Once again the AFC East was a rather vanilla division. The Patriots were the clear top dog, made it to another AFC Championship, made it to another Super Bowl and turned in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history to win their sixth ring under future-hall-of-fame coach Bill Belichick.
However, there were some intriguing twists and turns over last season. Most notably, was that of the 10-6 Miami Dolphins, who under first-time head coach Adam Gase made the playoffs as a wild card. It was the latest attempt by a division rival to usurp the Patriots, however, we’ve seen this story before.
In 2015 under first-time head coach Todd Bowles, the New York Jets went 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs as a wild card. So, how did the Jets follow that strong start in 2016? A disastrous 5-11. For any team to beat the Patriots, they will need to have sustained success. The Dolphins can’t slip as the Jets did.
Speaking of sustained success, the Buffalo Bills haven’t had that since the early 1990s. The Bills turned in a ho-hum 7-9 season. However, the season was so tumultuous that Rex Ryan fired his offensive coordinator a few games into the season and then Rex Ryan was fired with a few games left in the season.
Then in the offseason GM Doug Whaley “led” the search for a new head coach and, after having his initial choice Anthony Lynn was turned down, went with first-timer Sean McDermott to take the helm. Then after the draft Whaley was fired. The lesson of this story: the Bills are in the cellar until further notice.
Buffalo Bills: B+
1.) Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
2.) Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina
2b.) Dion Dawkins, OT, Temple
5.) Matt Milano, LB, Boston College
5b.) Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh
6.) Tanner Vallejo, LB, Boise St.
Despite the mess in the Bills front office, GM Doug Whaley left the Bills a lovely parting gift. The writing on the wall came after Whaley traded down with the Chiefs, but netted a first-round pick next year and the collateral to move up in Round 2 and take Zay Jones. Not to mention, both White and Jones will be Day One starters for the Bills, who were picked clean in free agency. White is one of the most complete players from this year’s class. He will impress. Jones, has the size and speed to compliment Sammy Watkins very well. Dawkins, can play guard or right tackle and with the revolving door the Bills have had on the right side, except him to make an impact at right tackle. Milano, can lineup all over the field and make plays on special teams.
Best pick: Nathan Peterman
The reason Whaley took heat for trading down from the No. 10 pick was, because ownership wanted the quarterback who went 10th overall in Patrick Mahomes. Trading down was the right move, as nearly all the quarterbacks were over-drafted due to the shallow quarterback class. Peterman, was, arguably, the most complete prospect. He could surprise a lot of people.
Miami Dolphins: B
1.) Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
2.) Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio St.
3.) Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
5.) Isaac Asiata, OG, Utah
5b.) Davon Godchaux, DT, LSU
6.) Vincent Taylor, DT, Oklahoma St.
7.) Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech
The Dolphins game-plan was to address a defense that finished 29th in the league last year and they succeeded. Harris, should develop nicely in a rotation with Cam Wake, Andre Branch, and William Hayes. Harris, lived in the backfield at Mizzou with 30.5 tackles-for-loss over past two seasons. McMillan rounds out a vastly improved linebacking corps after the team signed veteran Lawrence Timmons and resigned Kiko Alonso. McMillan isn’t flashy, but carries a lot of lead in the pencil. Tankersley, adds to a young, high ceiling positional group. A two year starter, Tankersley displayed quality ball skills with 22 pass breakups and nine interceptions over that time. Godchaux and Taylor, are developmental, depth pieces needed along their line.
Best pick: Isaac Asiata
With Laremy Tunsil shifting to tackle that leaves a guard spot open. Asiata, is a physical run blocker who can pull, i.e. the perfect candidate for Miami’s offense. If Asiata can continue to improve, don’t be surprised if this fifth-round pick turns into a starter.
New England Patriots: A
3.) Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown St.
3b.) Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy
4.) Dietrich Wise, DE, Arkansas
6.) Conor McDermott, OT, UCLA
How can you get an A-grade with only four draft picks? Easy. All you have to do is make trades for Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen, Kony Ealy, Mike Gillislee, and James O’ Shaughnessy while also trading down for potential starter (Rivers) and take that capitol to trade up to take another potential starter (Garcia). It seems almost insane for the Patriots to do what they did during this year’s draft, but moving picks all their picks to land (potentially) five starters in Cooks, Ealy, Gillislee, Rivers, and Garcia is so impressive.
Best pick: Derek Rivers/Antonio Garcia
The Pats hit it out of the park in Round 3. Rivers had 52 tackles for loss and 35 sacks in three seasons. He’ll be put in a rotation that allows him to develop, just as breakout play-maker Trey Flowers did. Garcia, will sit behind incumbent Nate Solder as he plays out the final year of his contract where Garcia, should then take over as Tom Brady’s blindside blocker.
New York Jets: C-
1.) Jamal Adams, S, LSU
2.) Marcus Maye, S, Florida
3.) ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama
4.) Chad Hansen, WR, Cal
5.) Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson
5b.) Dylan Donahue, OLB, West Georgia
6.) Elijah McGuire, RB, Louisiana-Lafayette
6b.) Jeremy Clark, CB, Michigan
6c.) Derrick Jones, CB, Ole Miss
The selection of Adams saves this draft pick from getting a D-grade. Adams, was, arguably, the second best talent in the draft and they landed him at sixth overall. That’s a steal. But not addressing their two biggest needs, cornerback and offensive line, was incredibly puzzling. That puts a lot of pressure on average veterans Kelvin Beachum at tackle and Morris Claiborne to play at a high level. Maye, is a tremendous leader who all, but finalized Calvin Pryor’s departure from the team. Stewart and Hansen, are fantastic additions to a depleted unit. Stewart, is a physical playmaker and Hansen can take the top off a defense. Leggett, is another weapon for Josh McCown to utilize. He will stretch the seam and could start Day One.
Best pick: Jamal Adams
Players like Adams are rare. He has size, range, ball skills, and can provide run support with strong tackling abilities. Adams, is maybe the most complete player in the 2017 NFL draft class and he will be a leader from Day One for Gang Green.