"Lovie Smith and Jason Licht love Johnny Manziel," Lance Zierlien of Football Guys said (h/t Justin Pawlowski). "Love love love. Lovie Smith was at his pro day, and he was there for Mike Evans as well, but I know that Lovie Smith loves Johnny Manziel. I know this for a fact."
"I've been told that if Manziel gets to seven, he won't get past the Tampa Bay Bucs. They think that highly of him."
That's pretty shocking. Zierlein has generally been accurate, and is an outstanding analyst, and he has a lot of connections in Texas specifically, which is of course where both Manziel and Lovie Smith are from.
I remain skeptical, though. Jeff Tedford's offense is all about structure and providing answers for players, while what makes Johnny Manziel special is his ability to create plays outside of structure. Tedford isn't making the pick, of course, or he may think that he can get Manziel to both play within his structure, and still be explosive outside of it. But there's a disconnect there that is not that easily resolved. Manziel also does not fit what both Jeff Tedford and Lovie Smith have had at quarterback, although Lovie has repeatedly emphasized mobility as a crucial trait for quarterbacks this offseason.
All that said, Manziel is the type of player that defensive coaches tend to love, because they see a player they will hate scheming against -- while offensive coordinators may see a player who won't execute their scheme. He is very much like Michael Vick in that sense, which is really interesting because the Bucs passed on even attempting to sign Vick this offseason -- instead going with a pocket passer who flourishes (and indeed needs) structure in Josh McCown. As Zierlein points out, though, a year away from the NFL may have led to Lovie Smith and Jeff Tedford adjusting their thinking on quarterbacks.
And then there's always the question of how close to the truth these pre-draft leaks are. This is the first concrete report of the Buccaneers liking a specific player, but Lovie Smith knows how to play the media. Greg Gabriel, Lovie's former scouting director, notes with glee how they basically fooled everyone on their interest for a specific player, leaking interest for another player instead. So, again, take these reports with a grain of salt.
That does not mean we can dismiss them, however. The Bucs spoke with Manziel at his pro day, and have brought him in for a visit. We have a report suggesting they're interested in him, and we know the Bucs want to draft a quarterback. I would be mildly surprised if Manziel turns out to be that quarterback, but it's certainly possible.