Kyle Orton Replaces EJ Manuel: Did the Buffalo Bills Make the Right Move?

The Buffalo Bills have sent their 2013 first-round pick to the sidelines in favor of Kyle Orton. Was it the right decision?

The Buffalo Bills have named Kyle Orton their starting quarterback, relegating their 2013 first-round pick EJ Manuel to the bench after four games in his second season. The news was reported by Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News, among others.

So did the Bills make the right move by sending their recent first-round selection to the bench in favor of the former Broncos and Bears quarterback? Let's take a look at the numbers.

Manuel's Struggles

Last season, EJ Manuel and Geno Smith were the two worst quarterbacks among those who dropped back to pass 300 or more times, and it wasn't even close. On a per-drop back basis, the Bills and Jets signal-callers both posted a -0.14 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) average, while no other quarterback was worse than -0.09.

Manuel did, however, started off this season on a bit of a bright note, earning a positive 13.43 Passing NEP on 91 drop backs in his first three appearances. But he undid all of that good work in Week 4 against Houston, playing at a level 14 points under expectations, including throwing a painful-to-watch pick-six to J.J. Watt.

Equally troubling was his lack of rushing production in 2014. Last season, Manuel was among the best at the quarterback position when it came to running the football, earning 0.31 NEP per rush. This season, his rushing was as bad as his passing was a year ago, resulting in negative NEP for his team.

So benching Manuel was certainly justifiable, considering the poor start to his career. And as our JJ Zachariason noted in an article about early career quarterback numbers based on our metrics, there are very few players to perform as poorly as Manuel through two seasons (or less, in Manuel's case) and pan out as NFL success stories. Alex Smith, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford are the only players to perform as poorly as Manuel has, per our data, and turn around their careers into something meaningful.

But did the Bills actually improve their chances of winning by making a move at the quarterback position now?

Enter the Neckbeard

Kyle Orton has only started one game at quarterback since the end of the 2011 season, a season that saw him benched in favor of Tim Tebow and picked up by the Chiefs. But the track record he has as a starter is actually encouraging from the Bills' perspective.

After struggling out of the gate as a fourth-rounder forced to start for the Bears in 2005, Orton posted respectable numbers every season he was a regular starter.

YearDrop backsPassing NEPPassing NEP per Drop BackSuccess Rate

In the context of football in 2014, those per-drop back averages are slightly below average, but a positive NEP means positive contributions to an offense, something Manuel failed to do for most of his young career.

But can Orton still be the player that posted respectable numbers at the end of the last decade? He's barely played over the past four seasons, so there's no telling how his abilities have aged over that time.

The Verdict

With a duo of talented running backs and a star rookie receiver in Sammy Watkins, the Bills have made a move to stabilize their quarterback situation, rather than hoping for sparks of brilliance from their second-year prospect while enduring all the frustrating mistakes as well.

There's a new owner in Buffalo, and the coaching staff and general manager are feeling the "win-now" pressure that a change in leadership brings. This move is an obvious overreaction, but a justified one considering how poor Manuel had been for most of his first 14 games in the league.

But there's just as much uncertainty with Orton, who has barely seen the field over the past few years, and whose ceiling appears to be below-average at best.

Orton has never thrown more than 13 interceptions in a season, however, while Manuel had thrown 8 in his last 6 games. And on an offense the Bills front office believes is loaded with talent, they can't afford dumb mistakes taking opportunities away from their skill position stars.

The Bills are 2-2 through two weeks, and face two of the toughest defenses in the league (according to our data over the first three weeks) back-to-back with the second-rated Lions in Week 5 and the top-rated Patriots in Week 6. E.J. Manuel showed his coaching staff against the Texans (our fourth-best defense through three weeks) that he can't handle that pressure, and they responded accordingly.

Manuel may return at some point, as he improves in practices and meeting rooms, but with a tough test ahead and plenty of mistakes to look back on, the Bills were justified in moving on from their recent first-round pick. At least for now.