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Former first round pick EJ Manuel has his confidence back with Raiders

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After a rough first four seasons in Buffalo, Manuel is as happy has he’s ever been and it’s showing in his on-field performance.

There was a couple times this offseason when I mentioned something EJ Manuel had done in offseason practices that I saw someone mention they didn’t even know Manuel had signed with the Raiders. He had become a ghost in the NFL. A forgotten man on the free agent market.

With where Manuel is now, it can be easy to forget that he was once a number one pick in this league and a starting NFL quarterback.

The Bills selected Manuel at 16 overall out of Florida State and with only Thaddeus Lewis and Jeff Tuel as competition, Manuel was forced into starting duties as a rookie. He would start a total of ten games that season, throwing for 1972 yards with 11 TD’s and 9 interceptions.

The next season, Manuel went 2-2 over four starts before he was benched in favor of Kyle Orton.

The Bills seemed to just move on from him after that. Orton was probably the better option in the short term, but it was at the cost of developing Manuel long term. Though it appeared the Bills coaches weren’t really interested in that anyway.

Manuel would sit behind Tyrod Taylor the next two seasons and then last March quietly hit the free agent market.

Confidence is at a premium among NFL quarterbacks and Manuel’s had taken a huge hit with how his career had went up to that point. What he needed was to see a familiar face who believed in his abilities. He was as top pick for a reason, so there is obviously ability there.

He found that familiar face in Oakland with Todd Downing, who was his quarterback coach during his second season and was promoted to offensive coordinator for the Raiders this offseason.

Downing is reluctant to speak on Manuel’s situation during his time in Buffalo, but he what he sees is a happy and confident player these days.

“I can’t speak to the past couple of years for EJ, but I know he’s enjoying himself now,” said Downing. “When you enjoy what you do for a living, you can show up each day with the right attitude and approach. He’s certainly done that each day, found a way to get better every day.”

Not long after Manuel arrived, he was showing off his abilities in practice that made him a top pick and by the time minicamp was over, he had overtaken incumbent backup Connor Cook coming into his second NFL season.

“It’s been awesome.” Manuel said of working with Downing again. “Just the constant communication with him . . . I tell him all the time I’m excited to be here and appreciative. Probably sometimes it comes off as cliché but I am excited to be here on this team and however I can serve this team I’m more than willing to do. So, whatever capacity that is I want to go and give it my all and just focus on getting better every single day.”

Those years in Buffalo acting as a learning experience for Manuel. His approach and preparation has changed. These days he makes sure he is mentally prepared so that once he hits the field he is not in his head. And his main goal is to be consistent and not just show up in flashes.

Coach Downing has said there could still be some rotating between second and third team reps, but from what I’ve seen thus far, there is no question whatsoever that Manuel has earned the primary backup spot.

“With the quarterback position, the phrase knowledge is confidence comes to mind a lot,” Downing continued. “As he gets more and more comfortable with our system, he’s able to use his footwork, the proper technique, the proper drops, the proper eye placement on zone defenders to help him be more confident in where he’s going with the football. We anticipate EJ continuing the growing trend that we’ve seen.”

Manuel won’t be competing for a starting job in Oakland. But from what I’ve seen there should be a few QB needy teams out there kicking themselves for overlooking him.