Football: Who is NEXT?

Johnny Manziel

Even if Johnny Manziel doesn't get your NEXT vote, let's all just admit that the kid has the best nickname of the bunch: Johnny Football. It's so good that Texas A&M and Manziel's family are working to trademark the quarterback's moniker. And he lives up to it. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound lightning bolt officially struck when he led the Aggies to a 29-24 upset of then-undefeated No. 1 Alabama. Johnny Football went 24-of-31 for 253 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, rushing for 92 yards on 18 carries against a Tide defense loaded with NFL prospects. "No moment is too big for him," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said after the game. The casual college fan might have overlooked Manziel prior to that day in Tuscaloosa, but it was more culmination than coming-out party. Through 11 games, he'd already broken the freshman records for rushing yards by a QB (1,114) and total offense by a QB (4,161). So why not make him the first freshman ever to win the Heisman? Who's been better? Come on, his freakin' nickname is Johnny Football. -- Jeff Gold

Robert Griffin III

In his 2011 Heisman acceptance speech, Robert Griffin III called his rise "unbelievably believable." Indeed, three seasons ago, RG3 was simply a solid Baylor quarterback known for his gap-toothed grin and sprinter speed. Three years later, he's the franchise QB the Redskins have bet the farm on, trading three first-round picks and a second-rounder for the chance to take him No. 2 overall. That risk was immediately validated by Griffin's 320-yard debut , fourth best in NFL history. Redskins Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen told the Washington Post it was the "best I've ever seen a quarterback play in his first game." Then, in a win over the Eagles on Nov. 18, RG3 threw for four touchdowns on 14-of-15 passing and led his team with 84 rushing yards. As Washington wideout Santana Moss once said, "When Robert gets in top gear, it's like watching a track meet. And he ain't coming in second." It's hard not to believe an MVP acceptance speech is in RG3's future -- and no one is going to fall for that unbelievable line again. -- Scott T. Miller

Jadeveon Clowney

Jadeveon Clowney has been slowed by an undisclosed foot injury nearly the entire season. Seriously. The sophomore defensive end has the walking boot to prove it. But when the boot comes off on Saturdays, whatever ails Clowney seems to disappear. He wreaks havoc across the SEC, registering 21 sacks during his short career. To boot: Clowney has another year before he's even eligible for the NFL draft. "I think there's a chance he would be a top-five pick after this season," says Todd McShay, ESPN Insider's draft expert. Sure, the kid's not a finished product -- is any 19-year-old? -- but Clowney possesses limitless athleticism. At 6-foot-6, he runs a 4.46 40-yard dash, has a 36-inch vertical and still carries 256 pounds. "He's not quite as freakish as Julius Peppers was coming out of college, but he shares some similarities," says McShay. Maybe so, but it might be worth handicapping that race again next season. -- Scott T. Miller

Andrew Luck

When ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr. gave Andrew Luck a higher draft grade than Peyton Manning, it seemed impossible for the Stanford star to meet expectations. Then he exceeded them. The sensational Colts QB has put his team in position to make the playoffs a year after they finished tied for the worst record in the league. Luck is on pace for 4,662 passing yards through 11 games, a total that would smash Cam Newton's rookie record (4,051) and place him in the top 20 of all time. He's even entered the mix as a possible MVP candidate. "The kid, he continues to amaze," veteran Colts receiver Reggie Wayne said after Luck set the rookie record for most passing yards in a game (433) against the Dolphins on Nov. 4. "Hopefully I can help add on to his legacy that he's about to build." High praise coming from Wayne, who was around for a decade of Manning's dominance in Indianapolis. -- Jeff Gold

Adriel Jeremiah "A.J." Green

When opponents are planning for Cincinnati, they watch film as if A.J. Green is the only guy on the field worth covering. His mixture of size (6-foot-4, 207 pounds) and speed (4.5 40-yard dash) has quickly established the wideout as one of the most dangerous threats at any position. His 1,057 receiving yards last year was tops among rookies and his 1,022 yards through Week 12 ranked fourth in the NFL. "He was a cut above most players in the league from the start," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said in October. Green had the most touchdown catches (10) of any receiver through Week 12, and his streak of nine straight games with a touchdown reception was the second most since the merger behind Jerry Rice (12). "[Champ Bailey] had a tough deal. I said all week that A.J. Green is one of the better young receivers -- if not the best -- in this league," Broncos coach John Fox said after Green caught seven passes for 99 yards and a TD against Denver on Nov. 4. "He's big, he's fast and he's talented." And impossible to ignore. -- Jeff Gold

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