The Buffalo Bills had plenty of duds in the draft in recent years, especially before the McDermott-Beane era, but one controversial first-rounder has been pegged as the worst of the decade.
Bleacher Report listed the worst pick for all 32 NFL teams, pointing to one by the Bills that was the result of some poor planning and a series of unfortunate circumstances. The player failed to meet expectations, struggled with development, and was out of the league entirely after five seasons.
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Bills Reach For Quarterback
The Buffalo Bills were in dire need of a quarterback by the time the 2013 NFL Draft rolled around. In March, the team had cut Ryan Fitzpatrick after he led the team for four seasons. Though he went 20-33 during that stretch, Fitzpatrick had brought stability to a quarterback position that had seen little since the retirement of Jim Kelly.
As Bleacher Report noted, the circumstances would lead to the worst draft pick the Bills made in the last decade.
The Bills went into the 2013 draft desperate to find a franchise quarterback. They settled on EJ Manuel, a winner during his time with the Florida State Seminoles but a prospect who needed to polish his raw mechanics.
Manuel was seen by many as a prospect in need of careful development, but instead was thrust into the starting role after Kevin Kolb suffered a career-ending injury during the preseason. He went 4-6 in his first season with the Bills and was 2-2 in his second season when he was benched for Kyle Orton. Manuel lost the job to Tyrod Taylor the next season, starting just three more games for the Bills over that stretch and never winning again in the NFL. He played a final season with the Oakland Raiders, losing his only start. Manuel would retire in 2017.
As the USA Today’s Bills Wire noted, Manuel was part of an unusually weak draft year for quarterbacks. The draft produced no long-term starters for any team, and only one who still played a significant role last season — Bills backup Matt Barkley, who was taken three rounds after Manuel.
Manuel Struggled in Buffalo
The time in Buffalo was especially difficult for Manuel. He opened up about his time with the team in a 2018 podcast with NFL analyst and former Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Ross Tucker, saying former coach Doug Marrone’s decision to bench him after starting 2-2 in the 2014 season was devastating.
“When I got benched, man. My confidence took a huge hit, honestly. I can speak on that very openly cause I’ve gone through a lot. I think I went through a period of somewhat depression. I was very upset. I was like, ‘Man, what is it that I’m not doing?’ And all this kind of stuff and I started to look at me first.”
Manuel said he knew his time in Buffalo was running out after the team replaced Marrone with Rex Ryan, who brought in former Baltimore Ravens backup Taylor as competition. Taylor won the starting job, holding it for the next three seasons and eventually helping to lead the team to its first playoff berth in 17 seasons.