was perfect for their system, and I knew I was going to accept as soon as they offered.”
Oregon did offer Manziel a scholarship, which he originally accepted before deciding Oregon was too far from his home in Texas.
Bedard follows up the Heisman winner's comments with this: "Given Manziel’s talents and Kelly’s uptempo, frenetic offense, a Manziel-Kelly reunion would be blissful. 'Oh my gosh. He would be the prototype,' an NFC general manager says."
And as for Kelly: “You’re not coaching that,” Kelly told USA Today last year while he was still at Oregon, referring to Manziel. “But if a guy has that kind of ability, you’re not gonna tell him to stop. He just goes. ... He’s fun to watch. He’s great for football.”
Bedard spent a portion of the Alabama-Texas A&M game from the sideline watching Manziel up close. I was curious, so I called Bedard for some follow-up from an Eagles perspective. “I don’t think you can find a more perfect trigger man for Kelly’s offense than Manziel,” he told me.
As I’ve stated above, I don’t believe Manziel’s arm is NFL caliber. Bedard sees it differently, “Absolutely, [his arm is NFL caliber]. His anticipation and his touch make up for that [lack of velocity].”
One other note of interest: Bedard believes that 'Bama coach Nick Saban’s gameplan to stop Manziel -- and the spread offense in general -- was crafted, in part, by Bill Belichick of the Patriots. That philosophy is “to play the percentages,” says Bedard. “Make the quarterback beat you on the outside and on the corners.” It’s one that the Pats' coach unsuccessfully used in trying to slow down Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers last year and it’s one that Manziel beat again and again in the game two Saturdays ago.
The Eagles need help defensively, some of the other quarterbacks translate a bit better to the pros in my opinion, and Manziel's recruitment to Oregon was a long time ago.
But it makes you wonder.