Discussing AFC East Needs in the 2019 NFL Draft
Published on April 15, 2019
Should we just fast forward through the regular season and get to the part where the Patriots have a bye and are hosting a playoff game in the divisional round?
New England hasn’t been challenged in the AFC East for quite some time, so is there even a point in discussing the three other teams? Seriously, until Tom Brady and Bill Belichick decide to call it quits, I’m thinking the Bills, Dolphins, and Jets are all just playing for second.
With that being said, the way these teams (including the Pats) can position themselves for future success is by intelligently selecting players during the upcoming NFL Draft. For example, the New York Jets might not be built to win in 2019.
But if they can continue to build around Le’Veon Bell and Sam Darnold, perhaps they could be competitive down the road. Miami still needs to figure out who is going to be their quarterback of the future, and the Bills need playmakers on both sides of the ball.
I expect the Pats to add depth to their current stable of dependable individuals, meaning every team in this division is in a unique situation.
Follow along as I focus on each franchise separately, and let’s gain some insight into some of the scenarios that could play out.
Josh Allen had an up-and-down year during his first season in Buffalo. His arm strength and ability to escape the pocket are clear, but his level of execution still needs to be developed. With LeSean McCoy turning 31 this summer and already falling off from a production standpoint, I’m a bit puzzled as to why the Bills went out and signed a running back who is about to turn 36.
Don’t get me wrong — Frank Gore will have a place in Canton, Ohio, someday in the NFL Hall of Fame. But how much can he really have left in the tank at this point in his career? His 3,382 rushing attempts place him inside the top 5 of all time, and the tread on his tires must be wearing thin.
If this isn’t foresight into Buffalo needing to draft a running back with fresh legs sometime during the draft, I’m not sure what is.
However, it’s the deficiencies on the offensive and defensive lines that really need to be addressed first.
With Buffalo currently slated to pick 9th overall, a ferocious defensive tackle like Ed Oliver seems to make a lot of sense. Rashan Gary also could be in play, or we could see the Bills go after Jawaan Taylor (OL, Florida) or Jonah Williams (OL, Alabama) instead.
Regardless, I expect we’ll see Buffalo utilize their first two picks on linemen of some sorts. After that, nabbing a cornerback who can play right away is a must. Kevin Johnson was signed a few days after he was released by the Texans, so I don’t have much faith there. Tre-Davious White wasn’t very good at all in 2018, confirming that this secondary needs help.
Buffalo signed Tyler Kroft to play tight end, plus they acquired John Brown to line up on the outside and Cole Beasley to assume the slot role. Bills general manager Brandon Beane could still use more offensive weapons, but perhaps that comes later on.
The primary objectives between April 25th and 27th are to pick up some protection for Josh Allen and find some defenders who can get after the opposing quarterback.
As of this moment, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Luke Falk are set to man “1-2” on the QB depth chart in Miami. You can imagine why rumors have been swirling around the Dolphins drafting a quarterback at #13 overall, or perhaps even trading up inside the top 10 to go after a guy like Drew Lock or Dwayne Haskins.
The problem is, when you look around the running back room and assess the core of wide receivers, you’ll see that it’ll be hard for whoever is playing QB in South Beach to put up gaudy numbers. Miami GM Chris Grier will likely need to take a hard look at improving all three of these skill positions, and I don’t expect him to wait around round 4 to do so.
There will be a number of wideouts available to choose from in round 2 or 3, and I suspect one will get plucked off the board and fall to Miami.
Shoring up both the offensive and defensive lines will be done on day 2 and day 3, not to mention the back end of this defense needs a ton of assistance as well. The Dolphins allowed 27.1 points per game in 2018, which ranked 27th in the NFL. The 291.1 yards the Fins D surrendered each game ranked 29th.
While that may look like the corners and safeties leaking oil on the back end, it all starts up front with the guys in three-point stances. There’s a very real possibility we’ll see Miami get aggressive and trade up in the first round, and if that’s the case, it’ll undoubtedly be to take a QB.
But if they decide to wait and select a guy like Ryan Finley (QB, N.C. State) or Will Grier (QB, West Virginia) in the second round or beyond, I could see the Dolphins drafting one of the Clemson defensive line prospects who is projected to be taken in round 1.
A guy like Clelin Ferrell or Christian Wilkins could contribute from the get-go, as could their college teammate Dexter Lawrence. I’m interested to see if the Miami front office will go after one of the highly-touted QBs in round 1, as I don’t know exactly what their big board looks like.
