FSU's EJ Manuel selected by Bills, first QB drafted

FSU's EJ Manuel selected by Bills, first QB drafted

Published Apr. 25, 2013 10:17 p.m. ET

EJ Manuel smiles so easily and his passion for football shines through.

But on Thursday night, his image was tears of joy and the fact that his mom, Jackie, has been able to survive breast cancer and see him picked in the first round.

The former Florida State standout was the first quarterback taken in the draft – at No. 16 overall by the Buffalo Bills.

“I’m just so happy for me, my family, my teammates, Florida State, coach (Jimbo) Fisher being here,” Manuel told former Seminole star Deion Sanders on the NFL Network. “Just proud. …

“It’s been tough. As a football player you want to just focus on football. But when your mother is sick, she’s doing better now, but it’s just you think about the journey. This moment comes, you get that call, it’s amazing.”

Manuel’s journey to the NFL was a long and patient one. He was one of the top quarterbacks in the class of 2008 and committed to Fisher, then FSU’s offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting. He redshirted and then backed up Christian Ponder for two seasons.

And he had his chances to shine, starting six games when Ponder was injured in 2009 and ’10. He took over as the full-time starter in 2011 and became one of 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.

"He’s a tremendous young man who has been a great representative of Florida State University,” Fisher said.

He 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 Ponder).

And after capping his career with an Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois on Jan. 1, 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 Geno Smith (4.59) but a slightly higher vertical than the West Virginia quarterback.

But the choice of Manuel – and to the Bills – was stunning for many reasons. Many draft analysts had West Virginia’s Smith or Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib as the first quarterback to go in the draft. And new Buffalo coach Doug Marrone just left Syracuse for the Bills’ job.

“We did a lot of work on these guys and we felt like we knew them about as well as you could from a distance,” Bills GM Buddy Nix told the team's website. “This guy to us has got the upside to be whatever you want him to be. All these quarterbacks had good qualities we said from the start. I think if we can develop this guy that he’s got the physical talent to take you to the dance.”