By: PFC Contributor James Duignan
The word “value” keeps floating around near the draft. Most consider value to be getting a player lower than his consensus draft slot, and on the other hand, a “reach” describes a pick that is higher than a player’s consensus draft slot. When the Bills took EJ Manuel at the 16th pick in the 1st round, nearly every “draftnik” bashed the pick based on his perceived value being much lower, calling him a “huge reach” at 16. However, aren’t these are the same drafniks who were predicting Manuel to be a 2nd round pick, yet had Barkley and Nassib alternating to the Bills at 8? Aren’t these the same draftniks who had Shariff Floyd as a top 5 lock leading up to Thursday’s first round? If there is one thing I’ve learned over the draft process every season it is to realize that these so-called draftniks have no relation to NFL organizations, thus they have absolutely no credibility when determining the stock of players since they have very little, if any, interactions with the players themselves. When Mel Kiper risks his career on the stock of Jimmy Clausen, and states that Jamarcus Russell is the best prospect he has seen in years; how are we supposed to take his opinions on Manuel seriously?
Most fans, including myself, didn’t put much stock in the Manuel to Buffalo rumors leading up to Thursday’s 1st round for many reasons. First, at the annual Buffalo Bills Draft Luncheon held last Tuesday, Buddy Nix had glowing reviews of each quarterback but decided to critique Manuel’s accuracy. Along with that was the addition of Kevin Kolb earlier in the offseason; this would be a great indication of the type of quarterback Buffalo was planning on drafting, right? Most believed Barkley or Nassib could be the pick since Buffalo was hypothetically planning on implementing a very basic offense featuring two wide receiver, one tight end, I-formation set. However, Bills fans and media really jumped to conclusions since every move the Bills made in the draft has showed they will be implementing a vertical, up-tempo offense. Once Buffalo made their selection, and Roger Goodell read the name EJ Manuel to the Bills, the first thing that crossed the minds of Bills fans analyzing the every words of analysts in the media was, “Wow, Buddy sure fooled us”. News over the last few days have surfaced, explaining that the pick was so close to the vest that Russ Brandon refused to even tell his son what quarterback he had in mind. Most of us will call it a smokescreen, as nearly everyone expected the pick to come down to Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, or Geno Smith, but I’d argue this was more of a media speculation than anything else.
On the eve of the draft, Manuel himself was spilling news that the Bills, Eagles, Jets, and Browns were all very high on him. In retrospect we don’t know how high these teams were targeting him, but it was still not worth the risk of losing out on “our guy”. The fact that Buddy Nix has stated he had opportunities to move back to the last few picks of the first round, but thought the risk of another team trading up for Manuel was too high, should speak volumes. While we will never know if EJ Manuel would have slipped to the third day, similarly to both Barkley and Nassib, keep in mind the phrase that “it only takes one” to fall in love with a prospect enough to take a shot on him in the first. If 30 out of the 32 teams felt Manuel would slip out of the first round, that still makes Buffalo and one other team thinking he would be a first round pick. That was a risk Buddy Nix was not willing to take.
In analyzing the selection of EJ Manuel, some of his attributes stand out immediately. Manuel is considered to possess the very rare intangibles of leadership, work ethic, and great character. Clearly these are the types of characteristics that cannot be measured by stats or game film. Further, he is equipped with tremendous speed, good touch on his throws, and arguably the biggest arm in the draft. Where EJ Manuel apparently lacks is in his progressions, and his short to intermediate accuracy. Based on these reports, it seems that Manuel lacks in the most easily correctable areas. Being equipped with a cannon of an arm, very deceptive speed, and unbelievable intangibles are all traits considered to be “God-given talent”, which most believe you cannot teach. While many around the league are expecting Manuel to fail (see Michael Irving’s rant after the pick), I would argue that the NFL has changed to give running quarterbacks an advantage, and this will give Manuel every opportunity to succeed early in his career.
While many think he is a “raw” prospect, I believe EJ Manuel is actually the safest quarterback prospect in the draft due to his ability to pick up chunks of yardage with his feet. What Cam Newton, RGIII, Colin Kaepernick, and Russell Wilson have taught us over the past few seasons is that the NCAA to NFL transition is much easier for quarterbacks who have the threat of scrambling for large gains. This prevents defenses from “teeing-off” on a young quarterback, forcing him to quickly go through his progressions and check downs, and also allows quarterbacks to play efficiently while still transitioning to the speed of the NFL. With fast quarterbacks, teams are able to limit the complexity of the playbook, and allow the quarterbacks to have a few quick reads, then take-off if there is nothing available. The Bills will look to use play-action with the threat of CJ Spiller, to take some heat off of their quarterback and move the pocket to try to catch defenses off guard. This style of offense helped Russell Wilson and the Seahawks make the playoffs last season, and allowed Kaepernick to lead the 49ers to the Superbowl.
Most importantly to EJ Manuel’s success is building a solid foundation around him. Bills fans have seen quarterbacks like Sam Bradford play very good football, but fail because of the lack of talent surrounding him. Buffalo drafted Robert Woods in the 2nd, Marquise Goodwin in the 3rd, and picked up the predicted 2nd round prospect Da’Rick Rogers who went undrafted due to off the field concerns. With the prior lack of speed and talent on Buffalo’s roster at the offensive skill positions, the Bills could potentially have CJ Spiller in the backfield with Steve Johnson, Robert Woods, and Da’Rick Rogers starting at receiver, while sprinkling in formations with track star Marquise Goodwin as a deep threat. Giving EJ Manuel weapons is exactly how the Bills will look to ease the transition from college to the pros, and give Buffalo fans some excitement. Something we haven’t seen in years.
I am predicting that Buffalo will do everything in their power to start EJ Manuel in week 1 against the New England Patriots. Most believe that he is very “raw” and would be better off sitting on the bench, but if the expectations of the Bills season are low anyway, what is the point? While I would have agreed with this notion a few weeks ago, the Bills giving Manuel the targets of Robert Woods, Da’Rick Rogers, and Marquise Goodwin to throw to really changes this. Further, the Bills will most likely implement a playbook built around Manuel’s skillset that will handicap the quarterback competition. By the time the season rolls around I believe the Bills quarterback situation will work out similarly to the competition in Miami just a year ago. If Manuel turns out to be the next Jim Kelly no one will remember his draft slot, yet if he busts like Sanchez we will be pointing to this draft pick for the next decade. Time will tell whether Manuel will pan-out or fail, but one thing is certain, Buffalo has excited a fan base that hasn’t had this kind of spark in years.