What I do know is that in all likelihood they’ll be rolling out Ryan “Fitzmagic” to begin 2019, so a push to the playoffs won’t be in the cards anyway.
The Patriots signed Austin Seferian-Jenkins to a one-year deal, which obviously won’t entirely replace what Gronk brought to the table. But the former Buccaneers tight end at least gives the Pats some assurance; that way, they don’t feel the urgency to draft a TE with their first pick in the draft.
Let’s not forget that Bill Belichick is a mastermind at plugging players in and putting them in positions where they can be successful. There has never been a single player better than Tom Brady in terms of getting the most out of his teammates.
That brilliant combination is the foundation of why the Patriots are so reliable year after year, regardless of who is playing on the field. The constants are Brady and Belichick, and there has never been a QB/HC duo more successful.
Nonetheless, New England still needs to replenish its roster and find talent where they can. Trent Brown signed a contract with Oakland that’ll make him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league, and Trey Flowers is now in Detroit after agreeing to a $90 million deal.
Suddenly, the Pats need to find help on the offensive and defensive lines in a hurry. Michael Bennett was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, but I’m not sure how many plays/games he can be counted on for.
As stocked as the Patriots are at running back with Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead, they’re on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to their crop of wide receivers. Other than reigning Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, all the Pats really have right now are Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, and Bruce Ellington. We don’t know what’s going to happen with Josh Gordon, as the troubled wideout may never play another snap in the National Football League again.
There are a lot of gifted WRs in the 2019 draft class, so look for the Kraft family to pursue one early on. Should they elect to grab one with the last pick in the first round, names like Hakeem Butler (WR, Iowa State), Terry McLaurin (WR, Ohio State) and Marquise Brown (WR, Oklahoma) all come to mind.
If they go in a different direction in the first round, I could see them target Andy Isabella at the end of round 2.
The bad news is the New York Jets have just six picks in the 2019 draft, compared to a team like New England, who possesses six picks within the first three rounds and 12 overall. The good news is that the Jets’ first pick comes at #3 overall, meaning they have the chance to find a difference maker right away.
I feel like the Jets have interest in Nick Bosa or Josh Allen, but I could see them having more in Quinnen Williams (DL, Alabama) instead. The mammoth-sized defensive tackle won the 2018 Outland Trophy awarded to the nation’s top interior defensive lineman, and he’s a guy who could start plugging gaps on the defensive line right away.
New York also desperately needs to draft a cornerback who can be effective at the next level, and their offensive line needs able bodies. Looking at Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and newcomer Jamison Crowder, I feel like adding a WR will be on the agenda.
Given how important it will be to protect Sam Darnold so that the second-year QB can stay upright, I assume they’ll lock up an offensive lineman before they seek out a wide receiver. After all, they may be able to unearth a hidden gem late on day 3 like Hunter Renfrow (WR, Clemson) or Dillon Mitchell (WR, Oregon).
I briefly alluded to NY needing to go after a CB, but I should really take that a step further. Cornerback is most definitely an area that New York is lacking consistency in, and it could even be the team’s number-one need.
The Jets can’t really go wrong no matter what positions they go after, as their QB and RB are about the only things set in stone right now. They did sign C.J. Mosley from Baltimore to quarterback the defense, and safety Jamal Adams was a Second-Team All-Pro last year.
Aside from that, it’s all up in the air for Adam Gase and his staff.
New England has held a stranglehold over the AFC East Division for the last dozen seasons. Unfortunately for those who attend “Camp Let’s Hate on the Patriots,” it’s looking like we are at least a few years away from seeing the Patriots relinquish their command.
Tom Brady has vouched to play until he’s 45, and Bill Belichick continues to reinvent ways to lead a reputable defense out onto the field. All the Pats need to do is keep adding pieces to their puzzle, and it might end up all coming together again like it did during their run to Super Bowl 53.
Between the Bills, Dolphins, and Jets, lots of improvement needs to be made in all facets of their rosters. With Josh Allen and Sam Darnold hopefully on paths to becoming legitimate NFL quarterbacks, we’ll start to see all teams in the AFC East begin to bulk up the middle and back level of their defenses.
I’m eager to see what the Dolphins will do with their first-round pick, and I’ve heard gossip that the Jets could trade from #3 back into the middle of the first round.
The only way to know what happens for certain is to tune into ESPN on April 25th and find out!