It’s no secret that the 2013 quarterback draft class was deemed underwhelming, especially following last season’s rookie QB extravaganza. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson may have put on a show that will be tough to follow, but that doesn’t mean you should sleep on this years set of rookie signal callers. One first-year quarterback has already separated himself from the pack in terms of apparent NFL readiness, poise and leadership capabilities. That man is EJ Manuel of the Buffalo Bills.
Leading up to the draft, Manuel was consistently ranked as the fourth or fifth best quarterback available, while current New York Jets QB Geno Smith was seen as the consensus top prospect. Since then, both QB’s have been involved in their own version of a quarterback derby, and both ultimately won the starting job by default due to injuries to their veteran counterparts. The only difference is, Manuel had effectively locked up the starting job by Week 2 of the preseason before Kevin Kolb got hurt. Smith, on the other hand, has looked shaky at best in his limited preseason action, and probably would have been benched in favor of Mark Sanchez had Sanchez not succumbed to injury.
There are plenty of reasons to believe that these two rookies will continue on their current trajectories, which could be either great or devastating depending on where you live in New York. No evidence supports this theory better than the personalities of the players themselves. It was extremely telling that Smith dropped so far in the draft following rumors of his nonchalant attitude and unprofessional demeanor. As surprising as the move was, it was equally telling that the Bills ‘reached’ to grab EJ Manuel in the first round, especially now in retrospect. Manuel has conducted himself like a mature, level-headed professional since day one of entering the league, and already appears to have earned the trust of his teammates.
Simply put, EJ Manuel has the ‘it’ factor. He is a leader of men. Call it Russell Wilson syndrome if you like, but no matter how you slice it, there’s no reason to doubt that Manuel can lead a franchise to victory. Both Manuel and Smith possess raw talent and athleticism in spades, but what will ultimately separate the legacies of the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2013 NFL draft is how they inspire their teammates. There’s a reason that quarterback is the most important position in football. A good QB has to be more than just a great football player. They have to be a great leader. If you need any further proof, just keep an eye on the Bills and the Jets this season.