BBD Staff Writer: Ryan Talbot
No one should wish summer away, but we’re less than one month away from training camp. We are (slowly) getting closer to actual football being played.
Throughout the month of July, we will be breaking down each section of the Buffalo Bills’ roster through an eight-part Positional Preview series here at Buffalo Bills Draft. The series starts at the quarterback position, one of Buffalo’s most intriguing positions.
The Bills have two realistic options to be starting quarterback: EJ Manuel, the team’s first round draft pick, or Kevin Kolb, a veteran free-agent addition this offseason. In addition to the two quarterbacks vying for the starting position, the Bills also have Jeff Tuel, an undrafted rookie, fighting for a roster spot.
The Rookie: EJ Manuel
When the Bills drafted Manuel with the No. 16 overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft, he became the first quarterback ever drafted with Buffalo’s top first-round pick of an NFL draft.
Let’s take a look at what Manuel brings to the Bills as a rookie, referencing ESPN Stats & Info‘s “Why Bills drafted EJ Manuel in first round” blog entry by Sharon Katz.
Deep Ball Accuracy
In Buffalo, you need a quarterback with a big arm. At Florida State, Manuel showed the ability to stretch the field. Manuel completed 49.2 percent of his passes over 20 yards in 2012, according to Katz.
Deep-ball accuracy is something Bills fans haven’t experienced in a while. In 2012, Ryan Fitzpatrick completed only 27.5 percent of his deep passes, according to Pro Football Focus premium statistics (Subscription Needed).
Ability to Throw In & Out of Pocket and On the Run
EJ Manuel is not strictly a pocket passer. The following table from Katz’s article shows that since 2010, Manuel’s passing numbers have actually been better outside the pocket than inside the pocket.
|>> Scrambling: 60.0 comp pct (5 TD, 0 Int)|
The information above says it all. Manuel was very accurate in and out of the pocket. His 60 percent completion percentage on the run is also quite impressive.
Manuel’s ability to roll out and scramble may prove to be invaluable to Buffalo’s coaching staff. Buffalo’s offensive line took a hit this off-season when Andy Levitre signed with the Titans. Per PFF (subscription required), Levitre was the NFL’s highest-rated pass blocking guard in 2012. His replacement at left guard could be recently-signed veteran Doug Legursky or one of numerous other candidates currently on Buffalo’s roster, but the replacement will likely cause a drop off in pass protection.
Katz also explained in the following passage of her article that Manuel can “create things with his feet.”
In addition to passing on the move, Manuel scrambled for first downs when he chose to. In 2012, Manuel scrambled for 199 yards and 10 first downs on 28 scrambles, averaging 7.1 yards per scramble. On third downs, Manuel scrambled for six first downs and averaged 7.7 yards per scramble.
Katz also wrote that Manuel ran for 208 on designed runs in 2012.
Manuel will never be confused with Michael Vick or Colin Kaepernick as a dual-threat runner, but he can use his feet when needed.
“The Veteran” Kevin Kolb
The Bills signed Kolb to a two-year, $6.1 million contract (worth up to $13 million) on April 8. Kolb didn’t take long to raise eyebrows at his introductory news conference when he said the following:
“I’m here to win the Super Bowl. Period.”
The sentiment was appreciated by Bills fans, but Kolb needs to focus on staying healthy first.
Staying on the Field
Kolb’s last stop was with the Arizona Cardinals. He was traded to the Cardinals by the Eagles in July 2011, and subsequently signed a five-year, $63 million extension with $20 million guaranteed.
Kolb started nine games in 2011, his first season with the Cardinals. The Cardinals started 1-6 under Kolb before a foot sprain and turf toe kept him out of the next four games. He returned to play in Week 13, a victory over the Cowboys, before taking a blow to the head against the 49ers the following week. Kolb suffered from concussion-like symptoms and had already suffered two major concussions in his career. Kolb did not return to the field in 2011.
