I believe the 2013 draft - Buddy Nix's last draft as gm - will go down as one of the best drafts ion Bills' history, because the top of that draft class, EJ Manuel, Kiko Alonso and Robert Woods will all become stars in the NFL. Kiko is already there, being voted one of the top 100 NFL players of 2013. He'd be a top 15 pick in a 2013 re-draft. Robert Woods has impressed enough that the Bills were able to trade Stevie Johnson. The 2014 season will be a break-out year for him, when he rises to be among the top NFL receivers. Woods and Sammy Watkins will become the Bills' most dynamic pass receiving duo since Andre Reed and James Lofton. If Marquise Goodwin (2013 - 3rd round), can replicate the deep-speed threat the Bills had in Don Beebe, the 2013 draft might be the best draft in Bills' history.
Nix and Doug Whaley went into the last couple drafts, determined to find the long-term answer to the Bills QB problems. They saw something in EJ which led them to conclude he was that guy, so they selected him with the 16th pick in the 2013 draft. The skinny on EJ, from the so-called experts, was he had more upside - potential for greatness - than any QB in the 2013 draft. He had size, toughness, intelligence, speed, arm strength, confidence and leadership. In fact, the Bills said EJ "lights up a room" when he enters, his charisma being so strong.
Mike Mayock said of EJ: "As gifted as any quarterback in the class, with a strong arm and good mobility. Scouts appreciate his leadership qualities and toughness (played through his mom's cancer treatments and a broken leg in 2011's Champs Sports Bowl win over Notre Dame), and hope he can improve on his consistency. Manuel has the velocity and mobility teams look for in a project quarterback."
Nix and Whaley weren't looking for just a "plug-in and play" type QB, they were looking for the guy with the measurables, leadership qualities, toughness and potential to be a star for years to come. They saw all of that in EJ. However, they didn't expect him to step in and play from day-one. Reports were, they wanted Fitz to stick around and mentor the QB they selected in the 2013 draft. After Fitz left, they signed Kevin Kolb to become the caretaker at QB until the heir-apparent QB was ready to start. But, Kolb did what Kolb always does, he got hurt. So, a rookie QB, who OBD and the coaches expected to sit, watch and learn for a year or so, was thrust into the starting role.
Here are some of the issues, beyond his control, EJ faced last season:
1. Rookie Head coach - learning himself, while teaching EJ
2. Rookie offensive coordinator - learning himself, while teaching EJ
3. No QB coach (can a rookie OC also be an effective QB coach?)
4. Brand new offensive scheme for entire offense
5. Only 2 experienced receivers (Stevie, Scoot Chandler)
6. Spotty Offensive line play - revolving door at LG
7. No veteran QB to mentor him (who's brain could EJ pick?)
Despite these situations, EL put up decent numbers. The Bills were 4-6 in the 10 games he played and he completed 59% of his passes. Had EJ just completed 2 more passes, per 20 passes thrown, he would have had a 60% completion rate and it's likely the Bills would have won a couple more of those 10 games. His first year stats compares favorably to many of the greatest NFL QBs in their first year in winning percentage, completion %, TD/int ratio.
As well as he did for a "project," who OBD and the coaches knew wasn't ready to start, some fans looked at EJ's 2013 season, saw the same flaws Nix, Whaley and others like Mayock saw in the rookie QB, then decided those flaws were fatal. They just couldn't see the potential. He would NEVER improve his accuracy. He hesitated too long to release the ball. He's injury prone. Erc. Etc. On and on. Others wanted Buffalo to draft another QB in 2014, as insurance in case EJ fails.
The truth is EJ will make a great improvement in the 2014 season over an adequate rookie campaign. Chris Sims, an 8 year QB in the NFL, just said on the John Murphy show, he expects EJ to be greatly improved in 2014, because NFL QBs show marked improvement in their 2nd year over their rookie trials and tribulations.
With better, more experienced receivers, an improved OL, a full off-season and pre-season with his receivers, another year in the offense and a QB coach, EJ Manuel will begin to show the potential Nix, Whaley, the scouts and others saw when they looked beyond his unfinished exterior and saw a star QB, waiting to be groomed.