(USA Today) -- Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton waited 35 years to catch a quarterback who provided such spot-on flashbacks to his improvisational playmaking.
Then, along came Johnny Manziel. The former Texas A&M superstar emerged as must-see TV beginning with his 2012 Heisman Trophy-winning season.
The former Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants great concurs with many draft evaluators who compare Johnny Football's uncanny ability to flee crumbling pockets and make big plays to the mesmerizing escape artist known as "Scramblin' Fran."
"Nobody really played like I played. This kid plays like I did more than anybody else," Tarkenton, 74, told USA TODAY Sports.
"He's the closest thing I've seen to myself. Russell Wilson has some of it. But Manziel has those similarities even more so than Russell.
"Manziel is a quarterback savant."
Tarkenton played 18 seasons and led the Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances during his second stint (1972-78) with Minnesota.
He was 6-0 and 190 pounds in 1961, when he was selected in the third round out of Georgia. Manziel checks in a quarter inch shorter but 17 pounds heavier.
Some worry Manziel's smaller-than-ideal frame will expose him to increased injury and translate into more turnovers.
"People are going to say, 'Well, he's only 5-11¾ tall,'" Tarkenton says. "I wasn't as big, strong and fast as all these other players. But I knew how to play."
Upon his 1978 retirement, Tarkenton owned every significant passing record with 3,686 completions, 47,003 yards and 342 touchdowns. Add his 3,674 yards rushing, and his combined 50,677 yards amount to more than 500 football fields.
"What Manziel has is an instinctive vision," Tarkenton said. "He did it against the toughest level of college football, twice the last two years against Nick Saban's Alabama defense."
Tarkenton proved extremely durable until he missed five games with a broken leg in 1977, his next-to-last season.
"Manziel is not going to be able to run as much at the next level," Tarkenton said. "They had called running plays for him in college. He's going to have to adjust.
"I ran more than any other quarterback in my era by far — buying time for plays, had all these records for rushing. When I broke my leg my 17th season, I was in the pocket."
What Tarkenton doesn't know enough about is the off-field choices that have branded Manziel as a wild card.
Manziel wants to distance himself from his bad-boy choices such as posting exploits on social media and leaving the Manning Passing Academy last summer early after oversleeping and missing a morning meeting.
"The things that went on last year with him leaving the Manning camp and other activities, I just want to understand that a little better. Everything I've seen of the kid, I love. ...
"But you've got to make sure. Because there's never been a great quarterback I know of who was a rodent."
That is why Manziel's pro day March 27 will be vital as he hopes to persuade the Houston Texans to select him first overall.
"I'd have to spend some time with him," Tarkenton said. "What I've seen him do on the field, he has all the franchise qualities. You look at your great players, they have to be leaders in the clubhouse and off the field. They don't have to be churchgoers. But they have to have character."