Jets quarterback Geno Smith was the consensus top quarterback in the NFL Draft five months ago, a popular pick to be among the Top-20 selections. The second-best quarterback in the draft was supposed to be E.J. Manuel, slotted in as a likely second-round pick.
The roles were seemingly reversed on draft night when Manuel was shockingly taken in the first round by the Bills, 23 picks ahead of Smith, who fell to the Jets in the second round. The Jets passed over Smith with both the No. 9 and the No. 13 picks in the draft.
Sunday afternoon represents an opportunity to show why the Bills were willing to defy conventional wisdom and take Manuel not just in the first round but above Smith. His transition to the NFL has been relatively smooth to date.
“The biggest thing is understanding your reads, understanding really your progression more so than your reads,” Manuel said on Wednesday. “Stick to that, stick to the coaching. I think that’s where a lot of the accuracy and having your body in line to throw the ball accurately, that really comes into play.”
Although Smith might possess the bigger upside, it is Manuel who has impressed thus far in a limited sample size.
Manuel has rarely looked flustered under pressure, a stark contract to Smith, who had three interceptions in the fourth quarter in a 13-10 loss at the Patriots last Thursday. Meanwhile, Manuel orchestrated a nine-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson to give the Bills a 24-23 win over the Panthers.
He called that win “more so a development thing for the team and the coaches” than any personal statement.
“It was very big not just for me but also for our whole team. The biggest thing is we wanted to win the game so obviously development is going to happen with each and every other rep,” Manuel said. “The ultimate thing was that we could take away from it was that we didn’t back down when it looked like we couldn’t win.”
Not one major media outlet had Manuel being selected before Smith in their mock drafts. Now, he’s justifying that selection. The Jets were actually highly interested in Manuel and even brought him in for an interview before the draft.
“We definitely did our diligence on him. He was an outstanding young man, very impressive. No doubt, very impressive,” Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. “You notice the physical [size]. When he walks through the door, he fills up that doorway. He was really a tremendous person. You can see why Buffalo [is] excited about [him]. He’s certainly a guy we were looking at.”
Through his first two games for the 1-1 Bills, Manuel is 45-of-66 for 446 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. The Bills have certainly helped him out, giving Manuel time to make decisions behind an offensive line that has allowed just one sack.
Manuel and Smith have known each other since high school. They still stay in touch, as Smith texted Manuel to congratulate him after his first preseason performance and Manuel returned the favor to wish the Jets quarterback well after an ankle injury in the first preseason game.
“I know Geno pretty well. I met him when we were in high school at one of the camps,” Manuel said. “He was in Florida playing and I was in Virginia during high school but we kept up during college. We text every now and then.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.