AFC East Draft Preview
AFC East Draft Preview
The Bills finish the 2016 season at 7-9 and miss the playoffs for the 17th straight season. It’s the longest active playoff drought among all four North American major professional sports leagues. Loosing safety Aaron Williams to a season-ending injury (for the second straight season) was a big blow to the defense. DT Marcela Dareus missed the first four games of the season due to suspension and showed up week five out of shape and didn’t make much of an impact. Sammy Watkins’ foot issues was a huge blow to the passing game, which ended up ranking at the bottom of the league. These and other factors resulted in Rex Ryan being fired and replaced by Anthony Lynn late in the season. Sean McDermott is the new head coach and will be charged with righting the ship in 2017.
Notable 2017 additions
QB T.J. Yates
WR Andre Holmes, Corey “Philly” Brown, Brandon Tate
FB Mike Tolbert, Patrick DiMarco
T Jordan Mills
DB Micah Hyde
FS Jordan Poyer
K Steve Hauschka
G Vladimir Ducasse
DE Ryan Davis
The Bills were very active in free agency yet still come into 2017 with a lot of question marks. The team will be switching from 3-4 to 4-3 defensive so there will be a lot of shuffling on defense. DB Micah Hyde is very talented and adds versatility to the secondary. Poyer’s 2016 campaign in Cleveland was cut short by injury. His contract suggests he’ll be the starter, but he has only started 10 of 48 career games. DiMarco and Tolbert are two of the league’s best fullbacks and will bolster an already dominant running game. Hauschka is a significant upgrade over Dan Carpenter. Davis is a versatile defensive lineman and will help with the transition from 3-4 to 4-3. The other additions are mostly for depth.
The team needs to fill a LB spot next to Lorenzo Alexander and Reggie Ragland. Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin are gone and nothing about the receivers brought in via free agency is overly impressive, so look for the team to seek help opposite Sammy Watkins. CB Stephon Gilmore is gone and the team is expected to move Micah Hyde from CB to safety so expect the team to pursue defensive back help in the form of cornerback and safety. The interior of the defensive line appears to be set, but the team may look to add an edge rusher.
The team has six picks in the draft with picks 10, 44 and 75 in the first three rounds.
2016 was Adam Gase’s first year as head coach and he did a great job helping a constantly underachieving team reach it’s potential. The team had a sluggish 1-4 start, but finished the season on a 9-2 run and earned a wild card spot. It was the team’s first winning season and playoff appearance since 2008. 2016 saw Jay Ajayi blossom into an elite running back, despite all of the ways the front office and coaching staff tried to mold him into a role player. When the offensive line was healthy, Ajayi was unstoppable. Gase also managed to turn a serviceable Ryan Tannehill into a legitimate starter. With a revamped stadium, a head coach that can get results, and legitimate talent on the roster, the fans in Miami are once again excited about football.
Notable 2017 additions
ILB Lawrence Timmons
G/C Ted Larsen
S Nate Allen, T.J. McDonald
TE Anthony Fasano and Julius Thomas
DE William Hayes
LB Lawrence Timmons is aging, but can still produce. He’s had 100+ tackles in his last five seasons and has missed just two games over his twelve year career. With Timmons and Kiko Alonzo, the team is one good linebacker away from transforming the LB group from a liability to a strength. Julius Thomas is an underachieving, often injured TE that has flashed elite talent, but seems past his prime. Fasano returns to Miami as a blocking specialist and serviceable pass-catching veteran TE. Safety is a huge need for the team and Allen and McDonald were added to help bolster the secondary. Allen is often injured and not very productive. Miami signed DE Hayes on the cheap to help up front. He is a strong rotational piece that has proven to be effective against the run and pass.
The Dolphins have a glaring need at guard due to the Branden Albert trade and the ensuing shuffle along the line. Timmons and Alonzo are great additions, but the team needs one more good linebacker to shore up the defense. Wake (35) and Hayes (31) are aging and slated as the starters at DE. The position needs an injection of youth and this draft is deep at edge rusher. The team will also take advantage of a deep class of defensive backs to bolster their secondary.
The team has seven picks in the draft with picks 22, 57 and 97 in the first three rounds.
