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Wolverines in the NFL Draft: A Pre-Draft Look at Mario Manningham

Wolverines in the NFL Draft: A Pre-Draft Look at Mario Manningham

Without a doubt, Mario Manningham is the most electrifying wide receiver in this year's NFL draft. No one even comes close. Manningham is a game breaker. The kind of weapon most teams dream of drafting, but only a few actually have the opportunity to do so. Any team that drafts this guy is getting the best pure deep threat since Randy Moss.

The Stats

Stat Overview Receiving Rushing Fumbles
YEAR REC YDS AVG LNG TD ATT YDS AVG LNG TD FUM LST
2005 27 433 16.0 49 6 6 38 6.3 20 0 0 0
2006 38 703 18.5 69 9 6 19 3.2 12 0 0 0
2007 72 1174 16.3 97 12 19 119 6.3 23 0 0 0

A Little Background

Super Mario made his first real impact on the Michigan consciousness in 2005. You know what happened.

Since that catch he's been looked upon as one of the best receivers to don a Michigan uniform. Many Michigan fans are willing to put him up there with AC, Desmond and Braylon because of his ability light up a scoreboard and a defensive back. He's a special talent we've been able to hoard for ourselves these past three years, and now we're ready to share him with the rest of you.

Looking at the numbers during Mario's brief stay at Michigan might seem a little underwhelming. Statistically, his first really big year on the sheet was 2007. What the stats don't tell you was Manningham weighed about 18 pounds as a true freshman. They don't tell you just how bad the Michigan line was in 2005 or in 2007. They don't tell you Manningham was injured for half of 2006 when he put up 9 touchdowns and 700+ yards. They don't tell you that Mario's numbers this year came with all the turmoil in the program, the (unintentional) rotating quarterback, and a myriad of injuries and off the field issues.

Manningham posted 12 TD's this season with Chad Henne being shelved for four games and a freshman taking over. He averaged 16.3 yards a catch, despite having the best corner on the opposing defense across from him every down.

He's the guy you have to watch every play. The guy that goes out the night before and aces the final the next day. The guy that's always in the right place at the right time. He has the unique ability to change the game simply by his presence on the field. He's the best receiver in the draft. Period.

Strengths

Put the ball out there. Anywhere. He'll run under it.

I don't necessarily ejoy using hyperbole to describe a person's talents, but in Mario's case it seems necessary. It's weird. Manningham, when you clock him, isn't blow your doors off fast. But in pads its like he's on a whole other plane of existence. He just has that extra gear in a way that no one in Michigan uniform has ever had. I know that's a bold statement, but it's a fact. He has tremendous acceleration from a dead stop and can blow through a seam before you blink. But where he's fastest is 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. When he makes a catch on a route, he kicks in the afterburner. You're simply not going to catch him. He's that fast with the ball in the air or in his hands.

One of the reasons he's such a potent deep threat is the array of moves, hip and head fakes in his arsenal that send DB's off on wild goose chases while he sprints toward the endzone. He possesses excellent deceleration to complement his outstanding speed. He can stop on a dime, catch the ball, and turn the jets back on in an instant. That deceleration buys him as much precious space as his double moves and head fakes.

When he's locked in tight coverage, while he's not a strong as some other greats to go through Michigan, he finds ways to make space. Whether it's with a subtle hip bump or extra length in a stride, he creates ways to distance himself from the opposing corner to make the catch. Though he's not a shake and bake player, he has incredible body control and can make adjustments to the ball while he's in the air. He's also got very strong hands. You can't make the catches he makes without them.

One of his greatest attributes is his ability to raise his game in the red zone. Mario constantly finds ways to get open or make a big play when his team is within sight of the endzone. He doesn't shy away from contact within the twenty, and will run you over to get into the endzone. Which is saying something when you don't reach two bills on the scales. If the ball is anywhere near the goal line Manningham wants it. And he wants it now dammit.

Weaknesses

It's tough to say this, but Manningham's biggest weakness is that he was prone to disappearing and sulking when things weren't going his way. The worst example of this was Manningham screaming at freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett during the third quarter of Michigan's loss to Wisconsin in 2007. Let's just say he's a tad mercurial.

He also can pick strange times to have lapses in concentration. This year's Ohio State game saw a slew of dropped passes at critical points in the contest. But I chock that up to the corner and quarterback play during that game as the bulk of the reason for his performance. Where Manningham struggled the most against nasty, physical corners. One of those corners was Wisconsin's Jack Ikegwuonu who just declared for the draft and should immediately be drafted by Manningham's division rival.

If you want to throw Manningham off-kilter, smack him around a little bit. His least productive game in 2006 was against Ikegwuonu, and save a 97 yard screen pass he was shut down in 2007 too. One thing Manningham didn't see a lot of was press coverage. He had a lot of clean releases in college and it may take him some time to adjust.

Blocking isn't going to be a strong suit either. Manningham is 6'0", 187 pounds. Don't expect him to block Roy Williams downfield at any point. Get in his way? Maybe. But don't count on Mario to pancake anyone.

Finally, Manningham does not like contact short of the goal line. He's not going to blindly go over the middle. If he thinks a hit is coming he'll pull off the route from time to time. I can think of numerous occasions against OSU and Wisconsin where he let up on a pass to avoid a big hit.

Thoughts on the Future

Despite the above, I really like Manningham and believe he has a bright future. The key will be his adjustment to the NFL lifestyle. He's going to have to work harder than he ever has while trying not to get too caught up in his own hype. The danger will be a coach trying to change Manningham into an over-the-middle guy to teach him some toughness. That's simply not going to work. He's not that guy. At 187-190, he'll spend his entire career on IR if a coach does that to him.

No, the key is to get him into space or into the gaps in a zone. Hit him with a screen or two. Let him use his speed to get open and stretch a defense. That's where he'll be most effective.

I think Manningham's going to be a two-three year project. It's going to take a coach to light a fire under his ass to get the most out of him. He's also going to have to grow up physically to deal with the rigors of the 16 game NFL schedule. Once he learns a system, and how to read and react to NFL defenses, I think he can be dominant.

He's not going to out jump people like Braylon. He's not going to outwork people like Muhsin. He going to outrun them. The key is to let him.


This Photo Graciously Provided by Mike Hulsebus Photography
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