J.J. Watt piles up sacks for a living while Johnny Manziel eludes them. Johnny Manziel openly enjoys the nightlife while J.J. Watt openly avoids it. J.J. Watt is an established presence in the NFL while Manziel has yet to take his first snap in the league. At first glance, it seems like these two players are polar opposites of each other. But a closer look may reveal that they are not that different at all.
Watt possesses incredible “new-school” size and athleticism that allows him to be a disruptive force, both as a pass rusher and as a pass defender. If his 36.5 sacks in just three NFL seasons wasn’t impressive enough, Watt has also compiled an astounding 27 passes defended in that span as well. His uncanny ability to get into passing lanes and deflect balls in the air has given birth to his new nickname “J.J. Swatt”.
Watt’s “old-school” work ethic is also a trait that separates him from the rest of the pack. His toughness and dedication to football leads me to believe that he is just scratching the surface of his abilities. After being a lightly regarded two-star recruit coming into college, Watt managed to work his way up to becoming a first-round draft pick of the Houston Texans in 2011. Still not satisfied with his accomplishments, Watt worked even harder to become the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. Watt’s insatiable drive to succeed is reminiscent of players like Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, Dick Butkus, and other defensive stalwarts of years past.
As Johnny Manziel makes the transition from college to the pros, he too possesses a unique combination of new-school and old-school elements in his game. Physically gifted defenders like J.J. Watt have given rise to a new trend at the quarterback position in the NFL. Young and athletic quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Robert Griffin III are all the rage in the NFL, and Manziel represents the newest wave of this evolution at quarterback. Manziel’s ability to extend plays with his legs makes him a threat to any defense in the open-field. Quarterbacks of the past such as Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young also had the ability to turn broken plays into big plays, but quarterback scrambling was not as popular league wide back then as it is today.
As for Manziel’s off-the-field flair, his party boy image is as old-school as it gets. In my opinion, the NFL playboys of yesteryear like Joe Namath, Bobby Layne, and Paul Hornung have now met their match when it comes to the ever-growing status of “Johnny Football”. Manziel’s appetite for the nightlife is well-chronicled, and like his NFL party-animal predecessors, Manziel remains unconcerned if his lifestyle choices rub people the wrong way. I find it refreshing to see a pro athlete that isn’t programmed to say and do politically correct things at every waking moment of the day.
Lost in all the “Johnny Football” hoopla is the fact that Manziel actually works hard at his craft. In an effort to improve as a pocket passer, Manziel ran the ball 57 fewer times in his sophomore year than he did in his magical freshman season when he won the Heisman Trophy. As a result, Manziel threw for 408 more yards in his second season at Texas A&M. Sure, Manziel loves to party, but this improved production from the pocket leads me to believe that he has a great work ethic as well.
A clear and distinct dichotomy exists between J.J. Watt and Johnny Manziel. However, I find that both evoke memories of legendary players from years past in their own unique way. Watt portrays the image of a noble, silent, and focused leader like a Derrick Brooks, while Johnny Manziel fits the care-free, gun-slinging image of a Brett Favre. Although both men go about their business in completely different ways, they do a great job of bridging the gap between the “old-school” and the “new-school”.