By Christian S. Kohl
With Geno Smith nabbing the majority of the rookie QB headlines after the draft, it can be easy to forget that other players were also drafted this year to potentially play at the NFL level. One of the bigger QB value picks of the draft was EJ Manuel, brought in potentially as a long-term solution to the failed Ryan Fitzpatrick experiment. As both Smith and Manuel take reps and prepare for the upcoming season, the question remains, which of them will have the best rookie season?
In the case of these two, the question must be posed as to if either of these two will have a rookie season aside from wearing a headset and holding a clipboard. Smith enters the Jets in the midst of an absolute circus, with absolutely nothing clear or defined as to who will be under center on week 1. Manuel inherits a situation behind, or possibly next to Kevin Kolb, an established starter who to date has established very little besides a lengthy resume of ineptitude.
Of the two rookies, Manuel seems far more likely to emerge as an effective starter immediately. However, the Bills have very few pieces of the puzzle in place, and while they hope Manuel is a key one, it’s tough for a quarterback to accomplish much with limited options at the other skill positions. Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler, his two best receiving weapons, are both recovering from serious injury. Both Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, while elite RB options, also have extremely checkered injury histories which potentially leave Manuel with a skeleton crew to work with and a trial by fire rookie experience.
As for Geno Smith, the New York Jets was arguably the worst possible team for him to play for. He immediately becomes part of a quarterback controversy alongside a quarterback whose performance ranks among the worst in the NFL, and who likely should have been benched long ago. The absolute media firestorm which surrounds Smith and his dealings with Jay-Z, coupled with the bigger problem that the Jets have absolutely no skill players of value create a nearly impossible situation for Smith in year one. The media market is massive, covering all aspects of a high profile team with essentially no chance for success. Smith’s best hope in his initial season is to let nothing off the field shake his confidence, and hope the Jets put some pieces around him in the years to come. This game is played with eleven offensive players, and assuming Smith actually is the answer under center, that basically tallies the Jets total of weapons to one, at best.
Both of these players will experience growing pains if they are truly handed the reigns this season, and the both very well could be. Sanchez does not eliminate the need for Smith, and Kolb does not eliminate the need for Manuel. In many ways, Kolb and Sanchez are more wildcards than EJ or Geno, and as such it seems likely that both teams will give their rookies a good look this year. While both will struggle early, with fewer distractions or bread and circuses, Manuel will likely end the season a better quarterback than Geno in terms of overall development. Slight edge to EJ Manuel this week.
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Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.