The tune has not changed. Doug Whaley, who drafted EJ Manuel 16th overall alongside Buddy Nix in 2014, still believes in EJ Manuel.
Oh, he knows what you're thinking. He knows your last memory of the No. 2 quarterback is the London meltdown. Well, the Bills' general manager has a different recollection of that afternoon.
"When you look around the league, we think he's as good a No. 2 as most out there," Whaley said. "He's a No. 2 for a reason and so are a lot of other guys. But we think he can come in and hold serve if Tyrod ever loses some playing time. And then, he's a consummate professional. He's going to try to get better and better each day. Granted, everybody's going to say 'Look at the Jacksonville game.' But we were leading until that last drive and he came back from a 28-point deficit. If we win the game everybody talks about it being the biggest comeback victory since Frank Reich.
"We think the guy has talent and we think, we know we're comfortable with him as our No. 2."
I like the Cardale Jones pick. It makes sense for the Bills to draft a raw, project who can run tacklers over and possesses a cannon for an arm. But even the Bills are calling Jones the No. 3 quarterback right now — he's not ready to back up Tyrod Taylor any time soon. This, of course, after the Bills passed on several veterans in free agency. So, yes, if the dual-threat Taylor goes down with an injury — and he had two his first season as a starter — it'll be EJ Manuel again at the helm and that's quite a risk for a team in a win-now state of mind.
There are playmakers on offense secured. The defense got a ton better with the Shaq Lawson, Reggie Ragland and Adolphus Washington picks. Tyrod Taylor might take a giant step in Year 2 as well.
But concern over a potential injury and a Manuel re-appearance lingers.
From the infamous hospitality-tent heave during training camp to another wayward pass into a camera man's rib cage to that first-half collapse in London, Manuel's play fed much "internal debate" at One Bills Drive. The coaching staff itself named Matt Cassel the No. 2 behind Taylor to start the season before Whaley traded Cassel to the Dallas Cowboys.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the coaches would probably much rather have a veteran locked 'n loaded behind Taylor again to provide peace of mind. Jones needs seasoning — seasoning that could pay off in a big, big way down the road. Until he's ready, Manuel's in the bullpen.
A team led by a mobile, light quarterback remains one injury away from a potential London replay. And make no mistake: Buffalo should encourage Taylor to keep running. He dazzles. He escapes. He makes plays no others can. His heroics in Nashville and third-down Houdini act against Dallas in Week 16 are the best runs you'll see by a quarterback.
He's also (a listed) 6 foot 1, 215 pounds. The law of averages suggest he could miss time again. So this may be the No. 1 gamble Buffalo takes into the 2016 season. Also, rather than draft a Kevin Hogan or another quarterback who already knows Roman's offense and might've been more equipped to get the offense through a game if needed, the Bills took swing for the fences with Jones in Round 4.
There's a lot to like here long term.
"His guy has a lot to work on but he doesn't have any muscle memory already ingrained in him that's bad," Whaley said. "So we have a piece of clay and we can mold him. With our offensive staff, I'm very, very happy to know we've got some qualified guys to help mold him."
One difference between Manuel and Jones? Arm strength.
The Bills thought they were drafting a strong, 6-foot-5, 237-pound quarterback who could rip passes through the Western New York chill back in 2013. That has proven incorrect. As one personnel director said, "He’s not real accurate. He has a weird, dart-throwing motion. For a big, strong-looking guy, he doesn’t throw the ball like one." Arm strength isn't an issue for Jones. He once out-threw JT Barrett flat-footed in a competition. This past offseason, he worked with QB guru George Whitfield on driving more throws with his lower body.
He has physical tools that Manuel does not.
"In cold-weather games," Whaley said, "that's very important and something we have to factor in major league, different than if we were in LA or Tampa because they're not going to have as many games in cold weather where the wind's blowing 15-20 MPH. It's something we have to put a lot more credence than some other teams."
For now, for better or worse, EJ Manuel is the No. 2.
And in case you didn't hear him the first time, Whaley is comfortable with that reality.
"Very comfortable," he said, "absolutely."