First Round, 16th Pick
Timing can be everything, and EJ Manuel certainly picked a good draft to enter as a supremely athletic quarterback who is a work-in-progress as a passer.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had a similar scouting report entering the 2011 draft, and he was a few yards from winning a Super Bowl in his first season as the team's starter. Does Manuel have the right stuff to merit the comparison?
Manuel is a big, strong, fast athlete who keeps defenses on their heels. He smoothly executes play fakes and rollouts with precision.
Manuel's delivery is clean and he seems to have natural feel as a passer in the short and intermediate areas of the defense, whether he's throwing a touch pass or a fastball. Manuel isn't always accurate as a deep passer, but he has the arm strength to stretch NFL defenses. While he is a dangerous runner, Manuel doesn't abandon the pocket at the first sign of trouble, but he has good vision and can make strong throws downfield outside of the pocket.
Manuel hasn't demonstrated that he can patiently go deep into progressions or process defenses at an advanced level. In general, he wasn't asked to do many advanced tasks as a passer at Florida State. He sometimes looks hesitant to pull the trigger and tends to err on the side of taking his checkdown option. Manuel's deep-ball accuracy is very erratic.
At 6'5", 237 pounds, Manuel is going to be able to be used as a running quarterback without as much fear of injury as a less sturdily built player. He has massive 10-and-three-eighths-inch hands and 35-inch arms that will help with ball security. With 4.65 40 speed, a 34" vertical and excellent lateral agility for a long-limbed athlete, Manuel will instantly be one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the NFL.
Manuel has been a great leader, securing buy-in from his teammates and exhibiting great toughness playing through injuries, including a broken leg in a bowl game. For his entire senior season and the pre-draft season, Manuel's mother has been undergoing treatments for cancer, so he understands enduring adversity. He appeared to be very coachable and intelligent at the Senior Bowl.
Manuel played in a simplified offense and mostly took his snaps from the shotgun, although he has dropped back enough to show that he can function in that setting and make accurately timed throws. He mostly did his damage as an option quarterback in the running game. His play fakes are very convincing and show that Manuel is not limited to rudimentary plays as a quarterback.
Manuel throws a flat, tight spiral that gets there in a hurry, but usually not at the expense of accuracy. He can easily uncork a deep ball that goes as far as any quarterback in this class. Manuel is not lacking in natural arm talent.
Manuel's accuracy on short and intermediate passes is usually very good. He leads receivers for run-after-catch opportunities and has a natural feel for short touch passes, like screens and dumpoffs. He can drop the ball over linebackers in coverage and seems to "know" how to put a ball where he wants to instead of gripping and aiming.
Deep balls are hit-and-miss, although the ball does come down in a perfectly catchable cylinder. Manuel rarely misses badly on short and intermediate throws, but he does tend to miss low when he's throwing to a spot instead of a receiver in stride.
Manuel has a smooth overhand delivery with no discernible hitch. His release is quick and consistent, giving him a good foundation as a passer. He can also change his arm slot when pressured or outside of the pocket. He holds the ball high in the pocket, which is another plus for ball security. Manuel's dropbacks are a bit choppy, with the occasional hesitation at the top of the drop.
Manuel struggles here as much as anywhere in his scouting report. He doesn't always read blitzes or feel pressure, even though he is more than capable of eluding or standing tough in the face of oncoming defenders. He does have good instincts as to when it's time to leave the pocket and he's very decisive about flipping the switch to becoming a runner. Before he does that outside of the pocket, Manuel has good field vision on the move and will keep defenses from selling out to swarm him when he is scrambling.
The requisite toughness is there, and Manuel shows signs of good awareness, but his pocket presence will need to mature in the pros.
Manuel is a good enough athlete to be a very good receiving tight end if he couldn't throw a lick. He has an extra gear as a scrambler and will punish defenses that don't have a spy or pin their ears back and send all of their pass-rushers at him. He has excellent vision as a runner from his time in the option attack.
Manuel is also good at maneuvering within the pocket and employing his athleticism to make his game more dangerous as both a runner and passer.
How Does He Attack Defenses?
At Florida State, Manuel mainly used short, sharp passes in combination with play-action fakes and rollouts to defeat defenses as a passer. As a runner, he produced well on classic option plays and designed runs. When the defenses took him out of those modes, he usually hit his checkdown or scrambled. He hasn't been a sophisticated quarterback, but that doesn't mean that he can't be one at the next level.
Scheme Versatility/Future Role
Manuel obviously fits well in a read-option running game or perhaps a variation of the pistol-formation offense that Mike and Kyle Shanahan installed in Washington for Robert Griffin III. Even if he can't handle much more complexity, this NFL season showed that at least initially, a quarterback's job can be made a lot easier by forcing the defense to play 11-on-11 football and account for the quarterback as a runner on all plays.