We have all had discussions either on this fair site, or around the water cooler about the one known as Danieal Manning. There are two things that everyone knows about Danieal Manning. The first is that he is a fantastic athlete, and the second is that he is an athlete seemingly without a position. The Chicago Bears have played him at multiple positions over the last few years including cornerback, free safety, and nickleback, but the only place he has been a stand out has been as a kick returner, but is also incidentally the only place he has stayed for a prolonged period of time.
As a guy that has been moved around so much that the fan base has coined the phrase Danieal Manning Syndrome in his honor to describe any player who has seen reduced productivity on the field due to position changes, it's easy to say they should stick him somewhere and let him learn the position. So now it's time to make that call, if you had the power where would you play Danieal Manning for the next five years as his assigned position?
If you'd like a bit of reading material, links and notes will be provided below the fold to give your thoughts a bit more backing.
Positives: Has a V-shaped frame with good upper body muscle tone, tight skin, strong grip and strong thighs and calves … Has outstanding speed and change of direction agility, along with very good leaping ability … Times his jumps well and has good hand/eye coordination … Shows the vision to diagnose the play and is very quick to defend his territory … Shows good discipline in and out of his breaks, doing a nice job of mirroring receivers and is effective using his hands in attempts to reroute his man at the line of scrimmage … Shows quick feet in transition, along with the balance, body control and sudden hip turn to accelerate and close on the ball … Has good anticipation ability playing deep in the zone and takes good angles with a very quick burst to close … His transition skills, speed and ball awareness skills let him make up ground when beaten …
Catches the ball naturally in his hands and has the ability to reach and pluck the ball at its high point … Aggressive in run support and delivers hits that really stand out on film … Very good at avoiding blockers to attack the ballcarrier … Has no fear squeezing through tight spaces as a returner and while he has an explosive burst, he is patient waiting for blocks to develop, but is a valid home run threat once he gets a crease.
Negatives: More comfortable working in the zone than in man coverage, as he still needs to get a better feel for route progression … Has the ability to pursue the ballcarrier, but needs to do a better job of turning plays back inside … Hard hitter, but will sometimes take a side rather than wrap to secure … Charges hard to fill, but does not have the lower body strength to push the pile and struggles to gain separation once the bigger blockers lock onto his body … Does not keep his head on a swivel in man coverage and will try to make the big play by attacking the ball rather than staying tight on the receiver … Good at locating the ball, but does peek into the backfield too much and can be fooled by play-action and misdirection.
Manning is a very interesting prospect. Usually, when a player comes from a small college level, there are concerns about the level of competition faced. However, he simply dominated at his level and even though it was only one week of practice, he was one of the better performers at the East-West Game.
The big thing for NFL teams to decide is what position to play Manning at. He has the loose hips and speed to mirror receivers, but does not seem comfortable enough in man coverage to be a cornerback. He is fast coming out of his pedal, but is inconsistent in keeping relationship with his assignment as he tries to make the big play and attack the ball rather than stay on the receiver's route.
Manning does not have the bulk to play his collegiate position (strong safety) and while he is a willing supporter vs. the run, he is only adequate in this area. He needs to do a better job of using his hands to shed blocks. He is quick to come up and fill, but lacks the lower body strength to prevent the lead blocker from washing him out of the holes.
With his range and closing burst, he might be a better fit as a free safety. He can close in a flash, plays the switch-off effectively in the zone and is good at anticipating and getting a jump on the ball vs. plays in front of him. Some teams look at his running stride and natural hands and are convinced he can be a capable change-of-pace receiver.
There is no questioning his return skills and he will bring immediate value as both a punt and kickoff returner at the next level. Because of the level of competition he faced, he will probably not be ready for primetime as a rookie, but he can be capable of handling nickel duties in a sub-package. At least that will give a team time to decide where he bests fits in its scheme.
PRO CAREER: Enters fourth season after piling up 209 tackles (136 solo) with the Bears... In 46 career ghas accounted for 5 INTs, 11 PBUs, 1.0 sack, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery and 19 special teams tackles... Has posted 1,151 kickoff return yards (40 returns) for a 28.8 average, which leads all active players with at least 40 returns... Named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week vs. NO (12/11), returning the opening kickoff 83 yards for a TD and finishing with 179 yards on five kickoff returns (35.8 avg)... Made immediate impact in his rookie season appearing in every game, starting 14 in the regular season and all 3 playoff games at free safety, the most regular season starts by a Bears rookie defensive back since Mike Brown (16, 2000)... Became first Bears rookie with an INT in his NFL debut since Dwayne Joseph in 1995 (9/3 vs. MIN) after picking off Brett Favre at GB (9/10/06).
2008 SEASON: Took over kickoff return duties midway through the season and led the NFL with a 29.7-yard kickoff return average (1,070 yards on 36 returns), including 1 TD... Also tied for the league lead with seven kickoff returns of 40-plus yards and the 1,070 kickoff return yards rank fifth in franchise history... Finished the season with a return of 40-plus yards in the final six games, the longest stretch in the League since the 1970 AFC-NFC merger... Tallied 31 tackles (20 solo), 1.0 sack, 1 INT and 4 PBUs... Added a career-high 11 special teams tackles... Left game at ATL (10/12) and was inactive for Games 7-8... Tallied a career-high 187 kickoff return yards at HOU (12/28). GAMES PLAYED-STARTED:14-1
PREVIOUS SEASONS: 2007 - Appeared in all 16 regular season games for the second consecutive year, while starting 15 contests (13 at FS, 2 at RCB)... Ranked 4th on the Bears with 98 total tackles (70 solos), tied for 1st with 5 PBUs and was tied for 3rd on the team with 2 interceptions... Also credited with 1 blocked field goal at DET (9/30).
2006 - Appeared in all 16 games, entering the starting lineup in the third game of the season at FS while starting the final 14 games of the regular season... Ranked 4th on the team and 2nd in the secondary with 80 tackles, the most by a Chicago rookie defensive back since Charles Tillman in 2003 (89)... Led the team with 5 forced fumbles (4 on defense and 1 on special teams), the most combined forced fumbles by a Bear since Tony Parrish had 5 (5 and 0) in 1998.... Tied for 4th on Bears with 2 INTs... Added 2 INTs, 5 PBUs, 1 fumble recovery and 8 special teams tackles... Started all 3 postseason contests gathering 11 defensive tackles and 4 special teams tackles.