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QB Manuel rising up draft boards


Throughout the pre-draft process, Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel has leaned on former Seminoles signal-caller Christian Ponder for advice.

That seems fitting because it's beginning to seem like Manuel could be headed down the same path enjoyed by Ponder two years ago.

In 2011, Ponder wasn't viewed as a first-round draft pick by observers following the Seminoles' season, but he gained more notice by winning MVP honors at the Senior Bowl, scored a surprise invitation to attend the draft and was picked No. 12 overall by the Minnesota Vikings.

It could be the same story for Manuel, though it doesn't come as a surprise to him.

"I definitely feel I'm the best quarterback in this class," Manuel said. "I'm very confident in my abilities. No disrespect to anybody else. That's just the way I feel. All the guys probably feel the same way."

Manuel is the second quarterback in the draft class reported to have received and accepted an application to sit in the green room at the draft, joining West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley reportedly was invited but has opted to spend the evening with friends and family instead.

The book on Manuel coming out of Florida State was that he was an intriguing prospect but not necessarily a top-flight one, viewed by many as a mid-round target.

Manuel, however, dazzled at the Senior Bowl, capping a strong week of practice with an MVP performance in the game, and he kept the momentum going at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"I was happy I got the MVP, but at the same time, I thought I had a great week overall," Manuel said. "I think I proved that I'm consistent in my reads and consistent with my accuracy.

"The coaches told me I did a great job. It gave me a lot of confidence moving forward."

Manuel also gained confidence from what he witnessed on Sundays last fall in the midst of a season in which he threw 23 touchdown passes against just 10 interceptions while rushing for 310 yards and four touchdowns.

He paid attention as Russell Wilson, a native of Virginia like himself, excelled as a rookie with the Seattle Seahawks. And he took note when Colin Kaepernick took over as San Francisco 49ers quarterback midseason and directed them to the Super Bowl.

"When I saw those guys having success, it gave me a lot more confidence going into the draft," Manuel said. "It's nice to know that kind of quarterback - a guy who can throw the ball and also have that run threat - is more accepted now, whereas five to 10 years ago it really wasn't.

"I don't think I have to be Colin Kaepernick. I don't have to be Russell Wilson. I can be EJ Manuel. But I do see a lot of my abilities in those guys."

Manuel played in a pro-style offense at Florida State, departing as the third-winningest quarterback in the history of the proud program, but he also has the skills to make the read-option a part of his game. His decision-making and ability to thread the ball to barely open receivers has been questioned by some, but he's answered a lot of those questions over the last couple of months.

At the combine, some teams told him they viewed him as a developmental prospect, but he talked to just as many teams that need a quarterback now.

Manuel has seen himself in the latter category from the beginning.

"Wherever I do go, I plan on going in and competing for the starting job," he said. "I'm going to go in and try to be a sponge and learn as much as I can from the guys ahead of me but at the same time still compete for the job."


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