INDIANAPOLIS — Football is a game of inches. So when they stretched the sticks at the NFL scouting combine Friday, Johnny Manziel came up a little bit short. Officially, the former Texas A&M quarterback is 5 feet 11¾, 207 pounds.
"I play with a lot of heart. I play with a lot of passion. I feel like I play like I'm 10 feet tall," Manziel said. "Those measurements, to me, are just a number."
Perhaps, and with six of the first eight teams in the draft possibly targeting a quarterback, "Johnny Football" likely won't get a Heisman stiff-arm too far down the first round.
Manziel, UCF's Blake Bortles and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater are generally considered the top three quarterbacks in the draft. Bucs coach Lovie Smith said he expects one to be available at their No. 7 pick.
Based on his performance at the Senior Bowl — solid practices and a touchdown pass during the game — and other factors, Fresno State's Derek Carr also could be worthy of a top-10 pick. But some analysts have suggested that feels a little like when the Vikings, surprisingly, used the 12th overall pick on Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder in 2011. Ponder struggled with injuries and consistency this past season while starting just nine games.
"It's a deep draft at a lot of positions; quarterback being one of them," Smith said. "You want that option available to you."
Of those four quarterbacks, only Bortles has committed to throw at the combine on Sunday. But that doesn't mean the quarterbacks won't have a chance to leave an impression through other drills and interviews.
How do they measure up against each other? And who is most likely to be available for the Bucs?
Johnny Football wants to put his alter ego aside. His challenge is convincing teams he can handle his business off the field. He struggled with the immense celebrity that came with being a Heisman Trophy winner in 2012 as a redshirt freshman and is practically daring the Texans not to take him with the top overall pick.
"This is a job," Manziel said. "I'm just going to focus on whatever organization I'll be at; just pouring my heart out trying to be football 24-7 with that team."
Manziel, who is undecided on throwing Sunday, has enormous talent. But in addition to being under 6 feet, he has a slight build at 207 pounds.
What Manziel lacks in height, he makes up for in hand size — 9⅞ inches.
"(Big hands are) really important because of the grip of the football," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said, "especially in bad-weather games."
Even if Manziel loses his grip on the top spot, he likely won't slip past the Browns at No. 4. So the Bucs are likely out of the mix.
At 6-5, 232 pounds, Bortles is easily the most impressive physical specimen among quarterbacks in the draft.
Texans coach Bill O'Brien, the former Penn State coach, had a front-row seat when UCF and Bortles beat the Nittany Lions 34-31 on Sept. 14. Moreover, O'Brien once worked under current UCF coach George O'Leary.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht said Bortles, "shows a great upside."
Some believe Bortles, whose hands were measured at 9⅜ inches, needs a year or two to develop into a starter. Licht said he has no problem putting a rookie under center.
"It depends on the person. It depends on the maturity level, the intelligence," Licht said. "If we had Andrew Luck, I would feel pretty comfortable about it."
Bortles, who left UCF after his junior season, will throw Sunday in hopes of improving his chances to become the No. 1 pick.
"(Being the No. 1 pick is) not for me to decide. The goal is to be the top quarterback prospect," Bortles said. "That's why I left early."
Remember when NFL fans commanded their struggling teams to Tank for Teddy? Well, Bridgewater now seems the most likely of the big three to slip, perhaps even past the Bucs at No. 7.
Why? For starters, scouts are leery of his slight build. The Miami native helped himself by being measured at 6-21/8, 214 pounds. But Bridgewater has some of the smallest hands in the draft at 9¼ inches.
Even so, having run a pro-style offense at Louisville, Bridgewater might be the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. The Bucs will have to make a decision if he slips.
The biggest strike against Carr is his brother David, who flopped as the No. 1 overall pick by the Texans in 2002. But Derek benefited from the experience, learning to read NFL defenses at 12 years old and becoming more emotionally grounded by watching the adversity David faced.
Carr, measured at 6-2, 214, with 9½-inch hands, was a star at the Senior Bowl and has overcome some adversity himself. His son, Dallas, was born with an intestinal disorder Aug. 5, requiring three surgeries.
Carr has a history with Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, who coached David at Fresno State. Tedford has worked with Derek since he threw Nerf footballs with him at 5 years old.
"I would absolutely love to be a Buccaneer," Carr said, "because I love Tedford, and I'd love that city and that organization more than anybody."