Flashback to this time last year, and the Buffalo Bills were in need of a quarterback. They had just let go of the Amish-Rifle Ryan Fitzpatrick, and brought in injury prone Kevin Kolb. If you ask me, that's not much of an upgrade, and apparently the Bills felt the same way.
On draft night, there was a lot of buzz that the Bills would take a quarterback in the first round, the question everyone was asking, was who would it be? Would it be Geno Smith, the efficient leader of a high powered West Virginia offense? What about new Bills coach Doug Marrone's former quarterback from Syracuse, Ryan Nassib? Well, the question was finally answered when the Bills finally made the call for their first pick, after initially trading down, and the answer to the Bills quarterback woes was deemed to be E.J. Manuel! After Manuel's first year in the league, the Bills are now faced with a new question a year later, is E.J. Manuel really the answer?
E.J. Manuel was all smiles, after being taken 16th overall by the Bills.
Heading into the off-season, it would be seen that Kolb and Manuel would be involved in a fierce battle for the starting job. It was two very different players, with two very different backgrounds. On one hand, you had Kevin Kolb. Kolb was now on this third team, and never really had the success that everyone envisioned for him coming out of college. On the other hand, you had Manuel. During the draft process, it became clear that he too had loads of untapped potential, but was looked at as a project. Early on, it appeared that it was Kolb's job to lose, and low and behold, he did lose it. Manuel was made the starter after a great preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. It appeared that the Bills made the right move in taking Manuel so early, but wait that's not where this ends!
Moving forward, Manuel then suffered a knee injury that would sideline him for the last two preseason game, and even require minor surgery. The Bills where then put in a tough situation, because Kolb was lost for the season thanks to severe concussion, it appeared they would have to start undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel. Luckily for Bills fans, Manuel was able to recover and start the season opener against New England. He played great, but it was against the Patriots, and it wasn't great enough as they lost in heartbreaking fashion on a last second field goal. (Trust me, it was bad). The following week, E.J. Manuel announced to the league that he could make it at the professional level. He led a game winning, two minute drive against the Carolina Panthers, ending in a two yard touchdown to a wide open Stevie Johnson. It was great, just the kind of moment Bills fans needed to see to say "This is our guy!" It was nice, and refreshing to think the Bills may have found the long lost heir to Jim Kelly, but the feelings of hope would soon be shattered.
The Bills continued to make strides during the young season, and even knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens. They were riding high just as they were entering a Thursday Night game on live prime-time television, against the Cleveland Browns. It looked like the Bills were well on their way to knocking off Cleveland, but then it happened. E.J. Manuel took a hard hit to his knee, and he was slow getting up. All of a sudden, all that feeling of hope and promise looked shattered. With Manuel gone from the game, Jeff Tuel wasn't ready to play in the N.F.L and it showed as the Bills lead slipped through their fingers, ultimately ending in a loss for the team.
Manuel was knocked out for the next five games, as he could only watch as the team struggled in his absence. He returned against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and had his absolute worst game as a pro. All of the light the Bills faithful saw earlier in the year, had now turned to complete darkness as another season was lost. Manuel would play the next four games, before once again injuring that nuisance of a knee. Manuel finished a 4-6 record, and a quarterback rating of 77.7. The only stat that was promising for Manuel, was that he managed to throw more touchdowns than interceptions. If you're Bills fan, that's better than nothing at this point.
All of that brings us to the question asked above. Is E.J. Manuel really the answer for the Bills. If you ask the Bills, yes, they think he is. If you ask me however, a season like that isn't worthy of being christened as a "franchise savior".
This years draft class is loaded with first round talent. Do the Bills once again use a first round pick on a quarterback? No, absolutely no you do not do that. What the Bills need to do is look in the later rounds, perhaps at an AJ Mccarron. Sure, he isn't a standout prospect, but he's a winner, and that's something the Bills haven't been in a long, long time.
OK, Mccarron doesn't do it for you? Fine, look towards free agency, and target Josh Mccown. Mccown will bring in the experience of a veteran, as well as being a better number two option then Jeff Tuel. After such a rocky rookie season, E.J. Manuel is now under more pressure to succeed. The Bills actually have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, so consider the pressure to be actually increased to even greater heights.
With all that talent around him, the question remains the same, is E.J. Manuel really the answer for the Bills?