Could EJ Manuel be the Buffalo Bills starting quarterback?


The Buffalo Bills are in search of a quarterback or two who can come in and compete for the starting job alongside EJ Manuel.

After a Week 4 loss to the Houston Texans, the former first-round draft pick was benched in favor of veteran Kyle Orton. Although Manuel was only given four starts this past season, he was unable to show consistency in his game and ultimately was sat down. There is no doubt that Manuel possesses a lot of talent, but can he show come training camp that he is finally ready to be a full-time starter in the NFL?

The Bills selected the former Florida State product with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Despite it being a rather weak draft class for quarterbacks, Manuel was the first quarterback selected in the draft and the first Bills quarterback drafted in the first round since J.P. Losman in 2004. At 6’4” and 237 pounds, with great mobility and arm strength, Manuel had it all and the Bills thought they had finally landed their franchise quarterback.

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Manuel got off to a solid start in his rookie season, despite having knee surgery just under three weeks before the season opener. In Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns, Manuel tried to extend a play and took a low hit which resulted him to miss four games. The injury also required more surgery. When he came back in Week 10, Manuel’s play was up and down. Although he showed glimpses of promise, his inability to stay healthy really hurt his progression. After a Week 15 win against the Jaguars, Manuel’s knee had flared up once again, and it would be revealed that he would knee his third surgery on his knee in under 20 weeks.

Sep 28, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Buffalo Bills head coach

Doug Marrone

on the sideline with quarterback

Kyle Orton

(18) and quarterback

EJ Manuel

(3) against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Despite major struggles during his second training camp and preseason, Manuel was named the teams starting quarterback. After a strong 2-0 start, Manuel and the Bills offense struggled mightily in back to back weeks against the San Diego Chargers and Texans and the Bills quickly fell to 2-2. Then-head coach Doug Marrone decided he had seen enough of Manuel and had him benched in favor of Orton. Although he didn’t throw a pass for the remainder of the season, Manuel remained positive and willing to learn and continue to develop his game.

After his two first seasons in the NFL, Manuel’s numbers aren’t overly bad. He’s thrown for 16 touchdowns compared to just 12 interceptions while posting a 6.4 yards per attempt. With just 14 starts in two years, it’s to difficult to tell if Manuel will ever amass into a solid NFL starting quarterback. However, should the Bills be willing to give him a shot come 2015?

There is no doubt that Manuel has some essential tools to be a successful NFL quarterback. First, he has the physical tools to thrive as a starting quarterback. He has great size and considering he is a big body he can really run well. He is good at escaping pressure and getting out of the pocket to extend plays. Since his rookie season, he has improved his accuracy outside of the pocket. However his overall accuracy must improve as his completion percentage during his first two years is just 58.6 percent.

A big issue as to why Manuel has struggled during his first two years is that he lacks vision. Too often we see Manuel give up on plays and check the ball down to the running back or just throw it away. Quite frankly, when his first read isn’t open, there is a good chance that Manuel just throws the ball away. Part of this may have been from the Bills’ overly-conservative play calling, but it would be nice to see Manuel improve with his reads.

The Buffalo Bills have an emerging wide receiving duo in

Sammy Watkins

(14) and wide receiver

Robert Woods

(10). Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Another knock on Manuel is that he has poor and sloppy footwork inside the pocket. When Manuel faces even a little bit of pressure, he instantly panics. That often results in throws off his back foot and that leading to incompletions. Even in just four games this past season, we saw Manuel constantly miss throws to an open Sammy Watkins or Robert Woods.

Finally, he must improve his play in the red zone. In Week 2 against the Dolphins, Manuel was so bad in the red zone, the Bills were forced to kick five field goals, all from within 38 yards. Although they easily won the game 29-10, this could have really cost them against a better team. His accuracy and decision making must improve deep in opponents territory if he wants to be named the starter.

We are less than a month away from free agency and a little over two months from the draft. So it won’t be too long until we have an idea at who will be involved in the battle for the quarterback position. Although Manuel may find himself in an uphill battle, he has some things he can build on, but has many things that he must improve.

If Manuel can show signs of improved accuracy and more consistent play in the red zone, then he will definitely have a shot at being the starting quarterback.

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