Happy Birthday: E.J. Manuel excels at Florida State’s pro day, gets invited to NFL draft

From 2007 through 2012, Florida State has seen just three of its alumni called in the first round of the NFL draft -- linebacker Lawrence Timmons in 2007, cornerback Patrick Robinson in 2010, and quarterback Christian Ponder in 2011. That will certainly change in 2013, when as many as four Seminoles could be selected within the first 32 picks if they play their cards right. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, defensive ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, and quarterback E.J. Manuel were all looking to cement their status when Florida State held its pro day on Tuesday.

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Manuel, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday, may be the most intriguing prospect of the bunch. His stock has been rising since an impressive combine, and a decisive Senior Bowl week in which he was named the game's Most Valuable Player and looked very strong in practices. He was thought to be a second- or third-round prospect based solely on some fairly inconsistent game tape, but that's changed, and two events marked the transition on Tuesday. First, there was the fact that Manuel threw very well to his own receivers during a 54-play scripted throwing session. Then, he was invited to attend the draft in New York City -- an honor generally reserved for those who the NFL believes will be drafted in or near the first round. More players are invited these days, but that didn't lessen the thrill for Manuel.

"When I got the invite, I was about to cry, really, because that was probably my biggest goal," Manuel told CBS Sports. "I know there's a lot being said about me going into it, but I never listened to it."

In his 2012 season, Manuel completed 263 of 387 passes for 3,397 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, leading the ACC in completion percentage (68.0) and total yards per play (7.2). He also ran for 310 yards and four touchdowns on 103 attempts, adding to his currency as a mobile quarterback. He kept the momentum rolling at Doak Campbell stadium.

"It was great," Manuel told NFL.com's Mike Mayock. "Great weather -- a little overcast this morning, but I didn't care. I just wanted to come out here and compete again, and show everybody what I can do. I think the biggest thing is just having timing with my receivers. Obviously, the pro day is built for you, so if you can't come out here and complete 95 percentage-wise [of your passes], you can't play. The biggest thing was to show my timing, accuracy, and arm strength."

He's been doing that for the last few months, but there are still concerns. As I wrote in Manuel's Shutdown 50 scouting report, he does have issues making multiple reads, throwing into zone defenses, and lining up with his receivers on throws that require anticipation. I also wonder if these shortfalls are a function of scheme, and I have posited that Manuel can acquire these skills when football is his primary priority, as it will be in the NFL.

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"When you look at Manuel, there's a lot to work with," Greg Cosell told me on Shutdown Corner's draft podcast dealing with quarterbacks. "Size, arm strength, athleticism, and I think he can run read-option stuff. Now, he's a little sloppy with his footwork. He had a tendency to fall away from throws. I thought at times he was a bit of a pusher [of the ball] with a very high elbow position. There were times when he leaned over his front foot when he needed to re-set, and that impacted his ability to make accurate throws. As most quarterbacks are in college, he was very over-reactive to bodies around him. There are concerns, but when you look at some of the positives, I'm very anxious to see where he gets drafted, because he gives you that read-option factor."

Manuel seems to know where the work needs to be done, and he's ready for it.

"I think the biggest thing is just to get in the film room," Manuel told Mayock. "Know your offense inside and out -- that's the best way to be prepared, pre- and post-snap. Whatever offense I get into, I'll be excited about it, and looking forward to working. This is my job now, so there's no reason not to be in the film room from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., just preparing to go play."

Will an NFL team take a shot on Manuel in the first round? He's part of a notoriously iffy quarterback class, and he's done everything possible in the last few months to add more weight to his name, so anything is possible. On the first day of his 23rd year, to be sure, he did himself quite a few favors.

Pro Day Notes: Rhodes, projected by many as a mid-first round pick, slipped several times on the turf and dropped the ball in drills. That shouldn't affect his stock too much -- the hay is in the barn, and he's got a lot of great tape. Werner, who is projected to go anywhere from the top 5 to the bottom of the first round, depending on who you're talking to, went through linebacker drills to show off his versatility.

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"I got good feedback from a few coaches," Werner said. "I think the big thing with pro day is just the coaches are going to come out there and tell you what to do and you're going to have to pick it up right away and don't do it wrong. I think that's what I did ... I didn't mess anything up."

Carrradine, who might be a top 10 prospect but for the knee injury he suffered last season, went nuts at the bench press, repping 32 times there. He will hold a separate pro day on April 20 so that NFL teams can get a better bead on his health.

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