Making a case for Manuel as offensive ROY

All that Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel likely wants to think about right now starts and ends with the New England Patriots, the first opponent he will face in his young NFL career on Sunday.

But this is the time of year for predictions, and a panel of 36 ESPN.com NFL experts were tasked with choosing division and Super Bowl results, as well as postseason awards.

For offensive rookie of the year, the most popular pick was St. Louis wide receiver Tavon Austin (14 votes), followed by Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy (10 votes).

Three writers -- Patriots reporter Mike Reiss, Chicago Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and myself -- bucked that trend, instead tabbing Manuel for the league-wide award.

Wanting to dig deeper, I asked Reiss and Wright why they chose Manuel. Here's what they had to say:

Mike Reiss: "The first reason I went with Manuel is that he has a clear path to the No. 1 job. Couple that with an up-tempo offense that includes some potent weapons around him, and the feeling here is that he has a chance to put together a season worthy of offensive rookie of the year consideration. I looked hard at several of the rookie running backs who figure to play significant roles for their team, but still came back to Manuel as the pick."

Michael C. Wright: "Of all the young quarterbacks, he’s in the best position to succeed. Manuel can lean on a strong running game and other supporting weapons, in addition to his own natural gifts as a runner and passer."

In making my selection, I considered some of the factors noted by both Reiss and Wright. Here is my line of thinking:

  1. In the past nine years, a quarterback or running back has been chosen eight times.

  2. Among quarterbacks, Manuel's only serious competition is the Geno Smith. Unquestionably, Manuel has a better supporting cast with the Bills offense than Geno Smith does with the Jets offense.

  3. Unlike in New York, where Smith could always be supplanted by Mark Sanchez, the Bills are essentially handing Manuel the keys to their team. It's sink or swim, and that has thrust Manuel into the national spotlight. With a good season, that will help in chances in the voting.

  4. The Bills don't have to be successful for Manuel to win. In 2011, Cam Newton won the honor despite Carolina finishing 6-10, and in 2010 St. Louis went 7-9 but Sam Bradford still took home the distinction.

You can find the full list of predictions here: National writers, AFC writers, NFC writers.