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Manuel in position to flourish more than any other QB in draft

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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Someone the other day asked me which of the quarterbacks in this year's draft would have the most long-term success. I thought for a moment, then answered EJ Manuel or Matt Barkley, with Pittsburgh's Landry Jones a possibility.

But it got me to thinking, and what I thought was that I needed to run that question past an offensive coordinator of a perennial playoff team. So I did, and here's what we have:

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EJ Manuel, Buffalo

He should start immediately, not only because there's opportunity, but because he fits what Doug Marrone is trying to do in Buffalo. He's big, he's mobile and he has enormous hands to grip a football in bad weather.

"They're going to get the ball out of his hands really fast," our offensive coordinator said. "And I think they're going to use the read-option much like Seattle did with [Russell] Wilson."

He thinks Manuel will be successful, but only if the Bills retool the league's 22nd-ranked defense. If not, he estimated Manuel's chances of long-term success as nothing more than "OK." The key here is that Manuel isn't going it alone; the Bills found him wide receivers in Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, plus tight end Chris Gragg, to go along with Stevie Johnson, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. The Bills must think Manuel is the right guy for them. He is only the third quarterback Buffalo has chosen with a first-round pick.

Short-term future: Should start immediately. There's opportunity, with Manuel competing against Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson, and let's just say I like his chances.

Long term: Could become a franchise quarterback, though I know the odds are against it. Buffalo has not only gone through 10 starting quarterbacks the past 13 seasons, it hasn't had anyone start more than three straight seasons in that time.

Geno Smith, N.Y. Jets

Already there are stories about Smith's attitude, and fasten your seat belts, people. We're in for a bumpy flight. Smith was drafted to succeed Mark Sanchez, but tell me who Sanchez and/or Smith can rely on to make plays. Santonio Holmes? He's coming off the dreaded Lisfranc injury. Stephen Hill? He's a project in need of work. Chris Ivory? There's a reason the Saints gave up on him. The Jets were a circus last year, and they're a circus again, only this time it's Geno Smith, not Tim Tebow, under the big top, with Smith already under fire.

"He's got no chance," said our coordinator. "Zero. He has no playmakers, and there's the pressure of falling [in the draft]. Plus, I don't think he has the personality for what he's going to face. He's a little prickly; a little too sensitive."

Great. That's another way of saying he's in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Short-term future: The favorite to start immediately. If the Jets had a conviction about Sanchez, they wouldn't have spent a high second-round pick on Smith to carry a clipboard.

Long term: Becomes the starter sometime this season, with limited or no success. The Jets are rebooting, and Smith won't have the luxury of managing an offense as Sanchez did in 2009-10.

Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay

The Bucs drafted this guy for a reason: They want to send a message to starter Josh Freeman that he's on a short leash.

"They don't think Freeman is mentally tough," is how our coach put it. "The coach there [Greg Schiano] is different and real tough. But he gets results, and he gets them out of fear. That can work for you early, but what happens in Years 3 and 4?"

That's where Glennon comes in. He's tall, with a big arm, but he's a sack waiting to happen -- which is another way of saying he can't move. The guy is tough, can make plays off his back foot and is NFL-ready after playing in a pro-style offense.

"Nothing will be new to him," said our coach. "Mentally, he'll get up to speed quickly. But he's like Too Much Mr. Nice Guy, and I wonder if he's able to lead a group."

If Freeman falters, we get to find out.

Short-term future: It depends on how Freeman responds. His contract is up after this season, and there's a reason nobody is talking about an extension: The Bucs will wait and see how he plays. At 25, he has plenty of football ahead of him. The only question is: Where?

Long term: Again, it depends on Freeman. If he's lights-out this season, he gains a lucrative contract extension. If he fizzles as he did down the stretch in 2012, the Bucs can turn to Glennon in 2014.

Matt Barkley, Philadelphia

"I'm not sure what to make of this," said our coach. "I don't know how this style of quarterback fits that coach and the offense he runs."

Well, former coach Tony Dungy is one who believes Chip Kelly's offense in Philadelphia could resemble the K-Gun that Ted Marchibroda operated in Buffalo in the 1990s, with quick play selections and a quarterback who was more accurate than mobile. Jim Kelly couldn't run, and neither can Barkley. But Barkley can lead, proving it as a four-year starter in high school and again in college.

The key here is that unlike most of the other quarterbacks on this year's board, Barkley has premier talent around him -- with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz as supporting actors. The guy is poised and smart, and not having to start immediately in an offense with top-shelf talent increases his chances for success.

