In the end, the painstakingly planned publicity push orchestrated by the best PR team money can buy — the multi-part series with a friendly writer, the non-clubbing photo ops, the Twitter restraint, the best behavior sit down with Peter King — cannot save Johnny Manziel from himself.
He still comes across like Johnny Football at the NFL Combine. He still sounds as enamored with himself as the biggest Texas A&M University fanboy. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's part of what makes Manziel the most compelling player in football. It's why Manziel could stare down a revenge-minded Nick Saban in what stood up as the best college football game of the entire 2013 season.
Manziel pretending otherwise is akin to Brett Favre walking around in a designer suit rather than jeans and not blasting out the type of selfies that no one wants to receive.
Whatever team drafts Johnny Manziel should embrace his anti-Peyton Manning side. The NFL has more than enough drone-like corporate pitchmen. Manziel can't ever fit that mold. No matter how hard he hits his talking points about having grown up and understanding that pro football is a job — leaving a PR team silently clapping in the wings — he reverts to the real Johnny Football before long.
The campaign trying to hide Manziel's true personality isn't doing him any good. It's mostly just silly.
Manziel will answer a question about his almost 6-foot height by shooting back that he plays like he's "10 feet tall." He'll insist that he's "one of the most competitive people on the face of this earth" as if Michael Jordan suddenly needs to run from Johnny Football's sight at any casino or golf course.
This is part of what makes Johnny Manziel so fascinating. And it has nothing to do with why the Houston Texans shouldn't draft him with the No. 1 overall pick. It's been amusing seeing national commentators read disapproval into new Texans coach Bill O'Brien's "it's a free country" remark about Manziel's declaration that the Texans would regret it from infinity to beyond (or something like that) if they pass on him come May 8.
O'Brien spent every media moment in Indianapolis making sure he didn't tip his hand. Phil Ivey has less tells.
The Texans coach wasn't knocking Manziel. He followed up the free country line by noting how he enjoyed watching Manziel on film.
This campaign of trying to hide Johnny Manziel's true personality isn't doing him any good. It's mostly just silly. Everyone in the NFL knows what Johnny Football is really about by now. Manziel's cockiness isn't going to hold Manziel back. Just like it's not Tim Tebow's Christianity that limited his career choices to hilarious TV pitchman.
The reason the Texans can't use the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft on Johnny Football is much simpler than all the PR machinations would have one believe. It comes down to straight up talent.
It's all about the big speeding blur that should have bloated out all the silly talk from the NFL Combine. Jadeveon Clowney was the No. 1 talent going into the Combine and he put on the best show. His 4.47 unofficial (and still much-faster-than-Manziel) 4.53 official 40-yard dash time is the stuff a new age Lawrence Taylor is made of.
This burst of super speed from the 6-foot-5, 265-pound very bad man should have squashed all the forced rationalizations. The supreme talent of the 2014 draft class has long been clear.
Yet, the campaigning persists. Many of the same writers declaring Manziel a changed man, dismissing his past (always overblown) sins are harping on Clowney's equally overblown transgressions. Only a Manziel fanatic could make speeding tickets seem like a great indictment of Clowney's character.
The double standard is real and it's fascinating how committed those perpetuating it are to the mission.
NFL Draft No. 1 Blazingly Clear
You don't pass on the next Lawrence Taylor level offensive gameplan obliterator to grab an uncertain quarterback prospect. Especially when you already have a still young quarterback prospect on the roster who's shown plenty of promise like the Texans do with Case Keenum.
Holding the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft is often about not outsmarting yourself. The Indianapolis Colts simply didn't outsmart themselves when they chose Peyton Manning in the 1998 draft. The Colts didn't dare to be different when they took the safety of Andrew Luck over the more brittle brilliance of Robert Griffin III (a much tougher talent choice than anything the Texans face this year) in 2012 either.
When you're holding the No. 1 selection, you grab the surest, blinding talent.
It's not about taking a few plays off. It's about what Clowney does with the plays he's on.
That's clearly Clowney this year. And the gap isn't even close. The so-called worries about Clowney's "work ethic" are comical. It's not about taking a few plays off. It's about what he does with the plays he's on. This super fast big man can completely disrupt any of the NFL's pass-happy offenses. If anyone should appreciate that, it's a quarterback guru like O'Brien.
Do you think Tom Brady would fear a matchup with Johnny Manziel? He'd sure take notice of where Clowney was though.
There are plenty of guys barely hanging on in the NFL who work endlessly hard without ever truly impacting a game. There are maybe one or two with the skills and talent of a Jadeveon Clowney. You don't think Johnny Manziel ever took a play off in college? Really? Did you watch that first half against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl?
It turns out Johnny Football and his advisors are fighting the wrong war. It's not about finding corporate speak and feigning humility. Manziel and his team are like the Woody Harrelson character in True Detective, always looking at the wrong thing.
It comes down to talent. That's where Manziel — as compelling and guts-out and great as he is — comes up lacking compared to the true No. 1. The NFL Combine couldn't change that. It only confirmed the bigger, faster truth.