NFL Off-Season and Draft Review: AFC East Edition

Welcome to the first edition of my NFL Off-Season and Draft Review! I will be taking a look at each division in the NFL and analyzing each team’s off-season and draft picks. You can  follow along with this series on my blog Don’t Listen To Us Sports as well. Thanks and I hope you enjoy!

New England Patriots

Notable Losses: Chris Long-DE (Eagles), Martellus Bennett-TE (Packers), Sebastian Vollmer-OT (Released), Jabaal Sheard-DE/OLB (Colts), Logan Ryan-CB (Titans), Barkevious Mingo-LB (Colts).

Notable Acquisitions: Lawrence Guy-DE (FA), Brandin Cooks-WR (Trade), Stephon Gilmore-CB (FA), Dwayne Allen-TE (Trade), Mike Gillislee-RB (RFA), Kony Ealy-DE/OLB (Trade).

Off-Season Recap

Teams coming off a Super Bowl win don’t usually mess with the nucleus of the group that got them there. By this point they’re usually cap strapped and can only sign their “core” free agents, having to let some important championship contributors walk. This lack of flexibility not only prohibits the team from signing some of their in-house FAs but also constricts spending on FAs outside of the organization.

Per usual, the Patriots deviate from the norm in this respect. Although they lost key contributors like Bennett, Long, and Ryan to free agency this off-season they were able to replace them and then some through trades and signings. The likes of Kony Ealy and Stephon Gilmore, who were brought over via trade and signing respectively, will not only mitigate the losses of Long, Sheard, and Ryan but also bolster the defense even more. 2016’s third ranked offense is only going to get better in 2017 with a healthy Gronk, former Saint Brandin Cooks on his outside and the brute force of Mike Gillislee in between the tackles.

So where does that leave a team who has seemingly filled all their needs before the draft? In a great position, that’s where. With four picks in this year’s draft and no need for instant contributors the Patriot’s planned for the future with their draft selections.

Meet the Rookies

At 83rd overall the Patriots selected a uber athletic DE from small-school Youngstown State. The 250 pound, 6-foot 4-inch freak posted eye-popping numbers at his alma mater and fits the mold of a quick and lengthy DE that the Patriots typically look for. With Rob Ninkovich entering the final year of his contract, this is expectedly his last season in a Pat’s uniform. Ninkovich will most likely maintain the same role as last year, but River’s will spell him at times and (ideally) become his high level replacement come 2018.

Rivers wasn’t the only defensive end New England took. At 131st overall Deatrich Wise Jr., a former Arkansas Razorback, was selected. He’s the son of former NFL defensive tackle Deatrich Wise, and projects to be a solid depth player all along the line of scrimmage. This versatile d-lineman fits perfectly with Belichick’s love of Jack-of-all trade linemen. Not only this, but he will be reunited (and most likely backing up) with his former teammate Trey Flowers. Whom he considers a big brother. A great fit for both sides involved.

Additionally, the Patriots added Anthony Garcia (85th overall) and Conor McDermott (211st overall). These two offensive tackles, with some time under offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia, project to be contributors or starters in the near future. With Sebastian Vollmer’s release/pending retirement and Nate Solder’s impending free agency in 2018 these picks are music to Patriot’s fan’s ears.

Due to the this team’s careful maneuvering of the off-season and draft, this could be one of the best team assembled during the Belichick era. Another Super Bowl is definitely a possibility.

Buffalo Bills

Notable Losses: Mike Gillislee-RB (Patriots), Stephon Gilmore-CB (Patriots), Robert Woods-WR (Rams), Corey Graham-S (FA), Aaron Williams-S (FA), Marquise Goodwin-WR (49ers), Zach Brown-LB (Redskins).

Notable Acquisitions: Mike Tolbert-FB (FA), Micah Hyde-S (FA), Steven Hauschka-K (FA), Patrick Dimarco-FB (FA), Corey Brown-WR (FA), Shareece Wright-CB (Trade), Jordan Poyer-S (FA).

