While ESPN's Todd McShay calls freakishly gifted pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney a "once in 20 years player," Manziel is once in a lifetime. He'll be as great at his position as Clowney will be at his, but you have to take the face-of-the-franchise quarterback over the defensive end.
Like Tebow, Manziel certainly has his doubters -- but far fewer. Even the doubters fear he could turn into a star. "Boom or bust" is the way McShay and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. view Manziel. Kiper won't even rank Manziel on his QB list because he's not sure what to make of him. In their latest mock drafts, both have Cleveland "rolling the dice" on Manziel at No. 4.
Kiper perfectly sums up Tebow vs. Manziel this way: "Before Tebow's draft, maybe 1 or 2 percent [of NFL evaluators] liked him. But with Manziel, it's 50-50."
Jon Gruden is all in. Gruden, ESPN's "Monday Night Football" analyst, has the advantage of studying all the top draftees for his Quarterback Camp. Gruden breaks down their college tape, grills them face-to-face on camera, tests them at the chalkboard, gets to know them during off-camera lunches, then puts them through the equivalent of a pro day on the field. He had Manziel for two days.
With the right coach in the right system, says Gruden, Manziel will be "a smash hit."
On "First Take" the other day, Gruden told me: "I think he can create offense unlike most guys I've ever seen. And he has guts, quickness, vision, and he loves the big arena, the big stage. Guys like him don't come across the map very often.
"I called plays for 14 years [in the NFL] and this is the kind of kid I'm looking for. This is the kind of quarterback I want to be around. I just get a certain feeling when I'm in the room with him. I think he permeates confidence throughout the entire building. He just has a certain magic to him."
Gruden said he couldn't quit rewinding plays as he watched Manziel's two games against Alabama, "what I think is the best defense in college football." Manziel beat Nick Saban's defense 29-24 two years ago in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, by making three fourth-quarter throws his coordinator at the time, Kliff Kingsbury, now Texas Tech head coach, told me "were as good as any I've been around [including three years in the NFL]."
Saban had an entire offseason to find the Johnny Football antidote, ahead of a Sept. 14 game in College Station, Texas. Manziel went for 562 total yards and 42 points. Yet an A&M defense that wound up allowing the 109th-most yards out of 123 Division I teams allowed Alabama 49 points.
Saban called Manziel as tough a competitor as he has faced in 40 years of coaching. Saban also faced Tebow twice (and also lost, then won).
You scoff that Manziel will never learn to be a pro pocket passer? Scoff at this: From the pocket, he completed 73 percent of his passes last season, best among QBs from BCS automatic-qualifier conferences.
You sniff he's too short? At 5-11¾, he's a little more than an inch taller than Seattle's Russell Wilson, now a Super Bowl winner. And Manziel's hands and feet are freakishly big -- Gruden marveled at how Manziel could catch and quick-throw a special ball without laces.