EJ Manuel, the only quarterback drafted in the first round of 2013, automatically became part of the daily conversation and not just for Bills fans but the NFL as a whole. No quarterback was supposed to be drafted in the first round unless his name was Geno Smith and even then, the last month and a half before the draft, that was a reach. The Buffalo Bills went against the grain for the first time in a long while.
A solid start to his rookie campaign, featuring a 2 minute drive to beat the Carolina Panthers, Manuel was injured in week 5 against the Browns missing the next 4 weeks of much needed game action. When he returned in week 10, the Bills still held playoff aspirations heading to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. The Steelers coming off a terrible loss against the New England Patriots giving up 55 points and a 2-6 record, one would think the Bills had a chance. EJ Manuel went on to have arguably the wort game of his rookie season putting doubts in many a Bills fan as to weather he would be the franchise guy.
A week later, Manuel would get a chance to redeem himself returning home to face The New York Jets. The week leading to the game was filled with “I need to do better” and ” I have more to show” and by the end Manuel led the Bills to a 23 point victory with 245 yards and 2 touchdowns. Unfortunately for Ej, the next few weeks was just a roller coaster of ups and downs going 1-2 in his next three games before missing the last 2 games with his third knee injury of the season. Anti Manuel groups began to dub Manuel as Knee-J and began to call for “draft a QB” debate.
Now i will not sit here and decent EJ Manuel or tear him down, i simply believe that the talent is there and tyne glimpses of perfection he has shown is something to build on. In my view, Buffalo got it right, but a second season alone will not make Manuel great but improving on a few key aspects of his game certainly can. Here are the 5 key components that i feel EJ must improve moving forward into next season if the Buffalo Bills have a shot at contending.
1. Anticipation: This is by far the most important and it’s how i rank NFL quarterbacks. Gabber, Ponder and Weeden only throw the ball when a receiver is open, “elites” like Manning, Rodgers, and Brady throw the ball to get a recover open. Being able to anticipate the routes and what a defender might do is built from film study, chemistry and trust from your teammates and in your abilities. During his brief outings Ej had a handful of throws that displayed that trait, lets hope he keeps building on it.
2. Accuracy: One of the biggest knocks on Manuel coming out of Florida St. was his lack of accuracy and it showed in his first year as a pro. Although Manuel was able to pre-read a defense and identify the 1-1 coverage, more often than not his ball sailed out of bounds on go’s, to inside on slants or over the head on screens. This would have been the biggest need of improvement on the list, however accuracy is a trait that doesn’t easily improve with work.
3. Hesitancy: As most rookie QB’s do, whether by lack of time with their wide receivers or pure nature, Manuel would sometimes hesitate to throw to an open guy. This is typical of a quarterback wanting to protect the ball and double checking coverage before letting it go. While passes were completed, hesitant passing takes most YAC out of the game.
4. Reads: One thing Manuel did well was read the safety coverage and identify the open seam. Something he definitely needs to improve on is his progression pace during the drop back. Numerous occasions show Manuel stuck on half of the field and never progressing to an often open 3rd wide out. This will improve with time and is usually a carry over from college.
5. Footwork/Vacating Pocket. As a pocket passer, which EJ claims to be, your footwork is of most importance. EJ has shown flashes this season of being able to feel pressure, slide, set and throw. Too often however, EJ felt pressure and left the pocket or checked down to a safety net. In 2014, if EJ wants to become a better QB he’ll need to vastly improve his footwork in lieu of pressure.