Some of the so-called draft gurus – including ESPN’s Todd McShay – have dumped a foot or two of lake effect snow on the Bills draft parade. McShay, along with Sports Illustrated, which awarded Buffalo a grade of D-plus, acknowledge that the Bills first-round pick EJ Manuel has great size (6-foot-5, 237 pounds), athleticism and a powerful arm. But they also believe the quarterback from Florida State is deeply flawed. McShay used the term “slow eyes,” meaning EJ is not quick enough in diagnosing where he should go with the football, which can be fatal in the high-speed decision-making world of pro football where the difference between a completion and an interception can be a split-second.
So be it.
One of the things I’ve learned from 28 seasons of covering the NFL is that it’s often foolhardy to rush to judgment on draft picks. It usually does take a few years to assess them (unless, of course, it’s an obvious miss like Aaron Maybin, the Penn State linebacker who thought sack time meant sleeping on the job, or an obvious hit like Jim Kelly, who had me convinced on the first long bomb he delivered during his very first Bills practice that he was Canton-bound.)
I think the selection of Manuel was a bold move by new head coach Doug Marrone and the Bills, who successfully put up a smokescreen that had us believing he might go with Ryan Nassib, the record-setting QB he had coached for four seasons at Syracuse.
My first impression of Manuel is that he has the charisma and confidence you like to see in such a leadership position. Of course, none of this will matter unless he delivers the ball on-time to the right receiver and finds the end zone often on game day.
Some of the negative reaction to the Bills selection clearly has to do with the team’s putrid draft record for more than a decade. No secret, really, why they’ve missed the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons. They’ve done a terrible job assessing talent. Simple as that.
History has not been kind to the Bills when it has come to selecting quarterbacks. In 53 years, they’ve gotten it right just a few times – the drafting of Kelly in 1983 and Joe Ferguson in 1973; the claiming of Jack Kemp off waivers in 1962, and the free agent signing of Doug Flutie in 1998. Manuel probably has a better chance of being the next J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Matt Kofler or Gary Marangi than he does of being the next Jimbo or Fergy.
I guess you could look at the odds two ways. Either history is about to repeat itself or the Bills finally have gotten it right.
Again, I don’t bother giving a grade to draft picks because it doesn’t mean a thing at this point. I will say this, though, I liked the fact the Bills addressed some pressing needs – quarterback and wide receiver. And I do like the fact they went for speedy, versatile players.
I think Nassib wound up in a good place when he was selected by the New York Giants. He’ll be learning from one of the best quarterbacks in the game, in Eli Manning, and there won’t be any pressure to play right away, unless the durable Manning gets hurts. The reality, though, is that Manning is just 32 and figures to have many more years as the Giants main man. Which means Nassib’s best chance probably will come down the road with another team. This is hardly unprecedented. Kevin Kolb, Matt Flynn and Matt Cassel all wound up getting their shots with teams other than the ones that drafted them.