BBD Staff Writer: Joseph Curtis
It’s a new season. Every team is 0-0, hoping to make the playoffs and ultimately hoping to win the Super Bowl.
Organized team activities are underway which means a fresh start for players. Players have the opportunity to atone for what they have or haven’t done in their careers.
The Buffalo Bills have a young, talented roster. While every player will have to prove themselves worthy of a Week 1 roster spot, several have major questions looming over them.
EJ Manuel: Was he worth it?
As the only quarterback to go in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, EJ Manuel will be scrutinized heavily over the next few seasons.
Manuel is competing to be the opening day starter for the Bills.
“He does have the work ethic and the leadership qualities that he’ll have a chance. But we believe competition brings out the best in everybody,” Bills general manager Doug Whaley said during an interview on NFL Network.
Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said Manuel still has much to learn.
“He’s a young man that’s got to work on a lot of things from footwork to progressions to plays to formations, everything,” Hackett told BuffaloBills.com Tuesday. “Defenses in the NFL are obviously a little different. He’s got to work on that too. He’s got to work on everything.”
Even if Manuel doesn’t start week one, it’s likely he will start at some point this season. Since 2003, 26 of 31 quarterbacks selected in the first round started a game their rookie season, according to Pro Football Reference.
While it is far too early to judge whether Manuel will be a bust or not, especially without even throwing an NFL pass, he will need to make the most of his opportunities this season to show the Bills’ investment in him was worth it.
If his performance this season is lackluster and the Bills do poorly, fans may give up on Manuel early. If they are picking early in the 2014 draft, another quarterback may even be a possibility.
To adequately answer whether Manuel was worth a first-round pick will take time, more than just this season. This question will loom over him until he can prove he was worth being the top quarterback in this draft.
Marcus Easley: Can he stay healthy?
If you took two kick returns for 75 yards away from his statistics, it would look like Marcus Easley never played in the NFL.
Those two returns, and five special teams tackles, are the only stats Easley amassed in the three games he appeared in last season. Those three games are the only games he has played since being the Bills’ fourth-round pick in 2010.
He has an excellent blend of size (6’2”, 217) and speed (4.46 40-yard dash time at 2010 NFL Scouting Combine), but health issues have kept him off the field.
Easley’s first training camp ended early after suffering a knee injury. The Bills placed him on injured reserve.
Easley returned in 2011 with a chance at earning the No. 2 receiver job. Only a few days before the season opener, a health scare during practice led to him being diagnosed with a heart condition. Once again, the Bills placed him on the IR.
After being cleared by doctors, Easley returned for 2012. The Bills cut him but later signed him to the practice squad, then elevated him back to the active roster on Nov. 6.
Former Bills Head Coach Chan Gailey praised Easley’s hard work and success on the practice squad.
“He’s played extremely well on the scout team,” Gailey told CBSSports.com. “He deserves an opportunity to come up and see what he might be able to do.”
Easley ultimately got his chance week 13 against Jacksonville, and returned a kickoff for 55 yards. He also played in Week 15 versus the Seattle Seahawks and Week 17 versus the New York Jets.
He may have a more difficult time earning that opportunity this season though. The Bills drafted wide receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin and added undrafted free agents Brandon Kaufman and Da’Rick Rogers.
Buddy Nix, former Bills General Manager, was a big supporter of Easley and his abilities.
“We are all excited about Marcus Easley,” Nix said at the Bills’ pre-draft luncheon, according to a BuffaloBills.com transcript. “I say, ‘We all,’ I am. Marcus Easley being healthy for a year. This guy, if you want to draw one up, draw him up. He is 227 pounds and can run.”
However, Nix is now gone and Doug Whaley is now the GM. Easley will need to be completely healthy and showcase the abilities that Nix praised to impress Bills management and earn a spot in a crowded receiving corps.