On the morning of the first round, I present to you two opinions on EJ Manuel and the NFL, from our two main film breakdown guys: Alan Mundy and myself. We've watched every snap of his career, the majority of them multiple times. Here is Alan's take:
In order to make any kind of assessment of EJ Manuel's pro prospects, there has to be a clear understanding of where he is as a quarterback at the end of his college career. In all the attributes that one would look for in a potential NFL quarterback (footwork, mechanics, accuracy, ability to read a defense, pocket movement/escapability, running ability, etc. etc.)
EJ has demonstrated high levels of proficiency at times. He has also displayed levels of inconsistency at even the fundamental aspects of quarterback play that raise serious questions about his ultimate ceiling as a QB. The frustrating part of these inconsistencies is that they are so very inconsistent and appear seemingly at random. For a coach trying to address these issues it must feel like a game of whack-a-mole; as soon as you resolve one deficiency, another that you thought you had fixed reappears. This suggests a quarterback who has not sufficiently mastered the fundamental aspects of the position to the point that they happen automatically.
If EJ is thinking about footwork, then mechanics go to hell. If he starts to think about mechanics and footwork, then he forgets to make a necessary pass protection check, etc. etc. While I do not know EJ on a personal level, I would feel very comfortable stating as fact that he is a very intelligent person and a very hard worker. Further, he has been coached by an excellent QB coach for five years. Given that there are no suspected issues with work ethic or lack of quality coaching, EJ's inconsistency presents a problem that I don't think can be waved away with the notion that Jimbo Fisher's coaching style didn't mesh with EJ. The question an NFL team has to answer for themselves when deciding where to draft EJ is whether he is simply a late bloomer who develops at a slower rate than others (certainly possible), or whether he has limited aptitude for the position.
A big factor in EJ's success or lack thereof as a pro will be the circumstances around him, the ability of the coaching staff to fit their coaching style to him, and EJ's ability to overcome a couple of critical mental blocks he seems to have developed.
Whatever the cause, EJ has shown a clear reluctance to use one of his best attributes: his legs. He must be willing and eager to run on designed plays and when the opportunity presents itself on called pass plays. His running ability is the bridge that will allow him to be effective while developing as a passer.
It is also my opinion that EJ is the type of person who wants to succeed and please his coaches to the point that he internalizes and personalizes criticism that is meant to be situational and related to his play, not his worth as a person. His coaching staff must recognize this and be careful not to destroy the relationship before it has a chance to develop. EJ must grow as well and learn to take coaching without allowing it to turn into a negative internal monologue. His coaches and teammates are all heavily invested in his success. There is no next level to be concerned about anymore.
Ultimately, given the likelihood that he will be drafted high and forced to play early, I am skeptical that EJ will develop quickly enough to become a highly successful starter but I am certainly rooting for him to do so and wish him all the best.
I will not rehash most of Alan's thoughts, but will comment on anything with which I disagree, and offer some thoughts that Alan did not mention.
Manuel has big, big tools. He has the build at 6'5 and 230 pounds. He has the eye-popping combine numbers at that weight. He's shown that he has the arm strength to play in the NFL. His play-fakes are excellent. And no quarterback in this draft has his ability to take it the distance with his legs. All of the physical tools are there.
Alan notes that there is a possibility that Manuel could be a late bloomer, or that a change of coach could make the difference. I can't dismiss either possibility. There is great variance in projecting players from college to the NFL, and Manuel certainly has some very attractive tools.
And Manuel has absolutely killed the interview and media circuit leading up to the draft. Everyone with whom he speaks comes away stating that they want him as the face of their franchise. They're right. Manuel never got into trouble at Florida State and always said the right thing. His off-field risk is about as good as anyone in this draft. He's clean cut, and a hard worker.
But that doesn't win football games.
I would not draft EJ Manuel with a top-50 pick. Someone will, of course, because they think they can be the one to take those tools and bring out the superstar player. His play on the field at Florida State was that of a third- or fourth-rounder. His team had a talent advantage over almost all opponents, and that helped to hide some of his flaws. He was a fine college quarterback whose numbers are better than his play.
I am considerably more likely to subscribe to the upside angle when a player is young or inexperienced. Manuel is 23. That's not at all young for a QB coming out of college. And he's not inexperienced. He's had almost 1,000 passing plays in his Florida State career.
I have a few major issues with Manuel that Alan touched on, but on which I want to expand.
I think Manuel is very physically tough. He played through a fractured leg in the bowl game against Notre Dame and came back in after sustaining what I personally believe to have been a concussion against Florida (FSU denied that he had a concussion, but he was definitely off when I interviewed him after the game, and that is a discussion for another day).
