BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
Coupling Kevin Kolb’s family situation with his knee injury, it is looking like a strong possibility that Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel will start Sunday’s preseason opener versus the Indianapolis Colts.
In Manuel’s first taste of NFL game action, his quarterback counterpart will be last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Andrew Luck. Like Luck in 2012, Manuel was the first quarterback selected in this year’s NFL draft.
Andrew Luck was considered the consensus top player in the 2012 NFL draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper called him the best quarterback prospect available since John Elway in 1983. The Colts were so confident in Luck being able to step in right away that they released future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning during the 2012 offseason.
EJ Manuel, on the other hand, had a wide variety of draft grades given to him coming out of Florida State. Based on the different evaluations people had on him, Manuel could have went anywhere from the first to fifth round. Most draft analysts thought of Manuel as a mid-round pick, but that didn’t stop the Bills from using their first selection, after trading down from the No. 8 to the No. 16 overall selection, on the quarterback they wanted.
Luck may have been considered more of a sure thing coming out of Stanford than Manuel out of Florida State, but Luck can certainly relate to Manuel’s situation.
Both quarterbacks were drafted by teams with first-year head coaches whose success is directly tied to the success of their young quarterbacks. Luck stepped in and became the starter for a Colts team that finished 2-14 the season before they drafted him. Luck did not have to worry any legitimate competition for the starting quarterback job, and stepped in as the starter from Day 1. He led the Colts to the playoffs in his first season as starting quarterback, leaving no lapse in time for the Colts to be without a legitimate top-end starting quarterback from Manning to Luck.
Manuel, who is competing for the starting job with Kevin Kolb, is hoping to become the starter for a Bills team that is coming off a 6-10 season and hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999. He has to win the starting job rather than being handed it, but like Luck, he entered a difficult situation for a rookie quarterback, with no shortage of pressure in either situation.
The Bills are hoping Manuel becomes their own franchise quarterback, as they have not been able to solidify the position since Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season.
From a physical standpoint, both of these young quarterbacks have everything you can desire in a player. Both have great size: Luck checks in at 6’4’’ and 239 pounds while Manuel is 6’5’’ and 237 pounds. They both have big-time arm talent and are capable of making every throw. They are also both excellent athletes and are not limited in any way. Luck ran a 4.67-second 40 yard dash and recorded a 36-inch vertical jump at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine, while Manuel ran his 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds and had a 34-inch vertical jump at this year’s combine.
Luck was clearly a more polished passer entering his rookie year than Manuel is this year. Luck has a clear ability to make pre-snap reads, survey defenses and deliver the football accurately.
Manuel is the better runner of the two quarterbacks. He is a creative playmaker who can use his legs to make plays. Additionally, Manuel is an excellent thrower on the run. From 2010-12 at Florida State, he completed 70.3 percent with 10 touchdowns and only one interception when throwing on the run, according to Sharon Katz of ESPN Stats and Info.
Both players have high character and bring great intangibles to the table. One NFL scout told ESPN’s James Walker following the draft that Manuel is “not just a good character guy, he’s a sterling character guy.” Luck has been impressive in this area as well throughout his time at Stanford and in his first season with the Colts.
Each of these players has close ties to former NFL players. Manuel is the godson of former Buffalo Bills defensive end and Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, the NFL’s all-time leader in sacks. Luck’s father, Oliver Luck, was a former NFL quarterback for the Houston Oilers and is currently the athletic director for West Virginia University.
Both players were winners in college. Manuel won 80.6 percent of his starts in college and led his team to four consecutive bowl victories, including a win in the Orange Bowl, Florida State’s first BCS bowl win since 2000, as a senior. Luck won 81.6 percent of his starts in college, is the highest-rated passer in Pac-12 history and has the school record for wins by a Stanford quarterback.
It remains to be seen if Manuel will be able to step in and have a degree of success similar to Luck’s performance last season for the Colts. Nonetheless, the opportunity is there for Manuel to step in and prove himself worthy of the starting job on Sunday as he faces Luck and the Colts. The hope exists that the Bills have finally shored up the most important position on their roster for the first time since Kelly was under center.