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Dispelling the Myths About Buffalo Bills Quarterback EJ Manuel

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COMMENTARY | I'm confused about EJ Manuel. Literally nowhere on the Internet can I find someone with a respected football opinion to tell me he's ready to be a starter in the NFL.

Duh, Chris. That's because he truly isn't ready to be a starter in the NFL.

We'll see about that.

I "scouted" Manuel during this year's draft process, watching as much game footage--not highlights--on YouTube as possible in hopes of delivering my genuine, unbiased opinion about him as a quarterback prospect.

Unfortunately though, the dreaded groupthink permeated my amateur and admittedly inexperienced scouting brain.

Well, kind of.

Pre-draft, I wrote:

"Has the size and athleticism to be a poor man's Cam Newton as a scrambler, although he's much more timid running the football than Newton. Big-time arm. Close to nine out of 10. Questionable decision-making. Often misses easy throws. Most upside of any quarterback in the class."

I ranked him as the No. 5 quarterback behind Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib, Matt Barkley and Zac Dysert.

Rereading my analysis of Manuel post-draft, I realized my words actually were rather supportive and were explaining the best quarterback prospect in the entire class, not the No. 5 QB.

After all, he was drafted first.

All draft season, the initial and subsequently accepted knock on Manuel was his underdeveloped mental sharpness, especially when it came to reading defenses. Everyone agreed that, physically, he was the most impressive quarterback of the 2013 bunch, a signal-caller with tremendous upside.

Unfortunately, his head supposedly wasn't there yet.

Here, I'll let ESPN's Todd McShay explain; his thoughts essentially summarize how Manuel was perceived by the masses (per The Buffalo News):

"But when you look at him and you study his tape, I think he has slow eyes. I think he's late with his throws. He does not anticipate the way you need to as an NFL quarterback, and I also think his accuracy is nowhere near where it needs to be."

Manuel has since made light of the "slow eyes" comment, and while it's easy to dismiss draft jargon as idiotic, McShay's evaluation was pertaining to Manuel's ability to scan through his progressions quickly, an attribute deemed necessary to flourish as a quarterback in the NFL.

I'm not here to bash McShay or any others who watched Manuel and wrote "slow eyes" in their notes, because we all see things differently. But here's why I personally don't believe that evaluation can be true.

Manuel may not have operated a traditional, pro-style offense while at Florida State. Then again, isn't it time we tweak the definition of the term "pro-style offense?" I see just as much, if not more spread sets with read-option wrinkles than two-wideout I-formation these days, don't you?

While I don't have access to the Florida State playbook and probably couldn't make sense of it if I did, everything I've read about the degree of difficulty and complexity of the Jimbo Fisher offense has told me it's a complicated attack with a variety of formations and moving parts and a sprinkle of just about everything an offense can throw at a defense.

This, from Pro Football Writers of America member Alex Dunlap on the Seminoles' offense:

"In an offense that has long been touted to "make things easy" on a smart QB, the player needs to be sharp as a tack to operate in it. The player makes it "easy," it doesn't just come that way."

If that's not enough of an endorsement of Manuel's mental capacity, he is "halfway towards a master's degree in international relations" (per The Buffalo News).

This is about football, not the classroom.

Fine, I hear you.

Another knock on Manuel was his lack of refinement in the accuracy department, which may have been due to his "slow eyes" or simply the inability to consistently deliver the ball on target.

NFL.com wrote that Manuel has "area code accuracy." Nothing like draft speak, right?

Well, in this apparently "complex FSU offense" Manuel completed 68 percent of his passes as a senior--66.9 percent in his career--at 8.8 yards per attempt, an efficiency combination no other quarterback in the 2013 draft class could match.

For perspective, none of Ryan Nassib, Matt Barkley, Zac Dysert, Landry Jones, Mike Glennon or Tyler Wilson ever reached or eclipsed the "68 percent completion at 8.8 yards per attempt" plateau at any point of their careers.

Geno Smith completed 71.2 percent of his passes in 2012 but did so at 8.1 yards per attempt and never had a yards-per-attempt average higher than 8.3 during his time at West Virginia.

To me, that says Manuel was in fact the most accurate quarterback in the class--without simply hitting short passes--certainly not the least accurate.

But I never heard that factual complement from anyone. I'm bummed I missed out on the actuality myself.

While researching, I stumbled upon a quarterback completion chart on the fabulous SB Nation site, FootballStudyHall.com (check the chart at the bottom).

It posed the following question about the 2013 crop of signal-callers; "what if the quarterbacks threw the same percentage of passes to different lengths," and used a formula to create "QB's Adjusted Completion Percentage."

Of the top quarterbacks in the 2013 draft, guess who came out on top?

Yup. EJ Manuel.

If that evidence doesn't suffice, I'll throw one more piece at you before I rest my case.

On April 29, ESPN.com's Stats & Info department published an article on Manuel's accuracy with some graduated completion percentage statistics. Here are some tidbits:

  • Manuel improved his completion percentage on passes of 20 yards or longer in his junior and senior seasons. In 2012, Manuel completed 49.2 percent of his passes of 20 yards or longer, the highest completion percentage of any of Scouts Inc.'s top six quarterback prospects.

In 2012, Manuel completed 55.8 percent of his passes when under duress, a higher completion percentage than Geno Smith (49.3), Matt Barkley (49.3) and Landry Jones (37.1).

When forced out of the pocket, Manuel completed 60 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

In his last three seasons, 81 percent of his passes were on target (passes that were not overthrown, underthrown or wide of his receiver), comparable numbers to Smith (83.4) and Barkley (80.3). So, after all that, I confidently came to the conclusion that Manuel couldn't possibly be correctly characterized as an inaccurate passer, especially not in comparison to his 2013 quarterbacking peers, guys I didn't read nor hear nearly as many accuracy concerns about.

Did he make poor decisions on occasion? Yes. Did he throw some ghastly interceptions? Of course. They all did.

Frankly, upon obtaining this knowledge, I was a little perplexed as to how the inaccuracy knock on Manuel materialized in the first place.

Was it because his Seminoles never achieved as much as they were supposed to? Did his scrambling ability actually hurt everyone's perception of him as a pocket passer? Did he toss a few costly picks in crunch time of big games that were ingrained in the heads of scouts? Was it because...he was African-American? Yes, a touchy subject, but let's hope not.

Then again, he wouldn't have been the first African-American quarterback to get pegged as "athletic and mobile with a strong arm but has trouble reading defenses and with accuracy."

Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Cam Newton, and even Geno Smith would probably agree.

But I digress.

Regardless of the reasoning, I found both knocks to be patently untrue about Manuel, which has fueled the "he's not ready to start in the NFL" or "he's a project" rhetorics.

I don't know how Manuel will ultimately pan out as a pro, no one does.

Also, I have no clue how he processes information and how quickly he reacts to it on the field--does anyone?--and a high collegiate completion percentage certainly doesn't guarantee success as a professional, that's for sure.

However, Manuel isn't exactly Colt Brennan or Case Keenum.

If everyone agrees that he possesses all the imperative physical traits--they're pretty noticeable--and he's clearly much smarter and more accurate on the football field than initially believed, shouldn't EJ Manuel be bound for NFL greatness?

That debate is for another column another time, but based on what he did in college, I'm definitely not worried about him from an intellectual or accuracy standpoint despite what the so-called experts have been telling me.

Are you?

Chris Trapasso is a sportswriter who lives in Medina, NY and has been covering the Buffalo Bills and the NFL since 2009 for Bleacher Report.

For Bills and other NFL news, follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisTrapasso .

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