By Paul Wanecski
Let's start by saying that this article doesn't predict, support or defend EJ Manuel being the Buffalo Bills starting quarterback for the 2015 season. As polarizing a player as he is in Buffalo, that is up to each person how they feel on that issue. With the draft now concluded, it could be argued that general manager Doug Whaley is doing the best he can to make sure that EJ Manuel is given every chance to win the starting job.
Manuel has a new offensive coordinator in Greg Roman, who was able to work with the incumbent starter the last several weeks prior to the draft. The NFL and Collective Bargaining Agreement allow for teams who change head coaches, like the Bills did when hiring Rex Ryan, to start the off season program early. These workouts were not mandatory but a player in the situation of Manuel was wise to attend. This provided the new coaching staff with an opportunity to work Manuel out, see first-hand who he was and what he was capable of and then enter the NFL draft. The Bills did not select a quarterback in the 2015 draft, leaving the position intact with only the four they had during the voluntary mini-camp. Those who support Manuel being the starter will tell you he impressed them enough that they felt compelled to pass on this year's quarterback class.
The debate regarding general manager Doug Whaley and his thoughts on Manuel being the starter has entered it's 3rd season. While the dialogue has changed from his rookie season to now, this may be the first year he isn't practicality handed the position. In the two previous seasons, Whaley had tried to make every hurdle Manuel needed to jump to win the starting job as low as possible. Cutting veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, signing the chronically injured Kevin Kolb, signing no quarterback in the off season following Manuel's rookie year; all of these moves were made to provide Manuel with the best chance to succeed. A GM's job is to make sure they build the best team possible and giving opportunities to those they feel will help the team win. With that, the Bills left the 2015 draft without selecting a QB.
They did not leave empty handed. 3 of the 6 players selected by the Bills played with Manuel at least one year at Florida State University (2012). While none of them were major contributors to Manuel's senior season, it does call into question if Whaley is trying to provide Manuel with familiar faces to try and spark instant chemistry on the offense. It is not uncommon for teams to draft two players from the same college in the same draft:
The Ravens (2014)
Bills (2013, 2012)
Prior to the Bills two FSU selections in 2012, they hadn't selected an FSU player since Sam Cowart in 1998. Drafting three players from the same school is not common. Selecting three FSU players who were all on the same team as Manuel is, dare we say, suspicious.
With all that being said, the logical counter point is to ask if any of these players had any meaningful production with Manuel under center. To put it simply, no. RB Karlos Williams never caught a pass or even received a hand off in the 2011 or 2012 season with EJ. Ronald Darby was only on the team with EJ in 2012 and played on the opposite side of the ball. Nick O'leary in two season combined for 33 receptions and 4 touchdowns. Needless to say, his freshman and sophomore seasons were statically his least productive. Does that mean that these players were selected just because they happened to be the highest on the board when it was time for the Bills to pick?
Is the deck being loaded again for Manuel to win the starting job? At this point it is impossible to be certain. From an outsiders perspective, it appears that Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor or Jeff Tuel will have to be absolutely astonishing to win the starting position. GM's don't like to admit when they made a mistake with a player. It just seems a bit too coincidental that in what Whaley called Manuel's "make or break year", he brings in the two most dynamic offensive players at their position via free agency (Harvin and Clay) and then drafts three players that his incumbent starter played with in college. But again, that is all for you to decide if you think Manuel will win the starting job.