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Buffalo Bills draft needs 2014: QB breakdown

Could the Bills be setting up an elaborate smokescreen to hide their plans of taking a Round 1 quarterback? "We don't plan on it," says GM Doug Whaley.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since December 30, 2013, the day of the Buffalo Bills' season-ending press conference, the team's football brain trust - including, most prominently, general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone - have fervently placed their support behind second-year quarterback EJ Manuel. Their stance has not changed at all since, as evidenced by Whaley's comments at last Friday's pre-draft luncheon.

"It’s a quarterback driven league, so we’re going to give every avenue and every piece of the puzzle to surround EJ and make him as successful as possible," Whaley said. "Again, what we did this offseason affords us the opportunity to go any way and every way in this draft. Our main focus is making sure EJ progresses."

An argument can certainly be made - and it has been made by fans and media members often enough already, and will continue to be until that hopeful point in time that Manuel proves all of his doubters wrong - that the Bills' faith in Manuel is misplaced. Unless they're putting the finishing touches on the most elaborate smokescreen in NFL history, however, it is plainly obvious that the team won't be addressing the position in a significant way in the 2014 NFL Draft - and Whaley has stated as much, veiled within typical offseason team-speak.

"I will always say to you guys to never say never. We don’t plan on (taking a quarterback in Round 1)," Whaley said Friday, "but there are a lot of things that can go down where we may be staring at a guy and he is the best person for us and the Buffalo Bills and it may be a quarterback so it may happen."

Talent on hand

Manuel is locked in as the unquestioned starting quarterback for the 2014 season, and the most primal hope is that he'll stay there for a full 16 games. What beyond-average promise Manuel exhibited as a rookie was squashed by his missing eight games - two preseason and six regular season contests - with three separate knee issues. He is fully healthy now, but keeping him that way will be one of the predominant worries for fans of the team this fall.

Thad Lewis, acquired in a desperation trade last preseason when both Manuel and the since-released Kevin Kolb succumbed to injury, has a strong grasp on the team's backup job heading into the 2014 season. In five appearances last season, he put up slightly better overall numbers than Manuel, guiding the Bills to a 2-3 overall record, with both wins coming over division rival Miami.

Fans may not be overly comfortable with the notion of rolling with Manuel and Lewis atop the depth chart - and they have every right to feel that way, given what the position produced last season - but every indication is that the team is comfortable with those two guys. It's difficult to fathom the team using an early enough draft resource at quarterback to shake up the pecking order.

Need assessment: Project

Despite their comfort level with Manuel and Lewis, the team can't - and won't - ignore the position altogether. They will grade every quarterback in the class as they always do (though not, perhaps, with the smack of desperation that they did a year ago, when it was plainly obvious that they were going to take a quarterback as early as possible), and if it happens that one of their better-graded quarterbacks slips to a point where his value is impossible to ignore, they might pull the trigger. Given the way NFL teams reach for "franchise" quarterbacks - including, perhaps, the Bills - that scenario does not seem especially likely to unfold.

Any rookie the team brings in, then, would be a project-type talent to compete with the players on hand vying for the third quarterback job: Jeff Tuel, a 2013 undrafted free agent and one-game starter, and Dennis Dixon, a 29-year-old former fifth-round pick of Pittsburgh that has not appeared in a NFL game since 2010.

Pre-draft visitors

None. That's a stark contrast from the nine quarterbacks that they brought in for visits last spring; Manuel and Tuel were among them. Again: if their not hosting any quarterbacks is part of a massive smokescreen, then it's the most carefully orchestrated smokescreen the league has ever seen.

Board building

There is no certain thing among this year's crop of quarterbacks, but there is depth to the position, and you'll see many signal callers drafted next Thursday and Friday. The question is only at what point the run begins; it would not be shocking to see four quarterbacks taken in the Top 10, and it would be equally unsurprising if zero went that early.

In no particular order, Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), Blake Bortles (Central Florida), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), Derek Carr (Fresno State), and Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois) are likely to receive early-round grades from the Bills and the rest of the league. A few other names - A.J. McCarron (Alabama), Zach Mettenberger (LSU) and the red-hot Tom Savage (Pittsburgh) - could sneak into that discussion as well. But again, unless one of those bigger-name quarterbacks slides to the point where the Bills can no longer ignore the value, they seem destined to pass.

Discussion starter

We can discuss Manuel's merits (and will continue to do so over the summer) until we're blue in the face, but there's a different, more interesting discussion to be had on this topic: regardless of our varied opinions on Manuel, does it make sense for the team to essentially double down on its play from a year ago and believe they'll end up being right about their 2013 evaluation (along with their current assessment) of their starting quarterback?