Off-Season Recap

Another year, another turbulent off-season in Buffalo. With Sean McDermott being named the new head coach, the Bills are now on their 4th head coach in 5 seasons. Also, the team surprisingly fired their general manager Doug Whaley the Sunday after the NFL Draft. Which speculators have attributed to Whaley’s trading back and passing on Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, whom owner Terry Pegula was rumored to be “in love with”

This team’s major turnover was not limited to their front office, it crept onto the playing field as well. The loss of Pro Bowl corner back Stephon Gilmore and often used back-up running back Mike Gillislee to their AFC East counter parts, the Patriots, will surely come back to haunt them. It didn’t end there either. The team chose not to sign 2016 surprise standout Zach Brown to a new deal and also let Robert Woods walk. These are not surprising moves due to the price the players were asking for, but it does elicit some concern in respect to in-house continuity on both sides of the ball.

All is not bad in Buffalo though. The team did sign Fullback Mike Tolbert to pave the way for LeSean McCoy. But they also signed another FB, Patrick Dimarco, to a 4 year-8.4 million dollar contract. Now these signings make sense separately, but to have them both on the roster is a head scratching move. They did address huge needs on the opposite side of the ball when they signed veteran Safety Micah Hyde, who projects to start, to a deal. The trade for Shareece Wright filled a need at CB with the departure of Gilmore. Wright isn’t Gilmore but it’s a start.

With all of this addition and subtraction all over the roster in Buffalo in mind, how did the Bills fair in the 2017 draft?

Meet the Rookies

After trading back to 27 from the 10 spot, the Bill’s addressed the departure of Stephon Gilmore with the selection of CB Tre’Davious White out of LSU. The senior corner back has been a starter for the Tigers since game three of his freshman season and has not looked back since. White has used his height and ball skills to swat 34 balls and pick of 6 passes in his SEC career. He’s not only a leader on the field but one-off as well. He was valedictorian of his high school class and wore number 18 for the Tigers which has historically been reserved for selfless players on and off the field. White may never be Gilmore, but he has the potential to be a solid contributor and defensive leader for a team that is sorely lacking both.

With the 37th pick overall Buffalo selected Zay Jones, the replacement to the newly overpaid WR in LA; Robert Woods. Jones provides Sammy Watkins with a complimentary option across from him to help alleviate the pressure and reduce double-teams. While, Jones size and speed, 6-foot-2, 201 pounds and 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash may not blow the top off of defenses. He will provide a much needed chain mover for Tyrod Taylor and hopefully open up the Bill’s very one-dimensional offense from a year ago.

The Bill’s second 2nd round pick, Dion Dawkins, was a stand-out at Temple and was named the best O-lineman by Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage. His switch to guard will most likely make him a day one starter for the Red & Blue and will provide superstar RB LeSean McCoy with more running lanes.

The Bill’s next three picks all came in the 5th round. Historically picks in these late rounds don’t usually become immediate contributors and may never pan out. My pick for a possible break through out of the three would be Matt Milano. He will get some time on special teams and may even fill in for the vacant Zach Brown. Only time will tell. As for the other two, their careers do not look as promising. Peterman career will trend towards that of back-up and Vallejo will ride the pine or find a spot on special teams.

The Bills may not have filled all of their roster needs in this off-season and draft but they have taken steps in the right direction.

New York Jets

Notable Losses: Ryan Fitzpatrick-QB (FA), Brandon Marshall-WR (Giants), Darrelle Revis-CB (FA), Geno Smith-QB (Giants), Nick Mangold-C (FA), Nick Folk-WR (Buccaneers), Ryan Clady-OT (FA).

Notable Acquisitions: Josh McCown-QB (FA), Kelvin Beachum-OT (FA), Morris Claiborne-CB (FA), Chandler Catanzaro-K (FA), Quinton Patton-WR (FA).

Off-Season Recap

GO Green GO! More like No Green No.

After an abysmal 5-11 season Jet’s GM Mike Maccagnan has his work cut out for him in his second year at the position. The losses of key veterans Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall, Darrelle Revis, and Ryan Fitzpatrick will be hard if not next to impossible to replace. The leadership and veteran savvy of 44 combined seasons between the four cannot be found just walking on the street. New York had a difficult task ahead when it came to supplanting these guys.

After Fitzpatrick was cut by the Jet’s back in February the team was lacking direction at QB. This is where Josh McCown comes in.

