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E.J. Manuel surprisingly breaks away from crop of mediocre QBs to land spot in Buffalo

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

NEW YORK – E.J. Manuel bounced from interview to interview, answering the same questions with the enthusiasm of a guy being asked each query for the first time.

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell introduces E.J. Manuel. (USA TODAY Sports)

It was proof that there's no weary for the wowed.

Manuel emerged from a half-dozen quarterback prospects to be the only one taken in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night, bypassing the likes of Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and even Ryan Nassib, a guy who was coached in college by Manuel's new coach in the pros.

That left at least one NFL team executive stunned.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm shocked by that," the executive said. "I mean, he's a nice player and I could see him going in the first round. But Buffalo wasn't the team I thought would take him, and he's the only one? Yeah, I'm shocked."

Some might say that speaks to Buffalo's ability to keep a secret after the Bills successfully traded back from No. 8 overall to No. 16 and still got their top prospect.

[More NFL draft: Pick-by-pick analysis of Round 1]

Really, this was more of a referendum on the quarterbacks in this draft. From Smith's inability to protect the ball (32 fumbles in his past two seasons) to Barkley's weakness in throwing into tight spots downfield, this class was filled with one questionable passer after another. So much so that teams like Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Arizona and the New York Jets didn't even consider drafting a quarterback. Even now, with Smith, Barkley, Nassib, Mike Glennon and Tyler Bray still on the board, there's a chance they continue to fall Friday night.

"If five of them survived this long, you can probably still wait another round and get one of them," the executive said.

Smith wasn't sticking around to see it. He told ESPN that he wouldn't attend Rounds 2 and 3. He's since changed his mind.

[Related: E.J. Manuel, first QB taken, shares moment with cancer-survivor mom]

A year ago, few would have predicted that Manuel would have been the first guy off the board. The Florida State quarterback was considered a second-rounder at best going into the Senior Bowl. But with the increased emphasis on mobility (Manuel has the speed to successfully run some of the read-option plays that has become popular the past two years) and Manuel's ability to throw in Buffalo's windy conditions, he rose to the top of the charts.

Then again, his leadership helped as well.

"Obviously you talk about the weather and wind, but one of the things that is important for that position that E.J has shown is the intangibles we have talked about and his ability to work," coach Doug Marrone said. "I think that is the most important thing. When you have that desire to work and become better, those are the things that came out when I was speaking to him. And those are the things I appreciate because I think at the end of the day he works hard, earns the trust of the players and he learns the system. He can be an outstanding quarterback in this league."

During his meeting with Buffalo, Manuel hit it off with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. That's what Manuel talked about first when asked what excited him about going to Buffalo.

[Related: Secret to top draft pick's success is PB&J sandwiches]

"I actually called my agent as soon as I finished with [Hackett] and I said, 'Man, I really hope Buffalo takes me because I feel like I can fit into the system perfectly.' " Manuel said.

"I just think the fact that it is a progression offense, but at the same time it is a quick-paced offense. I think it is something that a lot of teams have not seen in the league. I know coach Hackett is a very smart and intelligent coach. He is very innovative so I know he is going to have a lot of creative things coming up."

The NFL is loaded with creative offensive coordinators and systems. The search to find quarterbacks who can run those systems is endless. On Thursday, however, NFL teams didn't seem to like much that was out there.

More NFL draft coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Aaron Rodgers tells Geno Smith to 'hang in there'
Manti Te'o, Geno Smith headline day two NFL draft prospect list
How do they get names on NFL draft jerseys so fast?
Pros and cons of No. 1 NFL draft pick Eric Fisher

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