1. Philadelphia Eagles: If Philly passes on Geno Smith (or he’s already taken), head coach Chip Kelly could take a chance on Manuel with the No. 4 overall pick or broker a trade to pick him up at the bottom of the first round.
“I like EJ. I knew him coming out of high school, thought he had a really good career at Florida State,” Kelly said last month. “Big, tall, physical. Athletic specimen. We’re still in the process of evaluating everybody. EJ’s certainly somebody we’re excited about.”
It’s easy to see why as Manuel is an ideal fit in Kelly’s offense, as he possesses a big arm, has the ability to run and thrives out of the shotgun. Kelly also recruited Manuel during his tenure at Oregon and worked out the former Florida State star quarterback in March.
“I think I would fit them great,” Manuel told USA TODAY Sports when asked about Kelly and (Browns head coach Rob) Chudzinski. “I know, because (Kelly) recruited me, I’d fit coach Kelly’s system very well.
2. Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden has talent and plenty of potential. He may receive another year to prove himself as the starter, but he’s been slow to develop he’ll turn 30-years-old in October. Moreover, nobody on the management staff was with the team when Weeden was selected with the No. 22 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
So while Weeden could have a strong second season with improved protection and added weapons, there’s a very strong chance the new regime decides to go in a different direction and drafts a quarterback in the early rounds.
With reports that the Browns “badly” want to move down from the sixth spot, don’t be surprised if the team selects Manuel a little later in the first round. He may be seen as a fairly significant reach at No. 6, but nobody expected Christian Ponder to get taken in the No. 12 spot two years ago and the Browns surrendered their second-round pick for Josh Gordon).
But it all starts with the quarterback and someone needs to come in to challenge Mark Sanchez and/or Tim Tebow, David Garrard, Greg McElroy, etc. The team really likes Geno Smith, but it’s highly unlikely that he falls all the way to No. 9, let alone gets past the Top 5.
Manuel mentioned on the Dan Patrick Show that the Jets are showing strong interest in him and the team would have to make the move if he’s available at No. 39, but don’t but on that happening. Trading Darrelle Revis might help their chances of moving around to get him, though.
4. Buffalo Bills: While Ryan Nassib is the overwhelming favorite to compete for the starting job with Kevin Kolb this offseason, Manuel is arguably the next-best option at quarterback for this team through the draft.
Buffalo is also among the four teams that Manuel has recently mentioned is really interested in him. Keep your eyes peeled on the Bills possibly moving down and pursuing a quarterback near the bottom of the first round.
5. Oakland Raiders: There are four ways that the Silver and Black can wind up with the Manuel during the first two days of the draft. A) Take him with the third overall pick. B) Trade a high pick in next year’s draft and/or a talented player and go up and get him at the bottom of the first or top of the second round (if he’s still available).
C) Hope he somehow falls all the way down to the top of the third round. D) Trade down from the third spot with the Miami Dolphins or Arizona Cardinals or another team and pick him up later on April 25. He certainly could be a solid scheme fit and would presumably have the upper hand over Terrelle Pryor and Matt Flynn heading into camp.
While he may be a bit inconsistent and could use a little time to develop at the next level, Manuel has all of the tools for success. The physically-imposing product out of Florida State completed 263 of 387 passes for 3,397 yards with 21 TDs to 10 INTs and added 310 yards with four scores on the ground in 2012.
He possesses high character, a quick release and a plethora of arm strength, mobility, velocity, intelligence and toughness, as he played through his mom’s cancer treatments (which he kept under wraps for a large portion of the season) and a broken leg in the victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl.
There are usually at least three or four early-round prospects in each draft class than I can say ahead of time will undoubtedly have immense success at the next level and I can’t remember the last time I was wrong about one of them. That’s not to say that I can accurately project the whether each prospect will be a success—far from it—but I tend to hit the nail on the head when it comes to picking out a handful of guys that will be stars in the NFL. Manuel is among this year’s handful.
Michael Gartman is a College Football and NFL Senior Writer, the AFC South and NFC West Lead Writer and the Founder, CEO of GridironGrit.com. He’s also about to start reporting on topics across all sides of the political spectrum and analyze important issues in the liberty movement for a political website. Follow him @_MichaelGartman on Twitter. Be sure to ‘like’ Gridiron Grit on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @GridironGrit to keep up with the latest coverage on college football, the NFL and more!