By far the draft prospect with the most online clout (his 760,000-plus Instagram followers through May 4 are more than 15 times that of the Jaguars' team account), Manziel will be something of a virtual pioneer. At 21, he'll be the first budding NFL star to attempt to navigate the treacherous intersection of our culture's two most powerful and perilous touchstones: social media and football. But will the image makeover eventually wreck him, or catapult him to a level of social media fame not seen in the league? To find out, we asked social media and PR experts, as well as agents and NFL executives, to help analyze the maturation of Johnny Football as it has played out in real time on his Instagram account.
Posted: Jan. 9
Likes (through May 4): 43,500
Besides Manziel's mismatched outfit -- a black throwback Brett Favre Falcons jersey and a Cubs trucker hat -- this post barely sticks out. Except for one little detail: It's the last Instagram post you'll see featuring the former party boy holding a drink. If you're looking for the glassy-eyed candids from Bourbon Street or El Squid Roe that once made him an Internet sensation (and a fairly typical college student), you're out of luck.
The image cleanup -- while possibly overblown and a tad puritanical -- is a critical step, according to former uber-agent Leigh Steinberg, who has represented eight No. 1 overall NFL draft picks and, during the past several years, has been through his own very public struggles with alcoholism and image repair. "No one could survive under the kind of microscope Manziel was under," says Steinberg, "but it still creates an impression. And image is a critical factor in how high up the draft Manziel will go. People couldn't care less about the leadership abilities of a defensive lineman. This is the quarterback. He's the face of the franchise. The consequences of that player failing behaviorally is devastating. But I think Manziel has done an excellent job of [fixing his image] even though he was unfairly maligned in the first place."
Still, truth be told, most NFL execs don't want choirboys under center, either. "There are quarterbacks who are too clean," says one NFC executive. "You need your quarterback to go out for beers with the guys, to go out and blow off steam." Safe to say, Manziel has that part of the job description locked up. He just has to tone down the frat boy routine. During the 2008 offseason, former Heisman winner and then-Cardinals QB Matt Leinart was photographed in a hot tub surrounded by females and never lived down the perception that he didn't take the job seriously. (His poor play didn't help, either.) "Any time a quarterback leaves his home he's subject to public scrutiny," says Steinberg. "Pro quarterbacks are kings. They are role models; that's what America is looking for."
Posted: Feb. 13