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.
Then when 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. Other QB's would occasionally flit through, catch the interest of scouts and pundits and then fall back down draft boards just as quickly.
By the time mid-April rolled around it was all but assumed Geno Smith would be the first one to hear his name called at Radio City Music Hall in New York come April 25th.
Then on Thursday night a funny thing happened.
As EJ Manuel- and not Geno Smith- walked across the stage at Radio City Music Hall, gave a bearhug to the commissioner and grabbed a Buffalo Bills jersey as the first QB picked in the 2013 NFL draft, everyone was a bit shocked.
Well, almost everyone.
“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.
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.
“I’m extremely happy for EJ,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He’s a tremendous young man who has been a great representative of Florida State University. He’s worked extremely hard to get to this goal. He’s one of the main reasons that this program has been able to get back to national prominence because of the sacrifices he’s made through his career as well as his development as a player. I’m extremely happy for him and his family. This couldn’t have happen to a better group of people.”
On Thursday night, with his mother in remission, holding a Buffalo Bills jersey with the number one on it- indicative not just of his first round selection, but also of being the first QB taken- Manuel couldn't help but get a little emotional.
“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.”
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