Just shy of a month into the college football season, and less than a quarter of the way into the NFL grind, and it it is already time to start talking about the 2013 draft.
The NFL Draft has become the highlight of at least half of the league's fan bases (those who miss the playoffs) due to constant coverage on it from the NFL Network, ESPN and a myriad of other media outlets.
College fans also follow the draft with religious devotion, anxiously anticipating where the players they have watched grow up through their favorite program may or may not be drafted.
This year will be no different.
As we have seen in recent years, the quarterback is the ultimate prize for teams in April. Since Peyton Manning was drafted No. 1 overall in 1998, only three non-quarterbacks have been the first name off of the board.
This year, like in years past, many teams have issues with the most important position on the field. These teams will do whatever they can to get who they think is the best available signal caller.
That man may just be the leader of the Florida State Seminoles, E.J. Manuel.
It may seem crazy that player who has peen plagued by both injuries and inconsistency would even be considered for such a franchise-altering selection. However, when you look a little closer, this prediction becomes glaringly obvious.
First, there is is his head coach Jimbo Fisher.
In his time as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at LSU, Fisher was able to turn JaMarcus Russell into the No. 1 overall pick, developing a game plan which prevented scouts from finding any scary weaknesses. He was also able to somehow convince Russell to stay in shape and work hard, a task which nobody in the Oakland Raider organization could accomplish.
No doubt, Russell had an enormous amount of talent, but he also had an enormous amount of flaws (and an enormous stomach) which he was able to hide. Had it not been for Fisher, it is likely that Russell would have never made it to the NFL, let alone be selected No. 1 overall.
Then there is Cristian Ponder.
Fisher became a member of the Florida State coaching staff when Ponder was a redshirt freshman. Ponder came into college as the 20th-ranked quarterback in his class. He left Florida State as the 12th pick of the NFL Draft.
Anyone who follows Florida State knows that Manuel's on-field struggles parallel the ones Ponder had at. They would also know that the physical tools Manuel possesses far exceed that of his predecessor. Even though he threw only 49 touchdowns (compared to 30 interceptions), Fisher was able to develop Ponder enough to get the Minnesota Vikings to take a chance on him.
Fisher has proven throughout his career he is an amazing developer of talent. Manuel is no exception. That much was evident last Saturday against Clemson.
During the Seminoles 49-37 victory, Manuel showed off his talent through the air and on the ground, racking up 380 yards passing and another 100-plus on the ground. If the last two drafts have proven anything, it is that the dual-threat college quarterback is becoming more of a presence in the NFL.
The Washington Redskins gave up a cornucopia of draft picks last year to move up two selections to ensure the chance to get Baylor's Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III at No. 2 overall. The prior year the Carolina Panthers got a Heisman winner of their own as they selected Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.
Like those two men, Manuel came into his final college season as a dark horse for both the Heisman and the chance to be a high draft pick. Both men began to progress and take advantage of the big stage as the season progressed. Manuel has done just that so far and has shown the same kind of skills that the Panthers and Redskins coveted.
Should Manuel continue to impress and win a Heisman, the 6'5", 240-pound fifth-year senior will undoubtedly skyrocket up draft boards.
While Manuel looks to move up, his competition seems to be moving down.
Matt Barkley looked pedestrian at best in USC's loss to Stanford, losing to the same defense that Washington's Keith Price was able to beat. The pressure Barkley put on himself coming into this year seems to be taking him over. For a guy who throws to maybe the two best receivers in America in Marquise Lee and Robert Woods, he should be doing more.
Tyler Wilson has been hurt and has shown that he lacks maturity and leadership, calling out his team in the media for getting smacked around by Alabama while he watched from the sidelines. He returned the following week and threw two interceptions in Arkansas' lose to Rutgers.
Tyler Bray of Tennessee is still only a Junior and looked average against Florida. There are several question marks surrounding his legitimacy as a prospect, including his footwork, which seems very slow. Working almost exclusively out of the shotgun, Bray may have trouble adjusting to NFL offenses.
Geno Smith, like Bray, works primarily out of the shotgun in West Virginia's high-powered offense. Although he puts up video game numbers week after week, Smith lacks the accuracy needed for the pro game and forces throws at times, bringing his decision making into question.
Should he continue to progress, all signs point to Manuel taking over as the consensus No. 1 quarterback prospect. Other than some quarterback-needy teams getting off to hot starts, the only thing which may prevent Manuel from being taken No. 1 overall may be himself.
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