The Jets do not view their internal QBs, Hackenberg and Petty, as the long-term answer at the position and were obviously not enamored with any of the QBs in this year’s draft. McCown‘s 1 year agreement points to him as a stop-gap QB vs a longstanding answer. Maccagan is likely looking to next year’s offseason/draft to find the long-term answer at quarterback.

It’s never easy to lose a hall-of-fame CB in Darrelle Revis. It’s even harder to replace him. Former Cowboy Morris Claiborne will never be Revis but he is a very capable starter and can step in as the number one corner the Jets need. On the other side of the ball, the loss of Ryan Clady cannot go unnoticed. The Jet’s answer to this was signing veteran offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum. Beachum’s option was not picked up by the Jaguars due to his performance and price. Beachum gave up 49 pressures last year but still signed a 3 year deal with the Jets. While he could rebound, it is not likely. The Jets may have signed a turnstile at left tackle.

Despite the fact the Jet’s didn’t make any “flashy” moves in free agency some of these signings could still potentially steer the team in the right direction.

Meet the Rookies

The Jets lead the AFC East with nine picks in this year’s draft. But did the Green use these picks shrewdly to fill their roster? Let’s take a look.

With their first two picks in this year’s draft New York decided to bring youth into their defensive backfield. Jamal Adams, at 6th overall, could be one of the safest picks in this year’s draft. He’s got great character and has been pegged as one of the greatest leaders at LSU in years. He is predominantly an in-the-box safety and struggles with coverage at times, but his big play ability and leadership more than make up for it.

Maye is cut from the same cloth as Adams. He is a sure tackler but does have trouble in the deeper part of the field. He’s a liability in man coverage but does share the same leadership trait that Adams does. It is strange that the team took two similar guys at the same position, but you can never have enough good players.

The team chose to address the offensive side of the ball with their next three picks. At WR they chose both ArDarius Stewart (79th) and Chad Hansen (141st) with their 3rd and 4th round picks. Stewart a quick after-the-catch receiver compliments Hansen’s physical deep threat ability. The combination of these two will not replace Marshall but will hopefully help alleviate his loss.

At 150 a compliment to Austin Sefarian-Jenkins was drafted. Jordan Leggett, nicknamed “Lazy” Leggett, is a finesse tight end who’s love and commitment to the game have been questioned. Can the Jet’s get the former Clemson tiger on the right track and reveal those skills that made him so successful in college? It’s a risk but its one worth taking this late in the draft.

The next few picks don’t figure to make huge contributions in their first year on the roster. Small school DE Dylan Donahue is a tweener who would be better suited transitioning to OLB on a Jets team with ultra-depth along the D-line. If he wants to see some meaningful playing time on the field a positional switch will be necessary.

The pick of Elijah McGuire was crucial after the Jets failed to address RB in free agency, leaving them with only Bilal Powell and Matt Forte on the roster. McGuire who had a foot injury last year is a great value pick for the Green and is best suited as a 3rd down back on offense due to his skill set.

The Jets finished off the draft by selecting two more defensive backs in Michigan’s Jeremy Clark and Ole Miss’ Derrick Jones. One of the team’s largest needs was “addressed” by drafting a player who will not be ready for the start of the season in Clark who tore his ACL. And an athletic corner back who will be relegated to special teams while he learns the game at a professional level in Jones. Waiting this long to take an apparent need is a strange move by GM Maccagnan.

With all that being said it looks like the Jets are steering towards another abysmal season and are cementing themselves squarely at the bottom of the AFC East.

Miami Dolphins

Notable Losses: Mario Williams-DE (FA), Earl Mitchell-DT (49ers), Jordan Cameron-TE (Retired), Dion Sims-TE (Bears), Isa Abdul-Quddus-S (FA) .

Notable Acquisitions: Lawrence Timmons-LB (FA), Julius Thomas-TE (Trade), Nate Allen-FS (FA), William Hayes-DE (Trade), Ted Larsen-G (FA), Anthony Fasano-TE (FA), T.J. McDonald-S (FA).

Off-Season Recap

For the first time in eight years the Miami Dolphins made the NFL playoffs. And if not for an untimely knee injury to starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, they may have been able to make some noise in the post season. Still, things are looking up for the Fish in Miami.

