E.J. Manuel's Senior Bowl MVP Performance Highlights Great NFL Potential

Justin OnslowContributor IIJanuary 27, 2013

MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 26:  E.J. Manuel #3 of the South squad waits for the snap against the North squad during the Senior Bowl at Ladd Peebles Stadium on January 26, 2013 in Mobile, Alabama.  The South won the game 21-16. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

In a year with a weak quarterback class and a logjam of signal-callers vying for positive attention at the Senior Bowl, you certainly can’t fault E.J. Manuel for trying to prove himself the best of the group.

Manuel propelled his South squad to a 21-16 victory on Saturday with two touchdowns, securing Most Outstanding Player honors in the process. Both touchdowns came in the first quarter—his first on a two-yard run—and Manuel also led the South on a game-clinching drive in the fourth quarter.

While it’s important to evaluate prospects in game situations, NFL evaluators have had the ability to do so all season. He played well on Saturday, but that doesn’t necessarily solidify him as a high selection in April.

Manuel is an intriguing prospect, but he’ll also be a bit of a project at the next level, which is why he isn’t considered a first-round candidate in this year’s draft. He has prototypical size for an NFL quarterback (6’5” and 240 pounds), but Manuel lacks elite accuracy and decision-making ability, despite showing no signs of those shortcomings in the Senior Bowl.

NFL teams may shy away from Manuel in the early rounds in favor of players who can make a more immediate impact on the field, but he still has tremendous value to teams picking in the middle rounds in need of a future quarterback. He has arguably the highest upside of any signal-caller in this draft class.

Manuel showcased that potential on Saturday by both orchestrating some solid drives and making some quality throws, none more impressive than his 20-yard scoring strike to Alabama tight end Michael Williams in the first quarter. Williams ran a seam to the back of the end zone, and Manuel delivered a perfect ball with exceptional touch and location.

It was the kind of throw NFL evaluators look for in a quarterback.

Unfortunately, Manuel hasn’t consistently shown the ability to make those throws as often as many would like, and that perceived lack of accuracy will hurt his draft stock. The NFL is evolving at the quarterback position, but accuracy is still a paramount concern.

Still, the evolution of the NFL quarterback may benefit Manuel in the long term, as long as he can develop more consistent accuracy and a shorter throwing motion. He’s an incredibly athletic quarterback, and his mobility will intrigue some teams looking to add a new dimension to their passing game.

Manuel has massive potential, and the Senior Bowl only served to remind evaluators and fans of that fact. He didn’t make or lose any money with his terrific performance, but Manuel certainly displayed what kind of upside he presents for NFL teams willing to take a chance on a developmental quarterback with a high ceiling.