It turns out the Buffalo Bills literally had their choice of any rookie quarterback with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The Bills surprised many draft analysts, and scores of their own fans, when they initially traded down in Round 1 and ultimately selected EJ Manuel of Florida State.
When Buffalo GM Buddy Nix drafted Manuel, he said that EJ would be in the mix to compete for the starting job, but made no assurances that he would open the season as the starter. The 2013 NFL draft class didn't have any unanimous quarterbacks that were deemed a starter right out of the gate, as was the case in 2012 with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
Normally, you would like to see a player drafted in the first round receive a decent number of snaps as a rookie to justify the pick.
But with quarterbacks, you have to make sure that they have received ample coaching to know what to expect and how to read and react to NFL defenses. The last thing you want to do is to destroy a quarterback's self-confidence.
In this presentation, we will look at some key questions facing Manuel, the plans for the Bills offense in 2013, and the debut of Coach Marrone's tenure in Buffalo.
Should Manuel Open the Year as the Starter or Watching from the Sidelines?
The important distinction in the Bills' selection of Manuel is that he was drafted to become the franchise quarterback. What he does over the span of his career is far more important to the franchise, than what he winds up doing as a rookie in 2013.
Ideally, Manuel will emerge from his rookie year with some live game action and video footage so that he can prepare for the 2014 season and beyond.
It might be in Manuel's best interests to start out the 2013 season from the sidelines, to better appreciate the differences from the college to the pro game. Manuel could benefit by watching how Kevin Kolb or Tarvaris Jackson runs the offense, and learn from their successes and failures.
The speed of the NFL game can be overwhelming for some rookies, recalling the pro debuts of Blaine Gabbert and Jimmy Clausen.
If you look at recent history, drafting a quarterback in the first round and asking him to hold a clipboard when the season started was the preferred strategy for Christian Ponder and Jake Locker.
The Bills will go into camp with two veterans and one rookie and see who emerges as QB1. There is a chance that Manuel could become the starter, as Russell Wilson did in the same scenario last year with the Seattle Seahawks.
What Will The Bills Offense Look Like In 2013?
So far Coach Marrone and Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have done a good job of keeping Buffalo's offense for 2013 under wraps. By listening to press conferences and interviews, you can pick up bits and pieces of information. But there is still quite a lot about the offensive scheme we don't know, so we are left to speculate.
But here at least is what we have been led to believe so far.
The Bills will run an up-tempo offense, which is what Marrone and Hackett ran at Syracuse. It will remind older Bills fans of the K-Gun offense, made popular by Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.
Additionally, Syracuse ran the ball more than they passed it, so that trend is expected to continue in Buffalo. It also makes sense to run the ball more when you consider that the strength of the Buffalo offense is their duo of running backs in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
The offense will be based on West Coast principles, and the selection of Manuel allows the read-option to be included in the overall scheme. That would make preparing for the Bills offense on a weekly basis more difficult.
Marrone is a coach that wants to play a physical brand of football. He wants to pound the ball and control the tempo of the game. Buffalo will also want to keep defenses honest by throwing the ball as well, and thanks to the 2013 draft, they have the talent to do that.
The Bills made a commitment to a balanced attack when they took Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin with two of their first four draft picks.
What we don't know about the offense yet is some key things that would really help to determine how good of a fit Manuel is to be handed the keys. Those questions include the following:
How quickly do Marrone and Hackett expect the quarterback to get rid of the football? What kind of patterns will the receivers run in this offense: short, intermediate or double-move deeper patterns?
How many reads is the quarterback expected to make in his progressions? How often does the coaches want the quarterback to run with the ball? Will Buffalo use the Wildcat or read-option offense?
If Manuel winds up being the starter in Week 1, it will be because he won the job outright. It also means that both Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson must have been disappointments in training camp.
What Was the Reaction of Buffalo's Selection of Manuel at No. 16 Overall?
The reaction to the selection of Manuel was quite varied. In researching the reaction to the pick, you can find numerous opinions that were either for or against the decision.
Here was the take from Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post:
Manuel was the only passer available with experience at running the read option, and Buffalo apparently thinks he can follow in the footsteps of RG3, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson as read-option fever continues unabated in the NFL.
"I don't think the NFL is going to get to be an option league, but I do like the idea that [Manuel] could do it if you wanted to," Bills GM Buddy Nix said after the pick. "If you can get a guy that can take you either way it's a good thing."
