As expected, nothing went as expected at Radio City Music Hall Thursday evening. In a round riddled with shocking picks and surprise moves, it’s hard to pick out the most unpredictable selection.
It’s not impossible, though.
The Buffalo Bills made one of the boldest moves in the entire first round when they moved back from No. 8 to No. 16 and selected Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel. Geno Smith and Doug Marrone’s former signal-caller Ryan Nassib were still on the board, but the Bills targeted their future starting quarterback and pulled the trigger.
That the Bills moved back wasn’t a big surprise, however. Given the lack of value in selecting a quarterback at No. 8, they made a smart decision in picking up some extra selections and still managing to get their guy.
The St. Louis Rams (who selected Tavon Austin following the trade) gave Buffalo a second- and seventh-round selection and also flipped third-round picks with the Bills. It was the perfect scenario for a coach in need of a new signal-caller to run his offense.
Adding Kevin Kolb gave Buffalo a stop-gap option at the quarterback position (which will also allow Manuel to develop before being thrown into the fire), but the former Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals quarterback isn’t the long-term solution.
The Bills are hoping Manuel can be just that.
The Florida State signal-caller took an interesting route to the first round. Once considered a mid-round pick and developmental quarterback, Manuel made the most of a tremendous Senior Bowl appearance and found his stock skyrocketing in the following months.
Manuel also impressed at the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.65-second 40-yard dash and scoring near the top of the quarterback group in nearly every other category (including the vertical and broad jumps). His physical abilities certainly garner some extra attention.
At 6'5" and 237 pounds, Manuel also has the frame to withstand the abuse of playing quarterback in the NFL. He played in 43 games in four years at Florida State, highlighted by 14 games in 2012-13 in which he threw for a total of 3,392 yards and 23 touchdowns.
While not a run-first quarterback, the Florida State product showed plenty of mobility in his time under center in Tallahassee. Considering Marrone implemented some zone-read looks in his most recent Syracuse offenses, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the former NFL offensive coach mix in some zone-read wrinkles this season (h/t Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com)
But what does it all mean?
Manuel has the big arm and intermediate to deep accuracy to make all the throws NFL coaches look for. He has the athleticism and mobility to be a nightmare in and out of the pocket for opposing pass-rushers. He has the size to hold up to NFL abuse.
There are some question marks, however.
As with almost all rookie passers, Manuel will have to adjust to a much faster game, and he’ll have to do it in a short period of time if he is to start in 2013. The 23-year-old struggled with decision-making at times at Florida State, often showing too much confidence in his ability to threat passes through tight coverage windows. He won’t get away with that in the NFL.
Questionable short-throw accuracy can be added to the list, but everything Manuel struggles with can be fixed with a little coaching and some NFL polish. In a class without a truly elite quarterback prospect, the Bills could have done much worse with this pick.
2013 Outlook and Predictions
The biggest unknown at this point is simply how early Marrone will throw Manuel into the fire. There’s really not a need to rush him into a starting situation before he’s ready to take the reins of an NFL offense. Time will tell.
Should Marrone plan to start Manuel under center to begin the season, Buffalo has to make it a priority to build around him with another pass-catcher (to pair with Stevie Johnson) and a couple more offensive linemen for depth. And if Marrone intends to mix in some zone-read looks, he’ll also have to target a couple offensive linemen who can make it all work.
Marrone will likely open training camp as most coaches do: with an open battle for the starting quarterback position. If that does happen to be the case, expect Manuel to have the edge (given his tremendous upside) and enter Week 1 the Buffalo Bills starting quarterback.
It’s still extremely early to predict Manuel’s production this year (assuming he is the Week 1 starter), but there’s no reason to have tremendous expectations for the 23-year-old. He has the potential to be a terrific NFL quarterback. He’ll just need a little time to get there.
Prediction: Week 1 starter: 3,170 yards, 59.2 completion percentage, 16 touchdowns, 13 interceptions