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Fantasy Debate: EJ Manuel vs. Geno Smith

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You can call me a lot of things (and I’m sure you have), but one thing you can’t call me is dishonest. So to preface this article, I’d like to begin with a moment of candor and tell you that there’s probably a better chance of Kate Upton asking you out on a date than me drafting either of the players I’m here to talk about today.

Now with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to the debate we’re here for: if you had to take a rookie quarterback in your fantasy football draft, would it be EJ Manuel or Geno Smith?

As the first two quarterbacks selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, Manuel and Smith are bound to be linked for the foreseeable future (and maybe for their entire careers). Outside of their draft order, there are many other similarities between the two signal callers. Both enjoyed successful college careers, both share roughly the same build, both are being pegged as read-option quarterbacks (even though neither one really is), both will attempt to navigate the Patriot-filled waters of the AFC East, and both are attempting to win starting jobs over relatively inept veteran quarterbacks. And if that’s not enough in common, both Smith and Manuel are being selected in the lowest tier of fantasy football quarterbacks – alongside the likes of Brandon Weeden, Jake Locker, and Matt Flynn.

So what’s the case for Team Geno? To start, Smith was a player who many pundits were talking about as the first overall pick in the NFL Draft just a short six months ago. He obviously possesses the talent to stick in the NFL (as evidenced by his 4,205 yards passing, and 42 passing touchdowns, and 71.2 completion percentage at West Virginia last season) and it would seem that the Jets’ quarterback job is ripe for the taking with Mark Sanchez looking like nothing more than an expensive placeholder at the moment.

For me, however, the positives (at least for the 2013 season) end there. With the Ryan regime seemingly on its way out the door, does Rex decide to place his head coaching fate in the hands of a rookie quarterback? Ryan made two AFC Championship games with Mark Sanchez as his quarterback, so butt-fumble or not, I’m not 100 percent convinced he’s willing to ride-or-die with Geno at the helm of his ship. There’s a chance the decision gets taken out of Rex’s hands, but there’s also a very good chance that he doesn’t want to spend what could very well be his last season in New York (well, New Jersey) developing a quarterback for his eventual successor. And what of those “weapons” that Geno has at his disposal? I’d venture to guess that halfway through training camp, he’ll be thinking that he’d rather have his college receivers (Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey) than the re-treads and no-names that the Jets are currently throwing out there in Braylon Edwards, Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley, and Kellen Winslow, Jr. Santonio Holmes is still on the roster, but he’s likely to miss at least the first four games of the season, so we can’t assume he’ll be much help to Geno if he does indeed win the job. Furthermore, the Jets have a few promising running backs in Chris Ivory, Mike Goodson and Bilal Powell, but do we really trust any of them to take the pressure off of Geno? I’ll believe it when I see it.

What’s the case for Team EJ? I can’t say I love it, but there’s a little bit more to like here than Geno Smith’s situation. Granted, Manuel is a bit of a project who may not be as “NFL-ready” as Smith, but he’s probably in a better situation to be more an immediate factor than Smith. The Bills (unlike the Jets with Smith) showed a lot of confidence in their selection and spent a first round pick on Manuel. He’s coming into a new regime who (also unlike the Jets) owes nothing to the veteran quarterback he’s competing against in training camp, and Kevin Kolb is already nursing a minor injury (and reportedly falling behind Manuel in the process). Manuel doesn’t have the gaudy college stats that Smith does (he threw for 3,392 yards last season to go along with 23 passing touchdowns and a 68 completion percentage), but the Bills obviously saw something they liked enough to spend a mid-first round pick on him.

And while I’d echo some of the same sentiments as I just expressed with Geno in terms of not loving his supporting cast, Manuel is in a much better situation. To start, he has one of the better running backs in the league with C.J. Spiller to go along with what will be one of the better third-down backs in the league in Fred Jackson (not to mention both backs are great catching the ball out of the backfield). As for receivers, Stevie Johnson gives Manuel a bonafide receiver that Smith lacks and Johnson’s move to the slot should do wonders for his rapport with Manuel. The “bonafide-ness” (I just made that up…catchy, huh?) at wide receiver ends there, but rookies Da’Rick Rogers and Robert Woods do offer some upside and Scott Chandler is a very underrated tight end who can provide Manuel with a nice security blanket on third down and/or in the red zone.

As I said to begin, I’m not in love with either of these players’ fantasy prospects in 2013, but if I had to take one as a flier as my QB, I’d have to go with Manuel. What do you think…am I crazy? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section below.