State Colleges

Buffalo Bills make splash, take FSU’s EJ Manuel in first round

The NFL Draft plays out in funny ways sometimes.

Headed into the 2012 season Matt Barkley and Landry Jones seemed the odds-on favorites to be the first quarterbacks drafted.

As the season started and West Virginia’s offense steamrolled through the early months it was Geno Smith that pulled ahead.

And as the draft cycle wound on from January through early April it seemed as though Barkley and Smith had settled in as the top quarterbacks from the 2013 class.

Then on Thursday night a funny thing happened.

The first quarterback called wasn’t either of those players, it was Florida State’s EJ Manuel at No. 16.

“It wasn’t a very big surprise,” said Manuel moments later. “I knew there was an opportunity for me to go early in the draft, I knew teams that needed a quarterback were very interested, it was just a matter of what happened that day.”

A lot happened.

After a run on offensive linemen, Buffalo was able to capitalize on the Jets’ stated interest in West Virginia WR Tavon Austin and trade down with St. Louis — who came up to select Austin 8th.

The move sent Buffalo back to 16th, where they felt comfortable selecting the 6-5 237-pound QB given what else was available.

FSU then went back-to-back as defensive end Bjoern Warner was taken No. 24 overall by Indianapolis followed by Minnesota taking cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

Manuel was the first quarterback selected and also the first player taken from Florida State. The last Seminole selected in the first round of the NFL draft was the man Manuel replaced at FSU, QB Christian Ponder who went 12th overall to Minnesota in 2011.

Now Manuel will try to lead the offense up in Buffalo and hopefully — at least for Manuel — be a thorn in the side of Miami sports fans for a few more years.

As the Seminoles’ starter Manuel finished his career with a 25-6 mark including a 2-0 record against the University of Miami. He is the most accurate passer in Florida State history, second all-time in the ACC. He threw for 7,736 yards, 47 touchdowns and 28 interceptions in his time at FSU.

On Thursday night though, Manuel was just living in the moment.

“I’m just thinking about my mom, what she’s battled through and what she’s gone through,” Manuel said.

As EJ was playing through his senior season, his mother Jackie was undergoing chemotherapy for stage one breast cancer. EJ- despite the emotional toll- never once discussed it, and never let it affect him while leading FSU to a conference title and an Orange Bowl win.

On Thursday night though, with his mother in remission, he was willing to admit the ordeal made everything feel even more fulfilling.

“I know I’m not the only guy who’s parents have battled through something like that, made it through something like that, but I’m just so proud, I’m just thankful, it’s just a dream come true,” said Manuel. “She’s back there smiling and everyone’s crying and all that stuff.

“I’m just so proud to be a Buffalo Bill, I can wait to get started. Get working.”