Does It Really Matter Who Starts At QB Week One?

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Updated: June 29, 2013
NFL: Buffalo Bills-Minicamp

When the Buffalo Bills selected Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, fans immediately jumped to the conclusion that the 23-year old would start on opening day against the New England Patriots. But does it really matter?

Over the past two years, we as football fans have been spoiled with the successes of first round signal callers such as Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, among others. However, the Bills knew the “weakness” of the 2013 quarterback crop, and signed Kevin Kolb via free agency as an insurance policy.

While we’d all love Manuel to come up and rip the Patriots to shreds in his first NFL game, it really isn’t realistic or even responsible to assume that he’s capable of doing so.

Manuel has all the physical tools you look for in today’s prototypical quarterback; the size to take a beating in the pocket, the speed and agility to pick up chunks of yards when a play breaks down, a strong arm and touch, and a great personality to be the face of a franchise.

However, while he has these physical tools, he was still considered by many as raw entering the 2013 NFL draft. During his four years with the Seminoles (two as a starter), Manuel completed 66.9% of his passes for 7,741 yards, 47 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. He added another 827 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground as well.

One of the biggest things that jumped out at me when evaluating Manuel was his lack of anticipation when facing pressure. This lack of ability to react in a quick manner led to many unnecessary interceptions.

This column isn’t meant to bash E.J. at all, as I’d love for him to win the job and take the Bills to the Promised Land, but it seems that many fans have illegitimate expectations for the rookie.

Kevin Kolb isn’t exactly Peyton Manning, but he has experience in a variety of offenses. At Houston, he put up video game statistics in their high-octane passing offense, and he was serviceable in Andy Reid’s west coast system with the Eagles.

Kolb has started 21 games in his career, appearing in 34. In that span he’s posted a 9-12 record while completing 59.5 percent of his passes for 5,206 yards, 28 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. Kolb hasn’t put up successful statistics by any means, but he’s never really been given a full opportunity.

There’s no question that Kolb has dealt with a ton of injuries (concussions, broken ribs), but, in his 19 games with the Eagles and was sacked just 18 times. In the 15 games he played with the Cardinals, he was sacked 57 times.

The Cardinals also had absolutely no running game, as LaRod Stephens-Howling led the team in rushing with a whopping 357 yards. In addition to a lack of a rushing attack to rely on, the Cardinals’ offensive line was a disaster.

Kolb is a veteran that could be an adequate game manager for the Bills while Manuel learns the nuances of an NFL offense that appears to be very complex.

While I certainly believe that new head coach Doug Marrone will have the best quarterback start opening week, there’s no reason that Bills’ fans should be angry if that passer turns out to be Kevin Kolb.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen careers ruined firsthand by an eager coaching staff throwing a “raw” signal caller into the fire too soon (see: Blaine Gabbert, David Carr). How’d that work out?

The Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999, and while we all want to see the team succeed, starting Manuel right away just may not be the best decision for the long-term future of the franchise. If that means E.J. has to sit on the bench for a few weeks or even a season, so be it.