Prior to the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, the quarterback position was viewed as one of quality depth, but limited star power. While the gun-slingers and athletes could be found all around, few believed in the true upside of the class.
Fortunately for those NFL franchises in need, EJ Manuel of Florida State has emerged as a diamond in the rough.
While Geno Smith deservedly garners headlines, Manuel has flown under the radar. Fortunately, four years of playing time at FSU has done wonders for Manuel's NFL readiness.
Not only is he a prototypical quarterback in terms of size, but he's also a workhorse who looks to improve upon every weakness.
At the combine, Manuel ran the second-fastest 40 time of any quarterback. He also had the second-longest broad jump, the fourth-fastest cone drill time and the second-fastest 20-yard shuffle (via NFL.com).
More importantly, Manuel improved his footwork since the college season, and displayed excellent accuracy on deep and short-range passes—two of the numerous reasons that an NFL franchise should take a chance on the FSU product.
Who Is EJ Manuel?
For those unfamiliar with Manuel, he is a 6'5" and 237-pound quarterback from Florida State University. He will be 23 this March, started spot games as a freshman and sophomore, and became the full-time starter as a junior and senior.
As a starter, Manuel went 25-6.
This past season, he threw 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on a completion percentage of 68.0. He finished the season with the 13th-best passer rating in the nation.
While of a pass-first mentality, Manuel also has the ability to beat you with his legs—in 2012-13, he ran for 310 yards and four touchdowns.
Manuel played in four bowl games during his career, winning all four appearances. As a freshman, he won Gator Bowl MVP honors after filling in for the injured Christian Ponder.
Manuel also stepped in to lead FSU to a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory as a sophomore when Ponder suffered an injury during the second quarter.
As a junior, Manuel started all but one game. The one time he was absent due to a shoulder injury, the Seminoles lost.
To close out the season, Manuel led a come-from-behind victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Champs Sports Bowl—a trend that would continue in 2013.
Dominant Two Months
As a senior, Manuel elevated his game to another level. He led the Florida State Seminoles to a 12-2 record overall, thus earning a BCS bowl berth for the first time since 2006.
With a 31-10 victory over Northern Illinois, Manuel led FSU to their first BCS bowl game victory since 2000.
During the game, Manuel threw for 291 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a score.
That was the start of a current two month period in which Manuel has been as dominant as any quarterback in the nation.
On Jan. 26, Manuel led the South team into the 2013 Senior Bowl. He both ran and threw for a touchdown during the first quarter, thus providing 14 of the team's 21 total points.
As a result, Manuel was named as the Senior Bowl's Most Outstanding Player.
Where Should He Go?
The question in reference to Manuel will be rather simple. After all, it's the one that's asked for every prospect involved in the NFL draft.
Where should he go?
According to Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, the common theory entering the NFL Scouting Combine was that Manuel is a potential third-round draft choice. After his showing at the event, however, scouts have told Jeremiah that he could go in the second round.
Chances are, that's exactly where he'll come off of the board.
As the draft approaches and free agency takes shape, we could see Manuel and a slew of other quarterbacks rise up draft boards. After all, that is a trend that seems to transpire in almost every draft.
With quarterback being the most in-demand position in the NFL, second- and third-round prospects often go in the first.
Regardless of where he's drafted, a general manager and coaching staff must understand what this young man is truly capable of. Manuel is a superb athlete, but he's also a pocket passer by nature.
As a result, Manuel could be anything from the next great read-option quarterback to a franchise quarterback who prefers to remain between the hash marks.
The key for a general manager is to place him under an offensive coordinator with job security. This may appear to be the key for any quarterback, but none more so than Manuel.
He's a fast learner that played for two head coaches in college. At the first sign of stability, Manuel put out an unbelievable senior season.
Give him a coordinator to grow under and the results will be remarkable.
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