The Buffalo Bills are going in to their second season with former first round pick EJ Manuel as the starting quarterback.
Entering this season the only certainty is the uncertainty in regards to whether or not Manuel will live up to his potential and become the next great Bills QB. The one thing the Bills must make sure they do in the developmental process of Manuel is give him time to grow. Too often in today’s NFL a quarterback is taken in the first round of the draft only to start immediately on a bad team, the rookie does not have initial success and is labeled a bust such as the case with Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville.
There are instances when a quarterback is drafted in the first round to a good team, has some success initially but never quite reaches the level of consistency that their potential suggested they could reach, such as Mark Sanchez in New York. If you compare Gabbert to Drew Brees after three seasons of playing in the NFL, both appeared in 28 games, Gabbert has a touchdown to interception ratio of 22-to-24, for Brees it was 29-to-31. It was not until his fourth season that Brees started to show consistency and not until his sixth season that he reached his prime. The first season of Manuel starting produced some great moments in addition to some not so great moments, but who is more at fault between Manuel and the Bills is a fair question. Going into last season with two rookie quarterbacks on the roster the Bills did not do themselves or their rookies any favors by not hiring a quarterbacks coach to help teach Manuel and fellow rookie Jeff Tuel the finer points and nuances of the game.
Dealing with Manuel is a delicate process and he should be given room to grow within his own success and failures. If the Bills current front office and coaching staff can take anything away from the previous administrations it is how not to handle a quarterback drafted in the first round, example JP Losman. Losman a former first round pick was coming off his best season as a pro in 2006 his third year in the league, he set a career high in almost every statistical category and the team finished 7-9 that season. During the 2007 season Losman was injured in the third game and was subsequently benched in favor of Trent Edwards. Losman had the higher upside of the two but the coaching staff wasn’t willing to endure the hardships of developing a young quarterback into a star and was not willing to see the process all the way through.
Aaron Rodgers did not start a game until his fourth year in the league, people believed Brett Favre was being negative when he said he was surprised Rodgers did not win the Super Bowl sooner, but Favre knew he endured the 4-12 season two years prior, handed Rodgers the keys to a 13-3 team and Rodgers was set up for success.
Alex Smith did not reach his prime until his seventh season in the league, Steve Young sat behind Joe Montana for five seasons, Jim Kelly was able to polish his game for two seasons in the USFL and did not start an NFL game until he was 26 years old.
The coaching staff must make sure they take their time to ensure they are putting Manuel in a position to succeed, not pass judgment too soon and take the lumps that come with developing a star NFL quarterback.
Lawren Hightower can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ell_aych