New England Patriots
The Patriots clinched their eighth straight AFC East title on their way to a Super Bowl LI victory in 2016. Their 14-2 record afforded them home field advantage throughout the playoffs as they appeared in their six straight conference championship game. The team face its first four games without star quarterback Tom Brady and managed to go 3-1 in that span. The Patriots’ quarterbacks threw only two interceptions the entire regular season- an NFL record. The team made history with their come-from-behind victory in the Super Bowl. The Patriots trailed 28-3 with 2:07 left in the third quarter and rallied to win 34-28 in overtime. It was the fifth Super Bowl victory for Brady and Belichick, solidifing the duo as one of the greatest of all-time at their respective positions.
Notable 2017 additions
WR Brandon Cooks
CB Stephon Gilmore
DE Lawrence Guy, Kony Ealy
RB Rex Burkhead
TE Dwayne Allen
DEs Lawrence Guy and Kony Ealy will replace the departing Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard on the defensive line. Ealy is the presumed starter opposite DE Trey Flowers with Guy serving in a rotational role. Dwayne Allen was signed to replace the departing Martellus Bennett. Stephon Gilmore is coming off the his first Pro Bowl appearance and replaces Logan Ryan at cornerback. Brandon Cooks adds an elite downfield threat to Brady’s arsenal. Rex Burkhead is a very versatile running back that seems to be a good fit for what the Pats like to do on offense.
The Pats could skip the 2017 NFL Draft entirely and still have a Super Bowl caliper team, but Belichick is shrewd and is always looking for ways to improve. Loosing Sheard and Long coupled with a deep class of edge rushers leads us to believe the Pats will add competition along the defensive line via the draft. It’s the last year of LT Nate Solder’s contract so the Pats may look for a guy to develop at tackle. Gronk and Allen both have a history of injuries so the team could spend an early pick on a tight end. The team still needs a big, between the tackles thumper at running back to replace Blount (if Buffalo doesn’t match Gillislee’s offer sheet). Garoppolo has one year remaining on his contract so the team might draft a QB to develop.
The team has seven picks in the draft with picks 72 and 96 in the first three rounds.
New York Jets
Tod Bowl’s second year as head coach saw the team regress from a 10-6 record in 2015, to 5-11 in 2016. The team finished at the bottom of their division and missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. Players regressed, the team was plagued with injuries and guys couldn’t get along in the locker room. The team’s most glaring problem was quarterback play. “Fitzmagic” lost the magic and had a touchdown to interception ratio of 12:17. Loosing Decker early in the season didn’t help his cause, nor did a league-high 30 dropped passes by his receivers. Bryce Petty stepped in after Fitz was bench, and had a pitiful 3:7 touchdown to interception ratio. Matt Forte was productive, but missed some time with injuries. Powell played really well and left a lot of people wondering why he was so underutilized. Eleven year vet Nick Mangold missed half the season with an injury and the rest of the offensive line regressed. The defensive line was supposed to be one of the best in the league, yet only Leonard Williams seemed to show up on game day. 2016 was certainly a forgettable season for the Jets.
Notable 2017 additions
QB Josh McCown
CB Morris Claiborne
T Kelvin Beachum
K Chandler Catanzaro
C Jonotthan Harrison
WR Quinton Patton
NT Mike Pennel
McCown has been promised an opportunity to win the starting job, but will most likely play the role of mentor to young quarterbacks Petty and Hackenburg. The Jets cut C Nick Mangold, T Giancomini, and T Ryan Clady this offseason. Tackle Kelvin Beachum was brought in to help rebuild the offensive line but comes with injury concerns. Center Jonotthan Harrison is very versatile and offers veteran depth. Morris Claiborne is talented, but has always had trouble staying healthy. Catanzaro is coming off a bad year and is looking to rebound. Patton and Pennel are depth moves.
The Jets are completely overhauling their offensive line and will probably try to find some pieces in the draft. Tight ends have accounted for only 26 receptions over the last two seasons and the team may want to snag a TE earlier rather than later. The secondary is terrible and needs help at both cornerback and safety. If the team likes any of the quarterbacks in this draft, they will make a move to get him. There are a lot of holes to fill and this could be the beginning of a multi-year rebuild.
The team has seven picks in the draft with picks 6, 39, 70 and 107 in the first three rounds.