The Other 31: For Bills, much depends on success of draft-night QB move

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EJ Manuel on NFL draft night in April (Craig Ruttle/The Associated Press)

Buffalo Bills

Last Season’s Record: 6-10

Coaching change: Fired Chan Gailey, hired Doug Marrone

Key Players Released: LB Nick Barnett, S George Wilson, CB Terrence McGee, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Donald Jones (not tendered as restricted free agent), WR David Nelson (not tendered as restricted free agent)

Retired: DE Chris Kelsay

Key free agents lost: G Andy Levitre, G Chad Rinehart, DE Kyle Moore

Key free agents re-signed: QB Tarvaris Jackson, LB Bryan Scott, CB Leodis McKelvin, RB Tashard Choice, S Jairus Byrd (franchise-tagged, not yet signed)

Key free agents added: LB Manny Lawson, QB Kevin Kolb, DT Alan Branch

Key trade additions: LB Jerry Hughes

Key trade losses: LB Kelvin Sheppard

Draft:

Rd. 1 (No. 16 overall)… EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State

2 (41)… Robert Woods, WR, USC

2 (46)… Kiko Alonso, LB, Oregon

3 (78)… Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas

4 (105)… Duke Williams, S, Nevada

5 (143)… Jonathan Meeks, S, Clemson

6 (177)… Dustin Hopkins, K, Florida State

7 (222)… Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas

Analysis: When the Bills traded down from eighth to 16th in the opening round of the NFL draft, it seemed likely that they were maneuvering to take Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib. Many draft analysts had West Virginia’s Geno Smith, not Nassib, rated as the top quarterback available, and some maintained that no quarterback in this draft class was worthy of being taken in the first round. But the Bills desperately needed help at quarterback. And Nassib had played in college for Doug Marrone, the Syracuse coach hired by the Bills after they fired Chan Gailey.

But the Bills pulled what was probably the biggest stunner of the draft’s opening round. They didn’t select Nassib. They didn’t choose Smith or even Matt Barkley, the Southern Cal product ranked by some just behind Smith. They went with Florida State’s EJ Manuel, a quarterback described by some draft analysts as being promising but not yet ready to receive significant playing time at the NFL level.

So for now, it seems likely that the Bills will be in the hands of Kevin Kolb, the quarterback they signed to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick. Kolb wasn’t the answer in Philadelphia. He wasn’t the answer in Arizona. Now the Bills will find out if he’s the answer for them while he keeps the seat warm for Manuel until the young quarterback is deemed ready to play.

If Manuel becomes an accomplished starting quarterback in the NFL at some point, the Bills’ maneuvers on draft night will be justified and the criticism they have received for the pick will fall to the wayside. But if he doesn’t, at least a few more seasons probably will be lost with the Bills remaining non-competitive, and Marrone’s tenure would be off to a less-than-promising start.

Either way, the man who drafted Manuel won’t be running the organization by the time it is determined whether the move was a success or failure. Buddy Nix stepped aside Monday as the team’s general manager.

Why Redskins fans should care: The two teams play in the third game of the preseason Aug. 24 at FedEx Field. That is the preseason game in which starters traditionally play the longest. It could be when the availability of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III for the beginning of the regular season starts to come into focus.

Background: Schedule | Depth chart | Draft results | Home page

Previous team reviews: Cardinals | Falcons | Ravens

Conversation starter: Will any of the quarterbacks taken in this year’s NFL draft succeed, either as a rookie or down the line?

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