In 2012, Kolb started the season as the team’s backup behind John Skelton. Skelton suffered a right ankle injury in the Cardinals’ first game of the season, and Kolb was thrown into action. He threw the game-winning touchdown to Andre Roberts to lead the Cardinals to a victory over the Seahawks.
Kolb went on to win his next three starts against the Patriots, Eagles and Dolphins before losing to the Rams. Unfortunately for Kolb, Week 6 against the Bills was his last appearance of the 2012 season. Kolb had multiple ribs detach from his sternum after a hit from Bills defensive linemen Alex Carrington and Chris Kelsay, and he never returned to the field last season.
In two seasons with the Cardinals, Kolb only played in 15 games.
Kolb completed 255 of 436 passes (58.5 percent) in two seasons with the Cardinals. He threw for a total of 3,124 yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
The most worrisome stats for Kolb over the last two seasons are sacks taken and fumbles. Kolb was sacked 57 times for a loss of 378 yards. He also had 10 fumbles over this timespan, losing five of them.
Kolb may have issues holding the ball too long, although he disagreed with that assessment during his introductory press conference, according to the Buffalo News.
In terms of deep-ball accuracy, Kolb only attempted 15 passes of 20+ yards in 2012 according to PFF (subscription required). Only four of those passes were completed and one was dropped, giving him a deep passing accuracy of 33.3 percent. The four completions went for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
“The Unknown” Jeff Tuel
Tuel may not be playing for starting reps, but at training camp he’ll be fighting for a roster spot. The Bills signed Tuel as an undrafted free agent, and he is one of only three quarterbacks currently on the roster.
Tuel played in 31 games at Washington State, starting 26. For his collegiate career, he completed 531 of 865 passing attempts for 5,936 yards and 33 touchdowns.
NFL Draft Scout‘s Rob Rang broke down the strengths and weaknesses of Tuel’s game in his pre-draft scouting report:
STRENGTHS: When healthy, Tuel has demonstrated the combination of intelligence, mobility, and accuracy that every scout is looking for in a developmental quarterback. He possesses good size and enough athleticism to buy time in the pocket and scramble for yardage when the defense is caught napping. Tuel’s best asset might be his touch, as he’s consistently shown the ability to drop passes over the top of his receivers, leading them beautifully for long gainers.
WEAKNESSES: Tuel appears to have just average arm strength, overall. He wasn’t often asked to make “stick” throws in Paul Wulff’s spread scheme and likewise didn’t do much of it in Mike Leach’s offense. Perhaps the biggest concern scouts will have with Tuel, frankly, is his struggles with durability. He missed time with injury in three of his four seasons at WSU, though it’s remarkable that he didn’t miss more time than he did considering the lack of support he had in Pullman.
Tuel will need to have a strong training camp to earn one of the team’s 53 roster spots. Even if he does not earn a roster spot, there is a strong possibility that the team will add Tuel to their practice squad.
Buffalo’s quarterback battle will be interesting to follow in training camp. No one truly knows what the Bills are thinking in regards to Kolb and Manuel.
If Buffalo wants a veteran presence in the huddle, Kolb is their only option. He has shown that he can manage a game, which may be what the Bills are looking for this season. ESPN’s John Clayton predicted on NFL 32, according to Rotoworld, that Kolb will start the season as the Bills’ starting quarterback.
Looking at the success of last year’s rookie quarterback class, the Bills may be inclined to throw Manuel into the fire and learn on the job. Manuel was not as highly regarded as a draft prospect as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or Ryan Tannehill were last year, but that does not mean he could not provide instant results for Buffalo. Russell Wilson, a third-round pick in 2012, was not as highly regarded as the quarterbacks mentioned either, but he had a very successful rookie year for the Seattle Seahawks.
Regardless of who starts, the Bills would be wise to build their offense around their running game. Both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are dual-threat running backs that can make big plays. Having this one-two punch will lessen the pressure on whomever Buffalo chooses as it’s signal-caller.
Additional Positional Previews: