Why the Philadelphia Eagles Absolutely Must Draft E.J. Manuel

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 29, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 01:  EJ Manuel #3 of the Florida State Seminoles looks to pass against the Northern Illinois Huskies during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 1, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

It's a period of great change and uncertainty for the Philadelphia Eagles.

For the first time in well over a decade, a head coach not named Andy Reid will be prowling the sidelines in the City of Brotherly Love as Chip Kelly attempts to make the jump from the University of Oregon to the NFL.

Kelly will be bringing with him his up-tempo, spread-option offense. It may not look exactly the same in Philly as it did in Eugene, but it will be absolutely critical that the Eagles have the right man under center if that offense is going to work.

For 2013 at least, that man will likely be Michael Vick, who took a significant pay cut to remain with the team.

However, Vick is 32 and is coming off a turnover-filled disaster of a 2012 season that saw him benched for part of the year. That could well leave the Eagles searching for their quarterback of the future in the 2013 NFL draft. And if that's indeed the case, the name that should top the team's wish list is an easy call.

Florida State's E.J. Manuel.

The 6'5", 237-pound Manuel, who threw for almost 3,400 yards last year for the Seminoles, was recently in Philadelphia for a private workout with the Eagles. According to Manuel's own draft diary for Philadelphia magazine, that workout went very well.

I killed it. The ball came out of my hand great. Weather was chilly so it gave a realistic feel of how it’ll be in the fall in Philly. Coach gave me a few things to try out and I was able to perform those techniques after he gave his initial instruction.

Overall, coach left with a great impression. The ball may have touched the grass once. I really liked Coach Lazor. I think I will have a lot of success learning and working with him and within the Eagles offensive system!

Strong workouts have been a theme for Manuel this spring. He performed very well at both January's Senior Bowl and February's NFL Scouting Combine, which led the NFL Network's Mike Mayock to move Manuel up to second among quarterbacks in this year's draft class. In a report by USA Today's Jim Corbett, Mayock discussed Manuel's potential as an NFL quarterback:

Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel are the two quarterbacks in this draft who can help you win games as opposed to managing games...You can compare Manuel to another former Florida State kid coming out of the same pro-style system, Christian Ponder...Christian is an athletic kid. But Manuel has more upside.

This isn't to say that there aren't some holes in Manuel's game, as there are with every passer in this year's rather enigmatic bunch.

Manuel was both inconsistent and inaccurate at times in Tallahassee, which NFL.com readily points out in its scouting report:

Gives opponents too many chances for turnovers by forcing throws into coverage trying to make a play. Area code accuracy – short throws are often low or wide, preventing receivers from making a play after the catch. Deep ball accuracy is uneven, as well. Gets happy feet under pressure, spins to the outside to avoid the rush. Inconsistent recognizing blitz. Must step into his throws more consistently to fully utilize his arm strength.

NFL.com's assessment also includes a kiss-of-death comparison of Manuel to Blaine Gabbert of the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, that same scouting report goes on to say that Manuel is "as gifted as any quarterback in the class" and that he "has the velocity and mobility teams look for in a project quarterback."

And it's those qualities that make Manuel such an ideal fit for the Eagles.

Outside of possibly Geno Smith, there's no quarterback more suited to run Kelly's offense in this year's draft class than Manuel. And with Vick still in the fold for at least one more season, the Eagles have the luxury of potentially bringing Manuel along slowly.

There's just one hitch.

Fourth overall would be considered a reach for Manuel (or even Smith, at least in my opinion). But with Manuel's stock steadily climbing, it's a real possibility that he won't make it to Philadelphia at the front end of the second round.

At least that's what Ken Mastrole, Manuel's former quarterbacks coach at Florida State, believes, according to Corbett's report:

He's got all the tools to get himself into the first round...He's a very humble, hard-working guy who is hungry to continue his climb as one of the top quarterbacks.

Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and RGIII, with their ability to change the launch point from the pocket, are throwing defenses off right now...E.J.'s not as physical a runner as Cam Newton. But he's got Cam's ability to break away and can also pick a team apart from the pocket.

That could leave the Eagles with a real dilemma on their hands, especially if Smith's off the board when the Eagles go on the clock in the first round.

Do they pull the trigger on E.J. Manuel at fourth overall—a pick that might knock even Mel Kiper Jr.'s hair a bit out of place?

Do they address another need and hope against hope that Manuel falls to them in the second round—an outcome that appears less likely by the day?

Do they trade back a few spots (assuming they can find a partner), hoping that a team like Cleveland, which is also working out Manuel, isn't bold enough to snatch him up in the top 10?

It's a sticky wicket, one that will likely be a hot topic of debate in Philadelphia over the next few weeks. But if the Eagles and Kelly really think Manuel could be their franchise quarterback, then the decision's an easy one.

Make the pick at No. 4 and hope that you're right. It would be a gutsy play to be sure, but you know what they say...

No guts, no glory.



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