The Buffalo Bills picked a quarterback with the elite size and physical ability to develop someday into a great player.
Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, a 6-foot-5, 237-pounder was taken by the Bills with the 16th overall pick Thursday night in the NFL Draft.
The Bills made a trade down from the eighth overall pick and still got the first quarterback on the board. Buffalo moved down eight spots and acquired St. Louis’ first-round pick. Buffalo added a second round pick, 46th overall, and a seventh-rounder, 222 overall. The Bills and Rams switched places in the third round, with Buffalo moving down from No. 71 to 78.
Manuel is the quarterback in the draft with the best ability to be a dual, passing and running threat in the mold of budding NFL stars Robert Griffin III of Washington and Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco.
However, Manuel is far from the kind of polished product Griffin was when he entered the league last season.
Manuel was a two-year full-time starter for Florida State. He compiled a 25-6 record over four seasons while completing 67 percent of his passes. He had 47 touchdown passes and 28 interceptions. He also quarterbacked the Seminoles to four straight bowl wins, because he filled in for starter Christian Ponder in the post-season his first two seasons.
As a senior in 2012, Manuel had 23 TDs and 10 interceptions and added 310 rushing yards.
In picking Manuel, the Bills passed over Syracuse University’s Ryan Nassib, who many had connected to Buffalo because new Bills coach Doug Marrone came from Syracuse. Nassib knows the Buffalo offense and arguably showed a little more poise under pressure in the pocket than Manuel.
However, Manuel clearly has superior athleticism to Nassib and a “higher ceiling,” as NFL scouts like to say. Manuel was the fastest quarterback in the draft, running the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds.
The Bills do not need to rush Manuel into the starting lineup right away. Buffalo signed veteran Kevin Kolb earlier this month. He’s a good fit for Hackett’s offense and is the favorite to rank ahead of incumbent veteran Tarvaris Jackson on the depth chart. However, the fact Manuel was taken among the top 20 means there will be pressure to work him into the starting lineup at some point as a rookie.
The questions on Manuel concern his performance against top competition and his ability to deal with pressure in the pocket. In seven starts against top 25 teams, Manuel was 3-4 with six touchdowns and nine interceptions. He looked especially bad late last season against Florida, completing 52 percent of his passes with one touchdown and three interceptions. Florida had the fifth-ranked defense in the country.
As a junior in 2011 Manuel passed for 2,666 yards with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. As a senior last season, he passed for 3,397 yards, second most in Florida State history.
Manuel is widely regarded to have good intangibles. He carried a 3.3 grade-point average as a communications major, and he was a two-time pick on the Atlantic Coast Conference all-academic team.
“I love the kid. Great character, just tremendously likeable,” said ESPN analyst Mel Kiper. “Just comes into a room and you have to root for this kid.”
Conversely, said Kiper: “I just saw a kid who didn’t go through progressions to the third or fourth option. He’d go one, two, underneath. ... That’s a concern.”