“With the 16th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select EJ Manuel, quarterback, Florida State.”
It was arguably the biggest shock of the draft, and as a Bills fan myself, it had me a bit puzzled. I mean, I know Buffalo desperately needed a quarterback, but I thought they’d wait a bit longer, rather than reach on a raw guy like Manuel at 16 overall. However, as training camp and preseason games have rolled on, something began to happen.
I began to feel an excitement.
No, not just for the future my beloved Bills were heading. But also Manuels future fantasy prospects, another part of football that is near and dear to my heart. The rookie signal caller has made tremendous strides already, and the regular season hasn’t even started yet. Clearly, Manuel has outplayed fellow quarterback Kevin Kolb for the starting job, and I fully expect him to be under center come Week 1. In his professional debut, Manuel completed 16 of 21 passes for 107 yards and a score. It was a very intermediate style of passing offense, but he still looked sharp. The style of offense is a good fit for an athletic gunslinger like Manuel. Don’t overlook this kid, fantasy fans. I guarantee you he will be a sneaky viable fantasy option if you need him.
Sure, he won’t live up to the year of the quarterback from a season ago. Guys like Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick tore the league up in 2012, making the quarterback position deeper than it’s ever been. With that being said, only the deepest of leagues will see Manuel on rosters in fantasy land. However, in two-quarterback leagues, or as a bye week replacement, Manuel will be more than viable for your fantasy rosters. While I wasn’t exactly thrilled with Buffalo’s number one draft pick this April, I have already made a complete 180. Face it, folks. I’m already on the bandwagon, and I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t be ashamed to jump on too.
Manuel is a freak athlete. At 6’4″, 237 pounds, he slides into the Cam Newton mold. No, he isn’t as explosive or gifted as Newton, but he’s still a pretty darn good football player. He has a strong arm, which will be crucial to his success with all that speed Buffalo now has on the outside. Manuel is strong enough to throw at a high percentage during play action. Again, seeing as how much new head coach Doug Marrone loves to pound the rock, I’m sure there will be a fair share of play action passing in Manuel’s future. His strong arm allows him to fit the ball into tight spaces and get it where it needs to be in a hurry. However,while he can obviously throw the football (duh, he’s a quarterback), Manuel’s obvious fantasy appeal comes from his legs. Simply, we are seeing a new breed of signal callers in the league. Year after year, athletic freaks who can take off and run enter the league, and sooner or later, become very fantasy relevant. During his final two years in college, Manuel rushed for 461 yards and eight scores. His combination of size and speed allows him to get away from opposing defenders. Heck, even Tim Tebow (sorry to mention him) was fantasy relevant with his legs a while back. However, don’t worry, folks. Manuel is a much, much better passer.
Manuel will fit well with an expected uptempo Buffalo offense. Matched with an explosive runner in C.J. Spiller, I expect the Bills to run the ball a ton, and will likely implement some read option in their playcalling. Both Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett experimented with a West Coast style of offense during their time at Syracuse. It will certainly feature more run than pass, which may be good for Manuel during his first full season in the NFL. They do want to keep defenses honest, and now that they have Manuel, they may be able to do that. As for the read option, I’d be surprised if the Bills didn’t test the waters with their shiny new quarterback. Manuel is experienced with the read option during his time at Florida State, and remember, Hackett incorporated the read option with a much less mobile quarterback in Ryan Nassib at Syracuse. The Bills passed on Nassib during the draft and jumped at the opportunity to grab the guy that will best fit their offense. Again, running the ball on his own is extremely appealing when it comes to fantasy quarterbacks nowadays, but Manuel will obviously need to air the ball out. I think Buffalo provided him with strong weapons in the passing game. First, he already has two terrific pass-catching backs in Spiller and Fred Jackson, but the receivers have some serious talent. Number one wideout Stevie Johnson has posted three consecutive 1,000-yard receivers, despite playing with pedestrian quarterbacks. Also, the team drafted speedy wide receivers such as Marquise Goodwin (4.25 40-time) and Robert Woods (4.43) in April. Speed all over the place? Yeah, I think Manuel will make himself right at home.
Look, I get it. 21 quarterbacks scored 200 fantasy points or more in 2012, so I am well aware of how ridiculously deep the position is this year. And yes, I am a Bills fan, and yes, this may be a homer pick. But quite frankly, I don’t care. There is something special about Manuel that fantasy owners are going to see before you know it. He’s got the size, athleticism, arm strength, you name it. Many believe he is raw, but after his first two preseason games, Manuel has completed 25 of 33 passes for 195 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. And during those two games, the Buffalo offense has run an impressive 163 plays (85 Week 1, 78 Week 2), and that fast-paced offense will allow Manuel to see more attempts with both his arm and his legs. More opportunity usually equals better fantasy production. Also, based off of last year’s pass defense statistics, Manuel will have the ninth-most favorable schedule among quarterbacks, which certainly can’t hurt his stock. Whether he is your QB2 or riding your bench until he fills in during a bye week, Manuel will be a fantasy dark horse in 2013.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.