This hasn’t been a regular rookie season for E.J. Manuel.
Sure, he’s had the ups and downs that most rookies do, but he also had a knee injury that kept him out of four and a half games this season. He was up and down before his departure but also flashed that dynamic talent that made him a surprise first round pick.
He started the season relatively strong – he was 18-of-27 for 150 yards and a pair of touchdown passes in a near-upset of the New England Patriots in Week 1. He followed that up with 296 yards and a touchdown on 27-of-39 passing against a very good Carolina Panthers defense that has really come on of late.
After that, it was a lot of struggles against very good defenses which does happen. Heck, it even happens to good quarterbacks. It was a learning experience.
Then the knee injury happened and derailed any momentum he’d had but also put a stop to the lessons he was learning as a rookie quarterback in the NFL. Questions arose about whether or not Manuel could last in the NFL or if he’d be healthy enough to ever live up to the potential he’s shown during the season.
While that remains to be seen, he has progressed. He had a rough outing last week – 155 yards and a touchdown on 22-of-39 passing – but he was absolutely dazzling against the New York Jets on Sunday. He went 20-of-28 for 245 and a pair of deep touchdown passes against a team that held him to 19-for-42 and sacked him several times during their Week 3 matchup.
He has franchise-quarterback potential. He’s big, mobile and possesses a strong arm. It’s hard to watch him and not get visions of Cam Newton dancing in your head. It’s early and he’s made more than a few mistakes, but that seems like his ceiling. He can be the quarterback that really changes the direction the Bills go in.
Manuel has progressed and regressed like most rookie quarterbacks. He’s flashed that enormous potential and likely isn’t done taking his lumps for the year. But for once, the Bills know they have a talented, young quarterback with his whole career ahead of him. They have a reason to believe they’ve found their franchise quarterback.
Now keep him upright, keep him healthy and see what he can do.