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2013 NFL Draft: Is E.J. Manuel the Real Deal?

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After the success of Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson this past year, NFL teams are keeping an eye out for quarterbacks with dual-threat ability. However, there aren’t a lot of quarterbacks like that available in the draft this year. The closest this year’s draft has to offer with regard to dual-threat quarterbacks is E.J. Manuel of Florida State, which makes Manuel an intriguing prospect for teams heading into the draft. But when it comes to being a starter in the NFL, is he going to be a pretender or a contender?

Manuel saw some time in his first two seasons at Florida State as a backup to current Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, before becoming a two-year starter. He didn’t have the breakout season as a junior that he was expected to have, but he showed noticeable improvement as a senior, completing 68% of his passes for close to 3,400 yards, with 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Manuel also did more running than he did the previous year, with six games of over 30 yards rushing, including 102 yards against Clemson, a game that Manuel took over, and Florida State’s best win of the season on their way to a 12-win season and an ACC championship. However, despite the success, few people who saw Manuel throughout his college career felt that he developed as expected and reached his full potential as a quarterback.

What made Manuel such a promising talent heading into college is the same thing that makes him an intriguing prospect as he moves into the NFL: his size and physicality. At 6’4’’ 240 lbs, Manuel is a physical specimen at the quarterback position, especially when you consider his running ability. Manuel’s mobility allows him to move around by design to give him space to throw and even run options. Manuel runs more like Wilson than Griffin, in the sense that he uses his legs to extend plays while looking downfield more often than he uses his legs to pick up yards. He’s not quite as fast as Griffin or Wilson, but Manuel is bigger and better able to break tackles when he runs. Outside of mobility and athleticism, Manuel also possesses great arm strength, which is accompanied by a quick release. Manuel has enough arm strength to throw deep down the field and outside the numbers, and because he gets rid of it so quickly, cornerbacks usually don’t have enough time to make a play on the ball.

The biggest concern with Manuel is his accuracy, which has been closely associated with issues related to his mechanics and footwork. Although his accuracy was at 68% last year, which is a good place to be, he sometimes over shot his receivers, threw behind them, or forced them to make late adjustments while the ball was in the air. Those are all issues Manuel is going to have to fix when he gets to the next level. However, Manuel’s biggest problem is fumbling the ball, which he did far too often when he tried to run the ball; if he can’t put a stop to that in the NFL he’s going to have a hard time keeping a starting job, assuming he can get one.

So, all things considered, is Manuel a pretender or a contender to be a starting quarterback in the NFL? Pretender. Optimists will see a bigger and stronger version of Wilson, but Manuel does not have the intelligence or poise that Wilson showcased during his rookie season in Seattle. Manuel certainly has the arm to be an NFL quarterback, but he doesn’t have the accuracy to fit the ball into small windows when he has to. Without that accuracy and intelligence, he will be more runner than passer in the NFL, where his propensity for fumbling will become a major concern. He may be able to find some success in a spread offense that is designed to hide his flaws, but it’s tough to envision him becoming a proficient pocket passer to the point where he can become a quality starter in the NFL.

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