Brett Favre was aware of the chatter. He'd heard people say that the frenetic, go-for-broke, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Texas A&M had a whole lot of Brett Favre in his game.
When he finally saw Johnny Manziel play, Favre understood the comparisons.
"I haven't watched him much," Favre told USA TODAY Sports recently, "but one game I watched, for like three quarters, was the Ole Miss game."
Manziel passed for 346 yards and ran for 124 more (plus two TDs) while engineering a 41-38 comeback win for the Aggies in Oxford, Miss., on Oct. 12, 2013.
"I almost thought I was watching film of a young Brett Favre," said the current Favre, who is 44 and spent 20 years in the NFL.
"I didn't think I did a lot of things well (in college at Southern Miss), but he did. And and I liked the attitude of 'whatever it takes' — from that standpoint, I liked him."
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Manziel will be one of the major stories at this week's NFL scouting combine, though he doesn't plan to throw for scouts and personnel executives until March 27.
He's sure to be a tricky evaluation. Despite some similarities to Favre, who was a decent scrambler as a youth but not an electric open-field runner, it's hard to find any NFL quarterback — past or present — with a skill set congruent to Manziel's.
"He was like a combination of Fran Tarkenton and Doug Flutie," says NFL Network chief draft analyst Mike Mayock, citing two scramblers closer in stature to Manziel's 6-0, 210-pound frame.
Mayock is among those who love Manziel's arm, athleticism and improvisational skills but worry about his accuracy and ability to operate from the pocket. But he believes Johnny Football could be a top-five pick in May even if he doesn't even truly emulate new wave NFL quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson.
"He's different than any quarterback I've (studied) before," said Mayock. "But I believe in the kid."
So does new CBS analyst and longtime NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez, who does see a current (and cautionary) comparison.
"Johnny's more along the lines of RG3, which could hurt him," Gonzalez told USA TODAY Sports. "He'll make a good transition to the NFL but, for me, he needs to work on that pocket passing. There's such a thing as young running quarterbacks, but not old running quarterbacks."
Manziel might be wise to heed the example of Wilson, who can make plays with his legs but always keeps his eyes downfield and only takes off as a runner as a last resort. Griffin's willingness to pull the ball down and use his world-class speed has produced big plays for the Washington Redskins, but the injuries he's already absorbed create concerns about his longevity if he doesn't evolve as a more effective pocket passer.
But Favre, who owns most of the NFL's major passing records, thinks Manziel is already further along than he was when he entered the league as a second-round pick in 1991.
"I didn't throw near as well as him," said Favre. "He may have that capability — unbelievable throws and can makes plays with his feet.
"I was impressed."
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