I came across a very interesting article by Bud Elliott of SB Nation, Florida State Football. Elliott and Alan Mundy shared their opinions about Manuel's potential in the NFL, after watching every snap he took in college. The article was published in the morning of the first round of the 2013 draft. For Bills fans that want to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of Manuel's game, this is a recommended read.
An article by Rodger Sherman of SB Nation, NFL draft, detailed Manuel's visit to Buffalo before the draft. Coach Marrone and Coach Hackett shared plans of the offense and got Manuel excited with the prospects of what Buffalo was doing. Manuel concluded that he would be an ideal fit for the schemes that Buffalo wanted to run, and he hoped that the Bills would select him.
In an article by Chris Brown on BuffaloBills.com, it was noted that Manuel won Marrone over when the Bills brass traveled to Florida to conduct a private workout with the quarterback. The weather turned out to be horrendous, but the workout went on as planned.
It turns out that Manuel was able to convince Marrone that he could handle bad weather just fine, which helped to seal the deal in Marrone's mind.
How Well Does Manuel Fit Marrone's Offense?
To be honest, nobody outside of One Bills Drive really knows what the Bills offense will look like this season. That is what makes it so difficult to project how great a fit Manuel will be in this offense.
When it comes to the intangibles of being a quarterback in Buffalo, you can check off the box for a number of important categories, that demonstrates Manuel has the tools that Marrone wants to see.
For starters, Manuel is physically imposing, at 6'5" and 237 pounds. Physically speaking, that puts Manuel in the Ben Roethlisberger mold, who is also 6'5" and 241 pounds. It is safe to say that he's faster than Big Ben, as Manuel ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds.
If you want to check out Manuel's scouting profile on NFL.com, here is the link. On that page, you will find a quote about Manuel from NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who had this to say about the quarterback:
"You can mold him into something really special. He's raw, but he's that piece of clay where you take him and you can turn him to what you want." -- Mike Mayock
Buffalo doesn't have a quarterback that remotely compares to Brees right now. But if Marrone took any ideas from Sean Payton and worked on them over the years at Syracuse, he probably has a reasonable idea of what will work in Buffalo now.
At Florida State, Manuel was known as a quarterback that looked to throw the ball first, and would look to run the ball second. If you research his career college stats at sports-reference.com, you will see that Manuel passed the ball 897 times, compared to just 298 rushes.
That is basically a 3:1 ratio. Manuel threw for 7,741 yards and 47 touchdowns compared to just 28 interceptions. He averaged 8.6 yards per attempt and completed 66.9 percent of his passes.
As a rusher, Manuel ran the ball 298 times, gaining 827 yards and scored 11 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 2.8 yards per rush, mostly due to a down junior year. He averaged 4.5 and 4.1 yards per rush as a freshman and sophomore.
But in his junior year, he had more rushing attempts, but the average plummeted to 1.4 yards per carry. That really drove his overall average down.
Marrone knew that he needed to change the culture in Buffalo, where the team hadn't gone to the playoffs in 13 years and counting. He needed somebody that exuded winning. Enter Manuel.
At the press conference following the draft, Marrone made the comment that Manuel has a presence about him. You want to walk up to him and meet him and find out what he is all about. That is what winners do. They lead by example and people want to follow them.
Manuel's record as a starter was 25-6 and he went 4-0 in bowl games for the Seminoles. We recall how bad the Stanford team was when Trent Edwards was their starter. Edwards was accustomed to losing, whereas Manuel is used to winning. The significance of that is more than just an intangible quality.
What is Manuel's Prospects for 2013?
When the preseason games begin in August, we will get a glimpse of the Bills offense, which probably won't reveal very much. They want to save as much as they can for the opener against New England.
We will watch whenever Manuel plays to see how he is making adjustments to calling out defenses, evading the rush, bouncing up from taking a hit and how accurate he is with his throws.
We probably will see a few examples in the practice games about why Buffalo was so high on him. But, we will probably also see some reasons why he needs more seasoning and shouldn't be trusted to take over right away.
Bills fans will need to demonstrate some degree of patience and realize Buffalo is doing what is in Manuel's best interests. There is a process, and sometimes it can appear to be maddeningly slow and torturous.
Based on how long Buffalo has been waiting for a franchise quarterback, they have to handle this situation correctly from start to finish.
Thanks for checking out the presentation. Follow me on Twitter: @DanVanWie
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