In the biggest shocker of the NFL draft so far, the Buffalo Bills have selected Florida State QB E.J. Manuel with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Pros: Excellent play-action and boot-action quarterback with good touch on first-read screens and slants out of simple rollouts. Sells playfakes very well, especially on reverse boot rollouts. Smooth and elusive runner for his size who gains acceleration the longer he's carrying the ball. Will keep his eyes downfield even as he's running (a must for any option quarterback who can actually throw the ball). Can run to break pressure when the pocket collapses, but this is not a run-first guy who sees the pass as an afterthought. Good pocket presence and movement -- will slide around out of pressure without losing his bearings and can shift out of the pocket and still make accurate downfield throws. Reads blitzes and pressure well and can adapt on the fly. Practiced at stepping up in the pocket and driving the ball. Has a quick, efficient, overhead delivery for the most part -- doesn't revert to sandlot stuff, and you can tell that he's trying to keep technique in mind.
Cons: Though Manuel will scan the field and find second and third receivers, he is primarily a "see it/throw it" passer in an offense designed for quick and easy first reads. That's common in college and more prevalent in the NFL these days (it's basically what Tim Tebow did for the Denver Broncos in 2011), but Manuel will have to develop the multi-read aspect of his game. Will occasionally get too fine with his delivery, try to over-finesse throws, and lose his bearings for a few snaps at a time.
What he brings to the team: A lot of potential. When I first saw Colin Kaepernick at Nevada a few years back, I wondered if a guy with an elongated "pizza delivery" throwing motion, a gangly running style, and a primary role in one specific style of offense (the Pistol under Chris Ault, the man who invented it), I wondered if he could become a legitimate NFL quarterback. Jim Harbaugh saw what a lot of other people didn't, took Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, and built a perfect weapon for his run-heavy/deep-passing offense.
Similarly, I think that E.J. Manuel is a willing student under the right kind of teacher, and that became apparent to me during Senior Bowl week. Working with new coaches (the Detroit Lions' staff) and a bunch of receivers he'd never timed before, Manuel looked to grasp a system he'd had little time to prepare for.
Was it the right pick? It's a shocker, and I'm not sure I would have taken Manuel this high, but I don't hate that he's the first quarterback off the board. He's better than people think, and he'll prove it over time.
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