Coming out of Florida State, EJ Manuel was one of the surprise picks of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Bills took a chance with the 16th pick and ultimately constructed a run-first offense to attempt to groom their future franchise signal-caller.
As the season started, Manuel played timid, but held his own in the first two games against New England and Carolina. He was able to utilize the short passing game, using his backs to complete the majority of passes.
The next two games against the Jets and Ravens weren't so impressive. Completing just 45-percent of his passes in both games, Manuel struggled with accuracy on seemingly every drive and tried to fit in too many throws in windows that closed too quickly.
His Thursday Night matchup against Cleveland ended with a knee injury that kept him out for over a month. Manuel was never able to rebound and have his rookie season end healthy.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Manuel didn't try to do too much, something that young quarterbacks too often try to do. Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett kept the run-first offense approach, allowing Manuel to throw in situations only when he needed to. While he did make a few risky throws, the rookie quarterback stayed within himself, showed poise in the pocket, and allowed the play to happen the majority of the time.
Mobility in the pocket was another strength for Manuel, starting early. He was able to shake defenders and at times run downfield with long strides and gain ground quickly. While he shouldn't be relied upon as a rushing quarterback, it's certainly an under-rated trait he possesses.
One thing we can give Manuel is his ability to complete the easy passes. When guys like Scott Chandler and Stevie Johnson were open, Manuel was able to use his arm-strength to deliver, sometimes threading the needle to complete passes. I was impressed with his poise and ability to make plays when he had to.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Too often in his rookie season did Manuel check the ball down. It seemed as though many times he had opportunities to make a big play happen, but he relied on the all-too-famous "dump off pass" to create the opportunities in the passing game. Manuel will have to hope his team helps him out this off-season by getting him another premier young receiving threat at some point in the draft.
Manuel had his fair share of rookie mistakes you would expect to see. Poor interceptions, bad reads, and inaccurate deep balls all stood out on his tape but are also things that I expect him to learn from and progress in 2014.
AFC EAST RANKING
I place E.J Manuel third in the AFC East behind Tom Brady and Ryan Tannehill. I expect to see major improvement in Manuel's passing game in the 2014 season. It should be interesting to see if he'll be able to go toe-to-toe against his divisional rivals.