COMMENTARY | The Buffalo Bills shocked the football world when they selected quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Reviews from the various pundits called the selection terms like "questionable" and "the biggest reach of the first round." Even those who did not react so harshly tended to believe that Manuel was a pick targeted at finding future success and that he would not be ready to play as a rookie.
As a result, the prevailing thought was that veteran quarterback Kevin Kolb would start for the Bills, at least initially, while Manuel learned the ropes from the sideline. This seemed all but destined when, on August 17, it was announced that Manuel needed minor knee surgery and would miss the remainder of the preseason.
What a difference a month can make.
Since that time, Kolb suffered what appears to be a career-threatening concussion and Manuel has come back to start both of the Bills' first two regular season games. Not only has the "biggest reach of the first round" started both of those games, he has excelled to the tune of a 95.9 passer rating. Even more importantly, Manuel led the Bills on a flawless two-minute drill to beat the Panthers in Week 2 and stands just a last second field goal from being 2-0.
Due to this, it is obvious that E.J. Manuel is the most surprising player on the Bills' roster after two weeks of the regular season. Taking it one step further, it is difficult to think of anyone in the entire league that has provided more upside surprise for his team after two games.
Perhaps the most surprising part about Manuel's success is that is has come despite the fact that he missed the time at the end of training camp and the preseason with his knee injury. The Bills offense is built on quick, timing plays that require a type of chemistry that, presumably, could only be established through repetition and experience.
On account of this, it stands to reason that not only will Manuel's high-level of play continue, but it should also elevate higher. As he becomes more familiar with playmakers C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, and Stevie Johnson, Manuel should start piling on even more passing yards. If he can continue to limit his mistakes, it is easy to see how the Bills offense can become one of the most potent in the league.
At the same time, there is reason to believe that Manuel will become an even more dangerous weapon running the Bills offense. In his senior season at Florida State, Manuel averaged 22 rushing yards a game. While he is not as much of a runner as Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton, there is little doubt that Manuel could add a productive 20 yards per game on the ground. These yards should come once he becomes more comfortable at the helm of the offense, and when Doug Marrone and the Bills coaching staff gets more comfortable giving Manuel more power to unleash creativity.
As a result, it is easy to see how the biggest surprise of the first two weeks of the NFL season can become the Rookie of the Year and lead the Bills to the biggest surprise of the 2013 season by making the playoffs. Needless to say, Manuel does not look like nearly as much of a "reach" now.
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Del Pearson is a lifelong Bills fan from Upstate New York. He has been attending games since childhood and idolizes Jim Kelly. Follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson44.
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