Why EJ Manuel Can't Be Labeled a 'Bust' After 9 NFL Starts

Brandon CroceAnalyst IDecember 11, 2013

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 8: EJ Manuel #3 of the Buffalo Bills scrambles away from Akeem Spence #97 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on December 8 2013 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

EJ Manuel has not had the rookie season many hoped for when the Buffalo Bills drafted him with the 16th overall pick this past April. With the instant success of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson last season, the bar was set high for rookie quarterbacks. Some have started to question the pick of Manuel, and the term 'bust' is even starting to come up in some conversations.

It is way too early in his career for that term to be used in describing Manuel.

Manuel was drafted in the first round, and there are certain expectations being a first-round pick. Generally, first-round picks are supposed to step in and have an impact on the season. This doesn't apply to Manuel, though, as he was not expected to be the starter Week 1. He was drafted as a quarterback to develop on the practice field and in the film room his rookie season.

Mike Mayock was quoted on Manuel's draft profile on NFL.com:

"You can mold him into something really special. He's raw, but he's that piece of clay where you take him and you can turn him to what you want."

The Bills' front office understood this when they drafted him and was the reason they signed Kevin Kolb in the offseason. This would give the coaching staff time to mold the clay before throwing him in the fire of an NFL game.

A concussion suffered by Kolb in the preseason messed up this plan and forced Manuel into the starting quarterback role.

Manuel has not always been pretty, but it hasn't been so bad that he should be considered a 'bust' either. This chart compares Manuel's first nine starts to other current NFL quarterbacks who started the first week of their rookie season.

Rookie Quarterbacks First Nine Career Starts
CMPATTCMP %YDS/GMTDINT
EJ Manuel16328257.8197.6108
Peyton Manning18333454.8223.71218
Joe Flacco15124362.1183.297
Andy Dalton17328760.3207.3149
Matthew Stafford19035154.12361418
Stats Courtesy of ESPN.com

Manuel has a better completion percentage than Peyton Manning, more yards per game than Joe Flacco and fewer interceptions than Matt Stafford. They all have similar stats to start their careers and are now considered top quarterbacks in the game.

There are going to be struggles the first season for a majority of the quarterbacks to start in the NFL. The hope is that there would be improvement over the course of the season, and this is where the biggest debate arises with Manuel.

One of his worst games of the year came in Week 3 against the New York Jets, but he bounced back in Week 11 when the Bills played the Jets again. These are the stats from Manuel's two games against the Jets this year.

Comparison of Two Starts vs. New York Jets
CMPATTCMP %YDSTDINTSACK
Week 3194245.2243108
Week 11202871.4245201
Stats Courtesy of ESPN.com

It is clear that he has gotten much better against arguably a better Jets defense with the addition of Ed Reed in the second game. He completed more passes, threw more touchdowns and took seven less sacks.

Manuel is not the main reason for the Bills' struggles this year. It comes down to the fact that this is a very young and inexperienced team. This season, Buffalo has eight players who have seen significant playing time with two or less years of NFL experience. More importantly, to Manuel, three of those players are his wide receivers.

With everything that has been working against him this year, he has still made key plays late in games.

EJ Manuel after the win over Carolina
EJ Manuel after the win over CarolinaRick Stewart/Getty Images

He led one of the most impressive game winning drives in recent memory for Buffalo against a good Carolina Panthers defense. He also made the throws necessary to get Buffalo in position for the win against Atlanta late. However, fumbles by Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler ended up costing them the game.

Manuel was drafted as a quarterback who was raw but has a number of tools that make a successful NFL quarterback. He needs time to develop but has already shown flashes that makes it hard to label him a 'bust' after only nine games.