With the Buffalo Bills season all but over it’s time to take a good long look at EJ Manuel and see if he can be the quarterback of the future.
So far Manuel has seen a season full of ups and downs, just like most rookies. He’s shown flashes of brilliance mixed with poor decisions and injuries.
Manuel has some good numbers so far though. He’s thrown nine touchdowns to only four interceptions. In eight games he has thrown for 1600 yards, good for an average of 200 yards a game. He’s run for a touchdown and 120 yards this season too, with only two fumbles.
But are those numbers good? How do they compare to last year’s crop of promising franchise quarterbacks?
Last year was an aberration. You normally never get three rookie quarterbacks who can lead their team to the playoffs. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III all look to be cornerstone quarterbacks and have raised the bar for future rookies.
Wilson and Luck played all 16 games last year and Griffin played 15 so doubling Manuels numbers to see where he’d stack up over a full healthy season seems like a fair comparison.
The number that jumps out early for Manuel is a lack of yards through the air. He’s averaging only 200 yards a game, albeit on a team that can run.
Last year Luck lead the rookies in average yards with 273 a game but he’s not a great comparison because of the Colts lacklustre running game. Easier comparisons would be Griffin, who averaged 213, or Wilson, who averaged 194 per game. Based on those numbers, 200 a game seems right in line.
Well what about touchdowns and interceptions? Manuel has nine touchdowns to four interceptions. Over a full season you’re looking at 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
On the touchdown front over half a season Griffin had 10, Luck had 11 and Wilson had 13. Once again Manuel seems to be in line. He’s on pace to throw less interceptions than Wilson, who threw 10, or Luck, who threw 18. Only Griffin would have less at five.
That’s because Griffin is a huge running threat. He ran in seven touchdowns last year but also had nine fumbles. Manuel isn’t the running threat that Griffin is though, he’s far more in line with someone like Luck. Luck had five touchdowns and only fumbled once last season, showing great ball control on the ground. Wilson for the record had two touchdowns and two fumbles.
So clearly Manuel needs to work on his ball control. Four fumbles over a season would be a lot for a quarterback who doesn’t actively run like Griffin does.
When it comes to wins, the ultimate measuring stick for quarterbacks, he’s not going to measure up to any of the three. Then again, the Buffalo Bills aren’t as good as the Indianapolis Colts or Seattle Seahawks as a team and don’t play in a division as bad as the NFC East like Washington does.
Is it fair to criticize EJ Manuel for his teams record? The Bills are 4-8 and tied for the third worst record in the AFC. A large part of that is the defence, which has allowed the sixth most points in the AFC. They have scored the seventh most points in the conference.
There are teams above the Bills in the standings that have less points for and more points against. Hard to criticize EJ Manuel for that.
So what does EJ Manuel have to do over the next four games to prove that he can be a superstar and franchise quarterback in the NFL?
First and foremost, he’s got to win. The Bills don’t need another 4-12 season. Their final games are @ Tampa Bay, @ Jacksonville, home to Miami and @ New England. The Bucs and Jaguars have looked a lot better of late but both of those games are winnable. The Bills are 2-2 in the division so far and previous beat Miami in Miami, so another win is possible. The last game of the season may not matter for the Patriots, so depending on circumstance the Bills may only get a half of Tom Brady and company so that game is winnable.
While an 8-8 season will hardly set the world on fire, it would improve Manuel to 7-5 on a middle tier team.
He also needs to take care of the football. Keeping his interceptions and fumble numbers down, focusing on ball security, will be a big help to the Buffalo offense.
Manuel has to prove he can win on the road too. With three road games in the final four there is plenty of time to turn his road stats around. He throws twice as many yards at home as he does on the road and three times as many touchdowns. His quarterback rating at home is 91.8 compared to only 69.2 on the road. Manuel went 3-2 at home this season and is 0-3 on the road.
One key element of Manuel’s game yet to be shown in the NFL is what his feet can do. While he has only 17 sacks compared to 30 for Russell Wilson and 29 for Andrew Luck, he showed more mobility in college. In four years at Florida State, Manuel put up 827 yards on 298 attempts. While that’s far from a great average it was 5.5 attempts per game. He’s averaging less than that through his first eight games in the NFL.
Wilson, Luck and Griffin all became stars because they managed to lead their teams to the playoffs as rookies. Manuel isn’t going to do that. What Manuel can do, and Buffalo fans should hope he does, is to show what he can do on the road, continue showing flashes of brilliance and keep mistakes to a minimum.
If he can do that, EJ Manuel could join the growing list of impressive young quarterbacks who have lead their team to the playoffs, something Buffalo faithful hope to reach for the first time since 1999.
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