In recent years, the Buffalo Bills have been known for some of their draft blunders. But if Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers is any indication, the 2013 draft class could be the one to reverse that trend.
Of course, we start with rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel. The team's No. 1 pick threw for 296 yards and a touchdown Sunday. His touchdown pass came at the end of a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. The 2-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with two seconds left gave the Bills their first win of the season.
What was great about Manuel's performance is he recovered nicely after making two mistakes -- a fumble near the end of the third quarter and an interception early in the fourth quarter -- that may have bothered some rookies. Not Manuel. He came back and led his team down the field in five plays to set up a field goal and with his team down six points late in the fourth quarter, completed six of eight passes on the game-winning touchdown drive.
An impressive performance? Absolutely.
Some fans questioned the decision to draft Manuel in what many thought was a weak quarterback class. On Sunday, Manuel showed why he was a smart selection. He's a good, intelligent quarterback who could lead this team for years to come.
But Manuel wasn't the only rookie success story Sunday. One of the rookie quarterback's favorite targets was 2013 second round pick wide receiver Robert Woods. Woods, who caught his first NFL touchdown pass (his first NFL reception) last week against New England, had four receptions for 68 yards against Carolina. His longest catch went for 28 yards. He also caught the pass on the Bills' two-point conversion attempt in the third quarter that tied the game at 14.
While Manuel has a good connection with No. 1 receiver Stevie Johnson, it's important to have a solid No. 2 receiver to turn to. It looks like Woods is the guy.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills' other second round pick was one of the team's best defensive players.
Rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso intercepted a Cam Newton pass on the Panthers' first drive. On the final play of the game, he sacked Newton to prevent a Hail Mary pass attempt.
Alonso's stat line is one any defensive player would want: 10 tackles (9 solo), one interception and one sack. He also registered one pass defensed.
If the Bills are going to win games this year and contend for a playoff spot, they need the rookies to shine. If Manuel, Woods and Alonso have good games like they did on Sunday, Buffalo will have a better season than many fans and pundits expected.
McKelvin continues to perform at a high level
Through two games, one of the players that has impressed me the most is cornerback Leodis McKelvin.
McKelvin had a good game against the Patriots and another good performance against the Panthers. He was a major reason why Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith only had five catches for 52 yards against the Bills. He finished the game with five tackles (four solo) and three passes defensed.
With top cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Jairus Byrd out of action due to injury, many thought the secondary would be the biggest weakness on defense. But the secondary has actually performed quite well. McKelvin is a big reason why.
Williams, Bills among league leaders in sacks
Mario Williams had a good game against the Patriots in Week 1, but the Week 2 contest against Panthers was a much better one for the $100 million sack man.
Williams set a team record with 4.5 sacks against the Panthers. The effort gives Williams the NFL sack lead through two weeks of the season. (That could change if someone puts up big numbers tonight in the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game.)
The Bills had a total of six sacks Sunday against Carolina. That gives the team eight sacks this season, which is tied for fifth in the NFL. The four teams ahead of the Bills all have nine total sacks this season.
Williams playing well at safety
Through two games, Aaron Williams is proving that the move from cornerback to safety was the right one.
Williams is one of the leading tacklers in the NFL. He has 21 tackles through two games, which is good for third in the league. He was the Bills' leading tackler against Carolina, with 12 tackles (seven solo) and one tackle for a loss.
While he did commit a dumb penalty in the second half, we'll let that slide. He has played well in both games against two tough opponents. That's the important thing, especially with fellow safety Jairus Byrd out of action due to injury.