E.J. Manuel’s stock on the rise

Story posted March 28, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio, NFL Draft by Jason Shawley

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When the college football season concluded two-and-a-half months ago in Miami, talk shifted from Alabama and Notre Dame to the NFL Draft and the draft stock of the prospects leading up to April. The quarterback position is always a focus at this time of year, and the uncertainty in this particular draft has brought plenty of intrigue to the debate.

There’s no doubt that West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Southern California’s Matt Barkley carry the majority of the hype. Smith was the leading candidate to be the top pick in the draft until the Kansas City Chiefs, who own that pick, made a trade with San Francisco to bring in their new franchise quarterback, Alex Smith. Unless the Chiefs trade the top pick, a quarterback will surely not be taken first overall.

Despite Smith and Barkley being the two most recognized candidates, no quarterback has improved his stock in the last couple of months - and over the past two years - more than Florida State’s E.J. Manuel. The 23-year old senior from Virginia Beach took over as the Seminoles starter two years ago and became just the second player in college football history to play in and win four straight bowl games.

Manuel started six games in his first two years in Tallahassee and compiled a 4-2 record while also making an appearance in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl, leading the team to a victory over South Carolina after Christian Ponder went down with an injury.

Following the departure of Ponder in 2011, Manuel was named the team’s starter. The junior quarterback started 12 of 13 games and posted a 9-3 record, a record that included a come-from-behind win over Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. He finished the season completing 65 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Expectations were high for Manuel and the Seminoles heading into the 2012 season, as Florida State was ranked seventh in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25. Manuel didn’t disappoint, having the most successful individual season of his career while also leading Florida State to an ACC Championship and a lopsided victory over Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl. Over his last season with the Seminoles, Manuel threw for the second most yards in team history (Chris Weinke owns the record) with 3,392 yards. The senior also set a career high with touchdown passes, 23, and led Florida State to their most prolific offensive season in program history.

Few scouts are questioning Manuel’s physical tools. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound quarterback has an upper-echelon arm and can make all the throws with velocity and accuracy. He has shown good touch on short to intermediate passes and has the strength to go vertical.

Despite the fact that Manuel does not look like an effective ball carrier, Manuel has shown superior elusiveness throughout his career. Manuel’s athleticism allowed head coach Jimbo Fisher to install various schemes into the Seminoles offense. His largest single-game rushing output came last year against Clemson when he put up 102 yards on 11 carries. Manuel finished his career with 827 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.     

There are certainly many doubts to whether or not Manuel possesses the "clutch gene." Up until last season’s Clemson game, the only big-time game the Seminoles were able to win with Manuel was the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame. Manuel answered a lot of questions against the Tigers in September when he completed 27 of 35 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns while also finishing with the first and only 100-yard rushing game of his career. Manuel and the Seminoles beat Clemson 49-37 and only lost two games the entire season.

One other big question that follows Manuel is whether he possesses the game management skills to be successful in the NFL. Many scouts wonder whether or not he can make the right reads and make good decisions when facing faster athletes than ones in the ACC. There’s no doubt that his decision-making has greatly improved over the last season but he’s going to have to show teams that he is willing to study film and be the hardest working guy in the locker room.

Manuel had a strong offseason and utilized the combine and his pro day to help his stock. According to NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, Manuel has bigger upside than Christian Ponder who was selected 12th overall by the Minnesota Vikings in 2011. Manuel recorded a 4.65-second 40-yard dash time and a 34-inch vertical at the combine.

Leading up to the 2012 college football season, E.J. Manuel was listed as a possible second or third round draft pick by many scouts. Following a strong final season with the Seminoles, Manuel’s stock has skyrocketed and he could find himself in the top ten.

There is no question the quality of quarterbacks in this year’s draft is down from previous years, but the fact that a lot of teams are in the market for a franchise guy could end up helping this year’s prospects. Geno Smith isn’t the top player on the board, but could find himself being the top pick because teams are desperate. Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib may then go at eight to the Bills considering new head coach Doug Marrone was Nassib’s coach with the Orange. NC State’s Mike Glennon has been shooting up the boards but it is likely that either Barkley or Manuel would be the third signal caller off the board should Smith and Nassib go first and second.

It’s difficult to forecast where Manuel might go in a highly unpredictable draft, but the upside that he brings may be worth the risk for a team looking for a franchise quarterback. With his physical tools, he may be one of the most NFL-ready quarterbacks in the class. Manuel is comparable to Josh Freeman and Cam Newton in terms of passing skills, physical build and athletic ability. If Manuel can work out the mental part of the game, he has the potential to have a very successful professional career.

Jason Shawley is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jts5353@psu.edu.