The AFC East has been missing something special in recent years: an intense divisional QB rivalry. That could be changing in the near future, as E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith work to secure starting roles for teams desperately searching for a franchise QB. The Buffalo Bills took the first quarterback in the 2013 draft, E.J. Manuel, at number 16 overall; 23 picks later, the NY Jets swiped Geno Smith off the board. Both players have a strong chance to see legitimate playing time in the upcoming season. If these two rookies can turn their collegiate success into professional production, we could be in for some compelling AFC East showdowns.
E.J. MANUEL Height: 6-5 Weight: 240
May 14, 2013; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel looks to throw a pass during organized team activities at Bills Healthy Zone Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
At this point in the offseason, Manuel is still the backup to Kevin Kolb. It sounds like the Bills are planning to start the veteran Kolb, while Manuel holds the clipboard until he can fully learn the offense and develop into the starter. He has all the talent, he just needs more time to transition to an NFL quarterback. Manuel had a complex system at Florida State, so it’s more of a “when” and less of an “if”. During his 32 QB ranking segment on ESPN, Ron Jaworski stated that “Kolb is a caretaker, playing only until Manuel is ready”. I’ve heard some comparisons between E.J. Manuel and Josh Freeman. The two may be close in size, but the fact is that Manuel is more athletic. I don’t see all that much similarity. His 40 time is 4.65s, which is decently fast for a QB. His focus in Buffalo will be more on passing, so his abilities running the ball will be secondary. However, he will still use his feet to hit the big play occasionally.
Jun 11, 2013; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) runs with the ball during the New York Jets minicamp session at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
GENO SMITH Height: 6-3 Weight: 214
Similar to the situation over in Buffalo, the rookie remains the backup for the New York Jets. Geno Smith had an incredible start to his final season at West Virginia. He didn’t throw a single pick until the seventh game. He piled up 24 TD’s in his first five games, and won all five. Things went downhill from there, and the final half of the season proved to be disappointing. James Walker of ESPN.com reports that Sanchez performed better than Geno Smith during OTA’s and minicamp, but the five-year incumbent starter holds only a slight edge at this point. I don’t see how the Jets could want to continue the Mark Sanchez experiment. Every season he seems to regress. He has the most turnovers in the NFL the last two seasons, and just doesn’t have the mental toughness you need in a starter. The difference between the QB competitions in Buffalo and New York is that Rex Ryan is likely on thin ice as the Jets head coach. This may be his last chance to prove his worth. That will play a huge part in deciding who to start for week one.
If They Can Develop…
The AFC East could have a huge rivalry to watch for in the near future. Inevitably, both QB’s will be compared to one another for the entirety of their careers. They came from the same draft, went to the same division, and get a chance to be the answer for their franchises at QB. I hope both players are as good as advertised, because it would lead to two great matchups every season. The AFC East divisional games aren’t nearly as exciting as what the other divisions have to offer. The NFC West boasts the hottest rivalry in the NFL: 49ers-Seahawks. They have young, talented quarterbacks who will likely face off for many years. Could we see a similar scenario in the AFC East? The NFL is undergoing a changing of the guard at the QB position. Rookies are starting a full 16 game season more frequently, and coaches are designing teams around very young QB’s. Last year’s draft class was much deeper at quarterback, but hopefully Manuel and Smith will continue the trend. The Bills and the Jets haven’t had playoff-caliber quarterbacks for the last eight years (excluding Favre’s only season in NY). I wouldn’t be surprised if Manuel, Smith, or both end up starting this September.