The Buffalo Bills have a lot riding on rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, and his success (or lack thereof) will be critically tied to the Bills’ chances of success. Making Manuel a first-round draft pick was a risky move by Bills GM Buddy Nix (who has since, as expected, been replaced by Doug Whaley) and first-year head coach Doug Marrone. Most teams did not give Manuel a 1st round grade, and the Dallas Cowboys had him as low as the 4th round. NFL Draft Scout rated Manuel the 3rd QB in the 2013 Draft, and gave him a mid-1st round to mid-2nd round grade.
When Manuel was selected as the 16th overall pick, many analysts criticized Buffalo for taking him so early, but the Bills appeared sure that he wouldn’t be available by the time their 2nd round pick rolled around, so they took the chance.
Manuel has been praised for his abilities as a dual-threat quarterback, his powerful arm, his size and strength, and his quick release. He has glaring weaknesses though, most importantly his poor decision-making while under pressure, his tendency to look to escape the pocket quickly, his limited field vision, and his shoddy accuracy. The Bills hope that the good can outweigh the bad, and that with the help of Marrone and offensive coordinator/QB coach Nathaniel Hackett, Manuel can quickly make the leap from quality college starter to quality NFL starter.
He may not be asked to start immediately, but with Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson as the only other QBs on the roster, and with the Bills evaluating him as worthy of a 1st round pick, he will sit on the bench for a maximum of one year. My guess is he’ll be under center much sooner than that. Many people didn’t think Ryan Tannehill would start Week 1 for the Miami Dolphins last year, but, sure enough, there he was when the season started. I have a feeling Manuel will be in the same position. Manuel has more upside than Kolb and Jackson at this point in their careers, and Marrone will want to prove sooner rather than later that he made the right choice in drafting him in the 1st round.
Buffalo’s OTAs have ended, and Marrone could not contain his excitement over his new QB, calling Manuel the best rookie he’s ever coached. That may not seem like high praise since this is his first season as a head coach, but he also acted as an offensive line coach with the New York Jets from 2002-2005, and as an offensive coordinator with the New Orleans Saints from 2006-2008. It may seem a bit early in the process to be making such a statement, but Marrone is surely doing his job by lauding his team’s first draft pick.
As a dual-threat QB, Manuel gives the Bills the chance to run a fast-paced offense, led also by RB C.J. Spiller and WR Stevie Johnson. Spiller, in a semi-limited role so far, has proven to have game-changing speed and rushing abilities. Johnson is a legitimate deep threat, even though he can be a little too celebratory at times. With Manuel at QB, the Bills could take the league by storm once all the pieces learn to work together.
Buffalo’s 2013 schedule is far from easy, but I think they have a good chance to reach 8-8. The Bills only play four of last season’s playoff teams in 2013, though they play the Patriots twice. Their road schedule is very soft too: Only one of the eight teams the Bills play on the road had a winning record last season (New England). One important factor in how the Bills’ 2013 season plays out will be how well the Dolphins’ free agent acquisitions and draft picks mesh together. The Bills and Dolphins square off twice this season (as they are divisional opponents), and beating the Dolphins will be vital to the Bills’ chances at reaching .500 on the year.
While Manuel may not see starting time right away, I believe he has the skill set necessary to be a more than serviceable starting QB. He certainly has downside coming into the league, but he has enough upside to surprise everyone who doubted his worth as a 1st round pick. He probably won’t win Offensive Rookie of the Year (unless he starts almost the entire season), but I see him as a solid draft choice for the Bills, especially if they were confident that he wouldn’t be available later.