Many draft analysts think the Eagles will set their sights on Florida State’s E.J. Manuel in the second round if they pass on Geno Smith at fourth overall.
Of course, Manuel has to make it there. The Eagles have the 35th overall pick, the third pick of the second round.
Opinions on the former Seminole are mixed. NFL Network draft czar Mike Mayock has Manuel, the MVP of the Senior Bowl, ranked second among all quarterbacks behind Smith, which means Mayock believes Manuel will go somewhere in the first round.
Kiper doesn’t have Manuel rated among his top-five quarterbacks, and although he raved about Manuel’s intangibles, his scouting report wasn’t glowing.
“I love the kid. Great character, just tremendously likeable. Just comes into a room and you have to root for this kid,” Kiper, the longtime ESPN draft analyst, said Wednesday in a conference call.
“The likeability, the ‘it factor’ is there with him, from that standpoint. Big at 6-5, 237. Fast. That means he can run the read option and run it pretty effectively. Tough to bring down when he does run the football. He can pick up some yards with his legs and beat you with his legs and pick up first downs and keep drives alive.”
But ... ?
“I just saw a kid who didn’t go through progressions to the third or fourth option. He’d go one, two, underneath,” added Kiper, who has the Eagles taking Smith at No. 4 in his latest mock draft. “So he didn’t have to read the whole field, but half the field, that’s a concern. At times he made some accurate throws, some questionable decisions. That’s a concern.
“I didn’t see him really take his game to an elite level despite having elite physical and athletic skills. But, hey, on the numbers alone he’s first round. He tested like a first-rounder. I thought his [season] performance was more of a second- or third-rounder. Do the math on that you’re probably thinking late one or early two.”
Manuel left FSU after leading the school to four consecutive bowl victories. He went 25-6 as a starter and passed for the second-most yards in team history this past season. After a strong week in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl, his stock went way up. He’s had a private workout for the Eagles in Tallahassee, Fla., and met with team officials recently during a visit to the NovaCare Complex.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly had heavily recruited Manuel, a Virginia Beach, Va., native, out of high school. Manuel has spoken highly of Kelly and said he chose Florida State over Oregon mainly because of its proximity to his home state.
In any other season, Manuel probably wouldn’t be on anyone’s first-round mock draft. But this year’s class of quarterbacks lacks the star power of some of the more recent drafts and the emphasis -- re-emphasis? -- on read-option schemes and quarterback mobility has helped Manuel’s cause.
It also helps that new Eagles coach Chip Kelly has a fondness for quarterbacks with fleet feet, evidenced by his decision to retain Michael Vick, sign Dennis Dixon (who played for him at Oregon) and take close looks at Smith, Manuel and University of Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, another athletic type with plus mobility.
Kelly cultivated a reputation at Oregon for maximizing talent from his quarterbacks, who weren’t usually blue-chip recruits coming out of high school or conventional pocket passers.
At the owners meetings in Phoenix last month, Kelly was asked if his offensive system could function without the traditional superstar quarterback.
“Yeah,” he said. “Because we didn’t have a traditional marquee quarterback at Oregon.”