No. 27. E.J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills (± N/A)
Much like Geno Smith, Manuel was wildly inconsistent in 2013. He was less inconsistent than Smith, however, which is why he’s ahead. The 2013 quarterback class didn’t exactly show up in its first year like the class of 2012 did. Hopefully for them, 2014 will be a step in the right direction.
Manuel has some very efficient games and he has some subpar games. There is no in-between – he doesn’t seem to have any average games. For example, he had a game against the Jets last November where he threw pretty much every pass on target and had a QBR (ESPN’s weird QB scale) of 76.2 (out of 100). Two games later, he threw four picks, made some throws that left me dumbfounded, and ended up with a QBR of 3.8 (yes, 3.8, not 38… you read that right). Anyway, Manuel, like Smith, has much to improve upon, but I do believe that he has the most upside of the two.
Accuracy & anticipation
On deeper throws, Manuel was rarely on target. Most of his longer passes were overthrown, and some were underthrown; seldom were they on point. That’s an anticipation issue that can only be fixed with “chemistry” and timing with his receivers. Manuel’s ball placement was not as precise as it should have been. He often tried to thread the needle, but simply didn’t put the ball in the right spot, and passes that could’ve been complete ended up incomplete. While Manuel’s accuracy didn’t significantly suffer when he was throwing on the run, his receivers had to adjust to underthrown passes or passes thrown behind them. I remember one play when Stevie Johnson had to turn around, break his stride, and lean back to grab the touchdown catch instead of catching the ball in stride. 19/30.
Doug Marrone fully believes Manuel can be his franchise quarterback, which is why he took the Florida State signal caller in the first round over Geno Smith. Manuel has the arm strength to make almost every pass, but I’ve noticed he somewhat struggles getting velocity on the ball – but that’s due to poor mechanics rather than a lack of arm strength.
Click this link to watch this 43 yard touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin: http://www.buffalobills.com/video/videos/Buffalo-Bills-wide-receiver-Marquise-Goodwin-shows-off-his-speed/eaa9b5ae-71e3-4735-a9e7-731248cda21c (sorry, I couldn’t fetch a YouTube video where you could watch it right here). Manuel doesn’t even use his body to make this pass. It’s all arm. He should’ve stepped into the throw, but with the rush right in his face, he couldn’t really do anything but just chuck the ball up. With that arm strength, he was able to make the touchdown pass to Goodwin without underthrowing the ball as a result of not being able to step into the throw. 13.5/15.
Like a lot of rookie quarterbacks, Manuel has some glaring flaws in his mechanics. First of all, he seldom exhibits above-average weight transfer from his lower body to his throwing motion. He does not exactly step into his throws as he should, and he made dozens of passes last year where he didn’t have any of his body weight behind him. Either he’s too far forward into his release, or he doesn’t snap his hips and rotate them when he throws. When he does these things, he’s a very good player. He does have a good throwing motion, but his lower body mechanics need work. 12/20.
Manuel was in some training camp competition with veteran Kevin Kolb, but it seemed like Manuel was just a Kevin Kolb with some wheels on the field last year. I remember that Kolb loved LeSean McCoy in the passing game, and he led the Eagles in receptions with Kolb as the starter. E.J. Manuel was the same player last year, except he could run. He just wasn’t contempt with throwing many deep passes, and he’d often throw to his checkdown when he could’ve gone through his reads and hit someone downfield. He was inconsistent in his general choice of throws (forcing passes or not) throughout the season, and his pocket awareness is average. 11/20.
Intangibles & mental make-up
Off the field, there are absolutely no concerns. 5/5. But on the field, I didn’t see Manuel take charge at the line of scrimmage and make adjustments and audibles to the play, and he didn’t go through his reads as he should have. If the first read wasn’t there, he’d often check the ball down to his running back. Also, it’d be nice to see him take a sack or throw the ball away when nothing’s there instead of forcing a pass. 7/10.
Manuel is a very good athlete at quarterback, but he has to learn when to slide or get out of bounds. In that Thursday game against the Browns, Manuel slipped out of the pocket and picked up a first down; he was looking for more, and stayed in bounds when he could’ve gotten out, and he ended up with a knee injury that caused him to miss significant time. The Bills were on a roll at that point, and a lot of momentum was lost when Manuel went down. He’s an excellent runner, but he needs to learn to keep himself healthy. 4.5/5
A subpar grade results from the struggles of being a rookie and simple errors that can be corrected. Manuel has all the physical and intangible traits to become a quality starter (I’d say at least among the top half of signal callers, at best), but he needs to make some significant improvements. It’s only been one year, but Manuel must show more in years two and three to cement his position as a quality starter and the Bills starting quarterback. Fortunately for him, there’s plenty of room to grow. Total: 67/100