The Buffalo Bills had a game plan going into the 2013 NFL draft, and that plan was to stockpile young talent the offense could build around. Many experts predicted Geno Smith to be selected as the first overall QB, but instead the Bills chose to go with E.J. Manuel at 15th overall after trading back from pick No. 8.
With no real competition for the Bills’ starting QB job, the unproven Manuel showed signs of being a fantasy relevant QB in his time on the field during the preseason of his rookie campaign. He was steady in the pocket, went through his progressions on most plays and his throwing motion was compact with a quick release. Not to mention his keen ability to extend the play when the pocket broke down or there was no receiver open.
Fantasy owners — especially those in two-QB leagues or formats that have a rookie-only slot — salivated at the possibility of drafting this guy in the later rounds and getting the best bargain of the draft.
As the season began, those who recognized Manuel’s potential and took a chance on him were pretty pleased with the return of their investment. Going into Week 4 of the regular season, Manuel had thrown for 689 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception. He also rushed for 76 yards on 13 attempts, and those first three games were against some of the NFL’s toughest defenses of 2013 (New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers and New York Jets).
In Week 4 and 5, Manuel’s attempts and subsequently his overall numbers dropped off considerably. By Week 6 he was out with a knee injury, and only started in five of the Bills’ 11 remaining regular season games. Manuel’s stats by season’s end were not what he or the Bills had hoped they would be: 180 completions on 306 attempts, 1,972 yards passing, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Manuel also rushed for 186 yards on 53 attempts and scored on the ground twice.
Both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller will be in Bills uniforms in 2014, and could increase their number of catches out of the backfield from 2013’s total of 80. They will both share the workload of the Bills’ offense again in the upcoming season, unless Spiller performs like he was expected to last year when many fantasy owners took him in the first round. If that’s the case, we may see the carries shift to Spiller’s favor slightly, rather than the even split we saw in 2013.
The Bills also spent two of their early 2013 NFL draft picks by selecting Robert Woods and Marques Goodwin to compliment their new QB and give him someone to throw the ball to other than Stevie Johnson. The vast majority of new QB and WR relationships need time to develop, and this is one of those cases. The time spent during the off season and OTAs before this season will surely help Manuel get better acclimated with his young WRs.
The Bills have all the pieces in place on both sides of the ball to start making a serious run at the division title. If Manuel can stay on the field and utilize the young and talented weapons around him, he could become a serious QB2 with upside, or a QB1 in deeper leagues by season’s end.