Having a “franchise quarterback” in the NFL seems to be a necessity in order to bring home a Super Bowl victory. Look through the list of winning quarterbacks in the big game and you’ll find that list chock full of hall of famers and shoe-ins to get their own gold jacket (and Trent Dilfer). It’s no wonder why the Bills used their first round pick last year on a young man they think can be that caliber of player.
Yet for every Peyton Manning, there seems to be ten Todd Marinovichs. With all the data on college players available, it’s still up in the air whether or not the guy your team drafts will actually turn out to be everything he was supposed to be. With all that being said, what should we think about EJ Manuel thus far?
It seems that from the outset of last year’s draft, Manuel has had his share of praise and criticism. Being the first quarterback taken in the draft sure puts a spotlight on you, but between dropping back eight spots to take him and all the chatter amongst pundits declaring said draft to be a QB wasteland makes that light a tad bit dimmer. For now though, what we have is a QB with a 6-6 record as a starter and a whole bucket of whatever your take on “upside” is.
While a .500 winning percentage in your first 12 games may have looked good in the past, the Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck types from the last few drafts would have some think otherwise. It’s hard to evaluate someone when you’re such a fervent fan, but I went back anyways and tried my best to put emotions aside and see what happened in the six losses. What I found was an intriguing mix of promise and rookie mistakes.
There were only 2 games (Pittsburgh and Tampa) where EJ didn’t put us in a place where we could win. As for the other 4 losses, all of the games were close enough where the Bills could have pulled it off. The Jets loss in week three was ugly, but we were still within one score at the final whistle. Manuel was driving for the lead when he got injured against Cleveland, and against Atlanta he led the team down the field twice to win the game, both times being derailed by fumbles after the catch. The loss to New England in the season opener was a last second field goal from being EJ’s first victory. I know the “horseshoes and hand grenades” cliché; however, for a rookie hampered by injuries thrust into a starting role due to an evil rubber mat, I’d say he’s held up his end of the deal… so far.
Don’t expect Manuel to become a fantasy football superstar. He isn’t the type to throw 40-50 times a game for 350 yards and five touchdowns. What he will do is get better at his decision making. He will dissect defenses to make the most out of a play with the least amount of risk. Expect him to be somewhere better than good. Most of all, expect EJ to become the established veteran franchise quarterback we’ve been wanting for so long now.
I say this because I see something in Manuel that makes him different than our long list of playoff-less leaders of the last 15 years. Although they lost more than they won, the signal callers that have led the Bills have had the arm, the patience, the intelligence, the poise, or any combination of those skills that point to an “NFL quality” quarterback. What EJ has is something that they all lacked. Something that you hear about all the time in Brady and Manning that you don’t hear about too often around the league. He’s a maniacal over-preparer engrossed in every facet of the game, all of the time. He didn’t want to put a hat on at the draft, he wanted the playbook. His summer vacation consisted of cross country workouts and seminars with a dash of community involvement. If he could do a Vulcan mind-meld with the coaches he would in a heartbeat. He’s at the practice facility so much during his off time that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bills get fined by the NFL. This is the kind of mindset that separates NFL talent from NFL stardom, and this is what will make EJ Manuel more than worth his first round status.
Before the Chicago game, Manuel gave a speech that fired up the team on the way to victory. He was noted as being quite the vocal leader at Florida State as well. The sooner the Bills become “his,” the better. Expect the maturation to continue this week with San Diego coming to town. It looks to me like these two teams are poised to keep it a close one and the game could very well end up squarely on Manuel’s shoulders in the end.