But for every bit of physical toughness he has, he has an equal amount of mental softness on the field. I want to be clear here that I am not at all making a judgment of Manuel's mental toughness in life, but rather solely as it relates to football. From the complete inability to take hard coaching to worrying and complaining about what the press writes, there are serious concerns here. Too many times he's gone into a shell or broken down when being coached hard, leading to him not absorbing the instruction that follows the hard coaching. He's never had the "[screw] you" attitude that top quarterbacks all possess. While Manuel does say all the right things outwardly, I've never had the impression from team sources that he's a great leader of his teammates. Whichever team takes Manuel is going to have to be very careful with how it handles his fragile psyche.
I also somewhat disagree with Alan about Manuel's intelligence. I don't think he's dumb by any means, but I think he's more hard worker than savant; although that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Manuel's long legs give me concern. He struggles to take the short, choppy steps that are required to move around in the pocket. He also has much better long speed than he does quickness, which hurts his ability to escape the rush and quickly scramble to pick up yards. Manuel's highlight tape contains some very impressive runs, and once he gets going he is very good at picking up yards in the open field. But his acceleration isn't great, and for being such a great athlete, his ability to avoid pressure was sorely lacking. How often does a quarterback run 40 yards in the NFL? It's a cool skill, but the greater skill, and one that Manuel doesn't seem to have, is the ability to consistently avoid pressure, avoid losing yards, and pick up first downs.
Of course, that is if he runs at all. Manuel changed as an upperclassman at Florida State. He ran a ton in 2009 and 2010, both on designed runs, read options and scrambles. It made him very dangerous, and inspired a lot of hope from Florida State fans. But something changed, seemingly after the 2011 Oklahoma game in which Manuel separated his shoulder: he stopped running. There's a lot of debate about this. Was it his desire to shed the dual-threat label often applied to African-American quarterbacks? Was it his desire to avoid injury and preserve himself for the draft? Was it head coach Jimbo Fisher telling him not to run? Was it assistant coach Dameyune Craig instructing him to do so? There's no absolute answer here. What we do know, however, is that Fisher continued to call read options, and Manuel all of a sudden ran them incorrectly at an alarming rate. This skill that he possessed in 2009 and 2010 -- one that is executed properly in middle school football, was suddenly gone. Paired with recent comments from his teammates about his desire to establish himself as a pocket passer, it raises questions about whether Manuel was refusing to run those plays correctly. Ultimately, Manuel kept himself healthy and he is about to get paid a lot of money.
Will Manuel run in the NFL? If so, how much? Will he do it only in the beginning? If he is close to his second contract, will he sell out for his team, or stop running and try to avoid injury? These are questions an NFL team must ask, because if he did it to Florida State, he could do it to your NFL team. And the running is so important because Manuel is really not much of an NFL prospect as a pure pocket passer.
The reasons for this are many. He really doesn't have a good feel for the game. Manuel is very slow to recognize and react on the field. He doesn't recognize blitzes well, doesn't sense pressure (making it too late to use his athleticism to avoid it), is often slow to get through his reads, and struggles to read coverage in general, both pre and post-snap.
FSU had to dumb down its offense a lot for Manuel, as Alan and I have noted many times when people claimed it was too complicated. The reason for this, IMO, is because of his lack of mental ability on the field. But don't take my word for it. Here is Mike Mayock, head scout for the NFL Network:
Mayock, who also appeared at the charity event, said his endorsement of Manuel as the class' second-best quarterback stems from his overall frustration in trying to evaluate the overall talent of a class that several league officials have said lacks a no-brainer.
"I finally got to the point where I said, ‘If I'm going to make a mistake on a late-one, mid-two [round] kind of quarterback, I'm gonna do it on an athlete with size and arm talent,'" Mayock said.
"And as for me, E.J. Manuel didn't get asked to do a lot [at Florida State], and I don't think you can ding the kid. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, can he read defenses?' But I don't think they asked him to do it a lot. So we don't really know that.
"I think he's a big kid with upside and arm talent. If the Eagles jumped on him in the second round, I think he'd be a great fit."
[Emphasis mine] Mayock says that FSU didn't ask Manuel to do much, but from my perspective, the reason behind this is important: he never demonstrated that he could handle more.
Manuel also struggles to throw with anticipation. The next time he bangs the post route before the receiver breaks open will be the first. He is very much a rudimentary "see it, throw it" player. That doesn't work well in the NFL. In the league, certain routes demand that the ball comes out before the receiver is open or out of his break.
Throwing with anticipation and the ability to quickly recognize and react to things happening on the field aren't physical tools, but rather are the power cords attached to the physical tools. Without them, the tools don't matter all that much.
The questions NFL teams must ask are 1) how much of the above is coach-able and fixable, and 2) How much will Manuel loosen up and just play once he gets a paycheck and a new coach?
Each coach will have a different opinion on the subject, and the one who thinks he can make Manuel's physical tools into a quality NFL starter will be the one who drafts him in the first two rounds. I believe Manuel would be better served to sit the bench for a few years while learning, but suspect that he'll be drafted too high for that to be a possibility.
I'll be rooting for him. He was always interesting to cover, and continues to be a great representative of Florida State.
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