Deciding to take a more toned-down approach in free agency, the Dolphins focused their efforts on keeping players internally. “All of the Dolphins’ big moves were retaining their own players, starting with Branch ($27 million over three years), Stills ($32 million over four), and Alonso ($28.9 million over four), and continuing with extensions for Reshad Jones ($60 million over five) and Cameron Wake ($16.2 over two).”(Jason Lieser-Palm Beach Post).

The Fins were then able to ink inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons to a 2 year, 12 million dollar deal to help Kiko Alonso out on the inside. Then flipped their focus to the secondary by signing safety Nate Allen over from the Raiders.

On the offense, the team shipped out often injured tackle Brandon Albert for tight end Julius Thomas. Adding yet another weapon to Ryan Tannehill’s already deep arsenal of stand outs, like newly consistent running back Jay Ajayi and the rock in the receiving core, Jarvis Landry. They then signed guard Ted Larsen to presumably fill in for Laremy Tunsil who will shift over to tackle after the departure of Albert.

These extensions and other moves will provide a continuity on a team that has been lacking it for many years, as well as the new additions that have filled holes along the roster. The Dolphins looked primed to build upon their successful 2016, but it all hinges on their 2017 draft class.

Did GM Chris Greir make the all of the right choices to get this team back on the right track and back into the playoffs? Let’s find out.

Meet the Rookies

The release of Mario Williams this off-season leaves a hole at the pass-rushing position. The Fish did trade for William Hayes but he figures to be more of a short-term option rather than an everyday long-term starter.

Insert Missouri defensive end Charles Harris. Whom the Dolphins selected with the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft. Harris, who has only played the sport for 5 years, still has his best years of football ahead of him. In college he was able to use his exceptional burst and deadly spin move to terrify opposing quarterbacks. He has demonstrated above average strength and great hips which allow him to change direction quickly. Harris has his weaknesses, his lack of prototypical length and shortage of twitch are some of the few knocks against him.

Luckily for the Dolphins and Harris, the Missouri product does not need to step in right away. He will be able to sit behind and learn from one of the best pass rushers of our generation, Cameron Wake. Which will give him time to further develop these skills and work on his weaknesses.

Miami remained focused on rebuilding its defense and used their next two picks on linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Cordrea Tankerlsley. “The Dolphins were 30th against the run last season and McMillan should help in that area” (James Walker-ESPN). McMillan was known as a tackling machine at Ohio State and should bolster this anemic run defense. With the signing of Timmons to play the inside, Raekwon will presumably make a switch to the outside and wreak havoc there.

With Byron Maxwell and Xavier Howard set to be the starters for the 2017 season, Tankersley will have a tough time cracking the starting lineup. He will make his mark as a nickel corner and possibly on special teams. The tall corner (6-foot-1) figures to provide depth for this season and will look to make more of an impact come 2018.

At 164 Miami selected offensive guard Isaac Asiata out of Utah. The 5th round pick who can also play center will provide depth along the offensive line and could compete with free agent signing Ted Larsen for the starting position at guard. His versatility makes him a great value pick while giving the team some depth they sorely need.

The departure of Earl Mitchell has left very little depth behind Jordan Phillips and star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Which is why the Dolphins addressed the position with their next two picks. Devon Godchaux out of LSU is a great value pick after character concerns dropped him down to the 5th round. If the productive tackle puts those concerns behind him the Fins could have found themselves a steal this late in the draft. At 194 overall Vincent Taylor out of Oklahoma State was selected. Barring injury Taylor will not see much time on the field but could pave out a role on special teams.

With their last pick in the 2017 Draft the Dolphins selected Virginia Tech wide receiver Isaiah Ford. Unfortunately for Ford, WR happens to be the deepest position on the team. At best, he will be able to fight 2016 draft pick Jakeem Grant to be the 5th wide receiver on the roster. But will most likely be cut due to a surplus at the position.

For the first time in a long time it looks like the Dolphins have continuity and a talented roster at their disposal. If these signings and draft picks pan out we could be looking at real contender to the Patriots in the AFC East this year. Watch out!