EJ Manuel feels confident going into NFL Draft
EJ Manuel can smile these days.
He’s passed all of his pre-draft tests with flying colors, earning Most Outstanding Player honors at the Senior Bowl and recording some of the top results among quarterbacks at the NFL combine. And the one-on-one meetings that the former Florida State standout has had with NFL teams? They’ve gone well, too, he says.
“I do see myself going fairly high,” Manuel said. “It’s just a matter if one of those teams have fallen in love with me. I think there are three or four of them that have.”
Manuel knows that when it comes to drafting quarterbacks, NFL teams fall in love with a particular guy. He has the prototype size at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. And he has arm strength, a quick release and is accurate.
Teams see his skill set and what he accomplished in college and project how he will fit in with their coach and their system.
It’s hard to tell where or what system is the best fit, but Manuel has worked out for a number of teams – including Philadelphia, Buffalo and the New York Jets. He also said he enjoyed diagramming plays on the whiteboard for Cleveland offensive coordinator Norv Turner, another team with question marks at quarterback.
And while this is far from the Year of the Quarterback, Manuel knows that those are teams with picks early in Thursday night’s first round (the Jets now have picks at Nos. 9 and 13 after trading Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay).
“I’m hearing some really good things,” Manuel said. “Nobody is necessarily coming out and staying, ‘Hey, we’re going to take you here at this pick.’ And even if they did I wouldn’t believe them because anything can change minutes before the draft.”
The big questions – has Manuel separated himself from the other quarterbacks in the draft, players like Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib? And has Manuel shown that he warrants a pick in the first round?
Manuel certainly has made the most of his opportunities the past few months, building on his Florida State film. He won 25 of 31 starts in his college career, and Manuel went 4-0 in bowl games (three starts and a win over South Carolina in his sophomore season, relieving the injured Christian Ponder).
Among the top five passers in Florida State history in terms of passing yards (7,736) and completions (600), Manuel’s completion percentage of 66.9 is best in program history – ahead of Heisman Trophy winners Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke – and one of the best percentages in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
And after capping his career with an Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois, Manuel hasn’t slowed down much. He excelled at the Senior Bowl, completing 7 of 10 passes for 76 yards, a touchdown and an interception while also running for a touchdown.
It’s possible that he began to separate himself from the pack of quarterbacks at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February, both with his on-field workouts and meetings with individual teams. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds and recorded a 34-inch vertical, just a shade slower than Smith (4.59) but a slightly higher vertical than the West Virginia quarterback.
Most draft analysts think that Smith is the best quarterback available but that Manuel isn’t far behind in the conversation. There are plenty of knocks against him, including his reads and decision making.
"There are consistency issues," Fox Sports analyst Peter Schrager said. "There are some games where you pop in the film and you say, 'No, no, no.' And he still makes the throw you're begging against. That can all be improved. A little coaching can go a long way. You can't teach arm strength and athletic ability - which he has."
Manuel has also impressed Jon Gruden, the former Raiders and Buccaneers coach who is now an NFL analyst. Gruden sat down to talk with Manuel, and Gruden also had him go through a number of drills.
Like Schrager, Gruden feels that Manuel could develop into a talent in the NFL. He sees versatility in Manuel, a 235-pound quarterback that can do similar things as Carolina’s Cam Newton.
"I don't think he's anywhere near to a finished product, but I do think he has a big upside," Gruden said. “He has a tremendous skill set that allows him to do a lot of different things."
For Manuel, it’s been a long four months. But he received the invite to the NFL Draft in early April and quickly accepted. He feels confident that he will be selected in the first round, and he’s ready for the next phase of his football career.
“You have no idea where you are going to be,” Manuel said. “You have no idea how high you are going to get picked. I’m just happy that I’m going to be in New York.”