Short-term future: Sits behind Michael Vick and plays when Vick gets hurt.

"I think Vick is going to have a great year," said our coach, "because I think Kelly will run an offense that takes advantage of his skills. Barkley probably doesn't play until Vick gets hurt -- which is going to happen because Michael Vick always gets hurt."

Only once in Vick's 10 NFL seasons has he made all 16 starts, but that's not what concerns me. This is: He's a turnover waiting to happen, with 31 in his past 23 starts.

Long term: Kelly moved up to draft Barkley, so he likes him. Unless Vick turns back the clock, Barkley is the starter no later than 2014.

Ryan Nassib, N.Y. Giants

Now it's my turn to say I'm not sure what to make of this. Yes, the Giants gained value in finding Nassib in the fourth round, but they had a raft of needs to address other than backup quarterback. So they find someone who can sit behind a quarterback (Eli Manning) who hasn't missed a start since taking over the second half of the 2004 season and a veteran backup (David Carr) who was the first pick of the 2002 draft. My question is: Why? He's young, productive and can develop. But develop into what? This is Manning's team, period.

"He's probably a career backup," our coach said, "and may turn into a low-level starter because of his makeup. He's really smart, he's tough and he can lead. And sometimes the intangibles overcome the physical, which they'd have to here -- because his physical qualities aren't all that good to me."

Short-term future: He sits and learns behind Eli, and one suggestion: Bring along a lot of reading material, Ryan. Manning is 33 and not going anywhere.

Long term: Career backup.

Tyler Wilson, Oakland

Wilson said he's "very excited" about joining the Raiders, and I can see why. Dating back to 2003, the Raiders have run through 14 starting quarterbacks -- which means there's opportunity. But if Carson Palmer couldn't win here how does this guy? Oakland doesn't have the playmakers to make any quarterback successful, and quick question: Who finishes with a better record -- the Jets or Raiders?

"There's not much talent [in Oakland]," said our coach, "and Wilson is not very consistent. He'll play tough, and he has a feel for the game, but he's not consistent in his decision-making, his delivery or his techniques. He seldom throws two balls the same way. I feel for the guy because I think he really got penalized by the situation at Arkansas [with Bobby Petrino leaving]."

Look at it this way: It will sharpen him for what's next.

Short-term future: He backs up Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor. So Flynn has two more games of NFL starting experience than Wilson, and Pryor is a project. Listen to GM Reggie McKenzie when he says Wilson will start "at the bottom until he can maneuver his way up by his play." Translation: You're not on the clock, Tyler.

Long term: He could compete for the starter's job, with limited or no success.

Landry Jones, Pittsburgh

Of the first seven quarterbacks taken, Jones is the most intriguing to me. Two years ago, I was sure he would be a top-10 choice, but he lasted until the 115th pick. That's the bad news. The good: He's in a perfect situation, and here's why: He doesn't have to play immediately. In fact, he probably doesn't play, period. Ben Roethlisberger is here, and while he has missed games in each of the past four seasons, Jones isn't necessarily the next man up; Bruce Gradkowski probably is. But Jones is someone the Steelers can try to develop into a security blanket or maybe as Roethlisberger's eventual successor.

"I swear," said our coach, "Jones was the best of all the quarterbacks in going through his progressions one, two, three and reading defenses. He's a really, really accomplished route reader. That said, he doesn't put a lot on his deep balls and doesn't move that well. Now, if the Steelers can get back to the top 10 in defense and top 10 running the ball, maybe he survives.

"But he's a very unassuming, mild-mannered and laid-back guy, and I don't know that that's who I want in front of me. I don't know that he can say, 'Just follow me; I've got it.' It seems as if he's someone who could get pushed with the tides."

Maybe, but that's why you sit him. Let Jones absorb the game and gain experience by watching how Roethlisberger operates.

Short-term future: Sits and learns behind Roethlisberger.
Long term: Could take over when/if Roethlisberger declines. Big Ben just turned 31, so he's not going anywhere. But he has completed an entire season of 16 starts only once in his pro career and has absorbed a zillion hits -- including 344 sacks, an average of 38.2 per year. In Jones and Gradkowski, the Steelers have stabilized their backups. Moreover, in Jones, they have their highest-drafted quarterback since Roethlisberger at No. 11 overall in 2004 -- and interpret that however you want.

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