The Bills are in a unique situation this offseason. They have three quarterbacks on the roster who all have been given a chance to win the starting job for this new Bills organization. There are strong opinions on every side of the debate so I want to take a closer look at these three quarterbacks and see just how they compare to one another.
How they compare
You can really get a sense of the type of quarterback that this new offensive staff is looking for when you scan the quarterbacks on this roster. All three of these quarterbacks have good arm strength and thus the ability to get the ball downfield. They can clearly use this to take advantage of the speed that has been added at the receiver position in the last two drafts. They are also all mobile in the backfield, and elusive enough to escape pressure when they need to. Lastly, if you read much of what ex-teammates, and coaches have said about these three you consistently hear that they are hard workers.
So, Coach Marrone has three quarterbacks who will work hard to be named the starter, and possess at least a couple similar characteristics in terms of their play. In the end the starter isn’t going to be named by what they did in the past, or we would already know who will be taking the first snaps next year. That being said I am a strong believer that the past is a good predictor of the future when it comes to football, so I’ll detail a few things that each one could do to set himself apart for better or worse.
Jackson is by far the hardest quarterback of the group to evaluate. With no actual playing time last year there is a wide range of possibilities of how he will perform in this competition. At the start of his career in Minnesota expectations for Jackson were very high. Although he never came close to meeting those expectations there are some aspects of his game that can set him apart from the other two and give him the possibility to be the starter.
If you look at his season with the Seahawks in 2011 there is a pretty clear line drawn in the center of the year. The first eight games were a mixture of average to terrible play which can be attributed to a fresh offensive line. Two of his offensive linemen that year were rookies, and a third was in his first year as a starter. This line started to gel mid season and Jackson’s level of play increased. His sack totals dropped by over 25%, his completion percentage went up by a couple percent, and his TD to Int ratio went from 7/10 to 8/4. I’m not saying that he played phenomenal football in the second half of that season, but he did play well enough to win football games with a good running back, which the Bills certainly have.
Another interesting aspect of Jackson’s game with the Seahawks was his red zone efficiency. Throughout the whole season Jackson was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the red zone. This is something that the Bills have needed badly in the last few seasons. If Jackson continues to be very effective in the red zone he could take hold of the starting job in the backfield.
Kolb is an interesting quarterback to study. At times he can look like a superstar, and at other times he can seem to completely fall apart. That being said Kolb’s consistency could set him apart as a clear starter for this football team. That doesn’t seem to make sense given my previous statement, but hear me out.
Kolb seems to have a hard time progressing through his receivers, but if his first option is open he is extremely accurate with the ball. Also he can get antsy a little too early in the pocket when it starts to squeeze down on him, and he will scramble or check down to the running back when he still has plenty of time. So, what I mean by his consistency helping him win the job is that if his first option is open he will get him the ball more often than not. And with both CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson as check down options Kolb’s decision to check down, even if it is earlier than it needs to be, could make him look very good when Spiller is racking up yards after catch. On top of this, when given a clean pocket and a decent amount of time he can find an open man downfield, even when the defense takes away his first option.
EJ Manuel, the heir apparent for the franchise quarterback position at One Bills Drive. But first, he has to win the starting job. Without having any NFL experience there is a lot in his game that can be very positive and help him win the job early, as well as many negatives that can allow one of the veterans to hold the job when this season kicks off.
One thing that really surprised me about Manuel is his ability to throw on the run. He is much better at throwing on the run than either of the veterans are, and can use this to his advantage. That being the case, there are a lot of times where he stands in the pocket for too long, and takes an unnecessary sack when he should scramble, or even just throw the ball away.
Much like Kolb, Manuel often stays on his first option for too long, and doesn’t progress through his reads as quickly as you would like to see. He does cover this up to an extent with an extremely quick release which can be a great benefit when he finds an open man.
Like I said earlier, all three of these quarterbacks have the ability to escape pressure, but Manuel takes that a step further. Not only is Manuel quick enough to escape, He also has elite straight line speed that allows him to get down field with his feet when he needs to. He doesn’t seem to use his feet as often as he could, but that’s not the worst thing as I don’t want to see him get injured like RG3 did last year.
All three of these quarterbacks have the ability to win this starting job if they play to their own strengths. The west coast style offense that is expected to be run by Hackett and the Bills can be used to play well to the strengths of any one of these given quarterbacks. Although I’m not trying to advocate any of these options, if I were a gambling man I would bet on Kolb taking the first snaps opening weekend against the Patsies, and Manuel coming in mid season or at the beginning of next year depending on how the year progresses.