Arguably one of the most shocking picks of the draft was the selection of Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel by the Buffalo Bills in the first round. Before the draft began, most mock drafts and analyst didn’t have Manuel in their top five-quarterback lists. Prospects such as Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib were more highly touted as being passers who could take their collegiate successes to the next level. However, with two pre season games already in the books, Manuel appears to not only have the edge over former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb for the starting position; he could very well be the franchise quarterback the Bills have been searching for since they had Jim Kelly in the 90’s.
During his collegiate years at Florida State, Manuel proved to be a dynamic passer who could make methodically intellectually decisions while using his legs to make plays on the fly. Although Manuel didn’t become the designated starter until his junior year, he stepped up in several critical game situations such as the Gator Bowl (freshman year) and in the Chick-fil-A Bowl (sophomore year). Not only did Manuel manage to win a bowl game for the Seminoles for the first time since 2000, he also won MVP honors for his sensational performance in the Gator Bowl.
Once Manuel finally garnered the starting position he deserved during his junior year, it became clear that Manuel’s brief appearances in the limelight weren’t simply fleeting moments of success. He completed 65.3% of his passes for 18 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions while rushing for over 150 yards and 4 touchdowns. However, Manuel’s claim to fame came during his senior year when he threw for 3,392 yards the second most yardage in team history. On top of that, Manuel completed 68.0% of his passes for 23 touchdowns and rushed for 310 yards and 4 touchdowns. When all was said and done, Manuel won four straight bowl games for the Seminoles while going 25-6 as a starter.
While the Bills did obtain Kevin Kolb in free agency as an insurance policy, throughout his career Kolb has proven to be nothing more than just an average back up. Although his career completion percentage isn’t terrible by any means (59.5% CMP), his erratic resume in terms of games played hasn’t allowed Kolb to fully develop into a starter. As a result, Kolb still has issues when it comes to being reliably consistent as he threw for a single interception against the Minnesota Vikings in their second pre season game. In the same game, Manuel to proved to be much more efficient and confident when he completed over 83% of his passes for a single touchdown. While it’s difficult to determine what a player is made of based solely off of a relatively meaningless pre season game, it displayed how Manuel has become more disciplined since he was drafted. Rather than running around haphazardly with the football, Manuel instinctually searches the open field for a target before using his legs to get the job done. This developed patients has allowed Manuel to be both extremely accurate while being able to effectively score in the red zone even when he his under immense pressure.
While Manuel has proven he can be the starting quarterback for the Bills come the start of the regular season, he still has a lot to prove in terms of consistency. Despite the fact that Manuel has done exceptionally well in his pre season performances, he needs to take his talents to the next level by being able emulate his previous achievements during an entire regular season game. If Manuel can manage to build upon the foundation he has impressively already created for himself, he could easily become the iconic quarterback the Bills have been looking for since their last Super Bowl appearance in 1993.