Last year a pair of redshirt freshman quarterbacks exceeded expectations for their teams and brought a lot of excitement to college football. Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M captured the Heisman Trophy, with late game heroics, and was the first freshman in history to do so. We who watched closely saw Marcus Mariota established himself as a top three quarterback nationally. These two dual-threat passers are atop the list of 2013 Heisman candidates, and a question that comes up is, which would you rather have?
Manziel brings an element to the gridiron that is very hard to teach: the uncanny ability to make something out of nothing… a la Ben Roethlisberger. He has surprising quickness/elusiveness and can manufacture big plays when the protection breaks down. He is also a clutch performer, which was demonstrated last season when he beat an undefeated Alabama team, in Tuscaloosa no less. That officially put Johnny Football on the map.
Mariota has similar attributes to Manziel in his ability to throw the ball. He may not be the playmaker Manziel is, but he is a better all-around passer. The frame that 6-foot-4 Mariota possesses is more prototypical than that of the 6-foot-1 Manziel. Mariota is also a calm and collected signal caller who does not flinch in the face of pressure.
Their personalities are polar opposites. Manziel is the type of kid that doesn’t bite his tongue for anybody and, let’s say, his off-field judgment is “still maturing.” His latest off-field controversy centers on a report that he accepted money for signing autographs. Mariota is a soft spoken and extremely humble young man. I can vouch for his character because I have personally interacted with him while playing pick-up basketball at the rec. A family man at heart, Mariota stays grounded and focused on the task at hand, which is winning football games.
Mariota may not have come close to Manziel’s yardage totals, but he has a better completion percentage, quarterback rating, touchdown to interception ratio and a slight edge in yards per carry. It will be hard for Manziel to replicate the highlights he produced last year while Mariota with his great mechanics and discipline should improve. I also believe that ultimately Mariota’s skills, led by his character, will translate better to the NFL. Final analysis: I would choose Mariota over Manziel every day of the week, twice on Saturdays.