Last Updated: Apr 25, 2011 12:47 PM
The New England Patriots ended the regular season with an NFL best 14-2 record but were ousted in the playoffs by division rival New York Jets. Which begs the question: Is the balance of power in the AFC East shifting away from New England and toward New York? Sure the Patriots were arguably the best franchise in football the last decade, but every ride eventually comes to an end. Then again, can you really envision a team coached by Bill Belichick and led by Tom Brady not succeeding? With six picks in the first three rounds including two (17 and 28) in the 1st Round, New England has a terrific chance to add even more talent to one of the NFL's most talented teams. The Jets have a lot of question marks surrounding their current roster. With so many players hitting Free Agency, it's tough to predict which positions NYJ will look to address in the Draft.
The Buffalo Bills have the 3rd overall pick and desperately need help on the Defensive side of the ball, but will they pass up on a dominant Defender in order to grab a QB? Last year the Miami Dolphins used seven of their eight Draft picks on Defensive players. We expect the ‘Fins to target players that can make an impact on Offense this time around. Read on for a complete breakdown of the Draft Needs for teams in the AFC East.
New England Patriots
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 17, R1 Pick 28, R2 Pick 1, R2 Pick 28, R3 Pick 10, R3 Pick 28, R4 Pick 28, R5 Pick 28, R6 Pick 28
Defensive End: Ty Warren is a rock solid starter for New England on the left side of the defensive line, but they could use a more fearsome pass-rusher off the edge to complement him, as well as added depth at the position. If they sufficiently address this need, look for the Patriots to improve upon the modest 36 sacks they registered in 2010. Cameron Jordan(Cal), Adrian Clayborn(Iowa), Cameron Heyward(Ohio State) or rising prospect Aldon Smith(Missouri) would all make excellent choices for one of New England's two first-round picks (No. 17 and 28).
Outside Linebacker: 2010 second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham has potential to develop into a dangerous rush linebacker in the near future for New England, and Rob Ninkovich took a step forward with four sacks and two interceptions last season –- but Tully Banta-Cain is on the decline and the club needs more consistent pass-rushers for their 3-4 defensive attack to build around Cunningham. Akeem Ayers(UCLA) would be a good fit as a first-round selection, as well as Ryan Kerrigan(Purdue) if he decides to move from defensive end to outside linebacker.
Offensive Line: Protecting Tom Brady is a top priority for the Pats, after all the team's success is pretty much contingent upon Brady taking the field. Long time tackle Matt Light is a Free Agent, as is Guard Logan Mankins. But New England placed their franchise tag on Mankins in hopes of signing him to a long term deal. If the Pats can't get a deal done with Light, they may choose to use one of their two First Round picks on a highly touted prospect like Boston College's Anthony Castonzo, who the team should be familiar with considering the proximity of BC and Foxboro. Another possibility is Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin) who was a four year starter at Left Tackle and anchored one of the best rushing attacks in College. Both Carimi and Castonzo could become instant starters in 2011. If the Patriots are confident they can work out a deal with Mankins and Light, they'll wait to pick up an O-Lineman in the later rounds and help develop his skills during their Rookie year instead of starting them from the get-go.
Running Back: BenJarvus Green-Ellis became the team's first 1,000 yard rusher since Corey Dillon accomplished the feat in 2004. BJGE also finished among the NFL's elite Running Backs by scoring 13 TDs. Danny Woodhead was added to the roster in September and contributed in both the rushing and passing attack. But the team could use a RB with Green-Ellis' power combined with Woodhead's speed and ability to catch. Someone that can play every down and therefore force Defenses to keep guessing about the upcoming play, would be a huge benefit to this efficient Offense. Kansas State's Daniel Thomasand Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray are two runners that fit the mold. Thomas is 6'1, 228 pounds, is tough to tackle and showed a natural ability to catch the ball while playing for K-State. Murray is 6'0, 214 pounds with good speed and the athleticism to be very dangerous when catching the ball out of the backfield (or in the slot-which he also did in College).
Wide Receiver: The Pats made two interesting moves with Wide Receivers in 2010. The first was trading away Randy Moss. The second was bringing Deion Branch back to the team after four seasons. Branch proved he could still be effective in the Pats' system but turns 32 in July and will be a Free Agent in 2012. Fellow veteran, Wes Welker, is one of the best possession receivers in the NFL but admittedly struggled at times during the past season because his knee wasn't 100%. At times, Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman both showed flashes of potential, but neither was very consistent since they didn't get the opportunities on game day to make a big time contributions. With Branch up for a new contract in a year and concerns surrounding Welker's knee, New England may try to find a new Offensive toy for Brady to play catch with. Maryland's Torrey Smith has blazing speed and is considered to be one of the best home-run threats in this year's class. Smith had a private workout with the Patriots and may help fill the void left by Randy Moss. Boise State's Titus Young is another big-play threat with shifty moves in the open field, making him an excellent pick if the team wants to relinquish Wes Welker from his punt return duties.
New York Jets
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 30, R3 Pick 30, R4 Pick 29, R5 Pick 30, R6 Pick 29, R7 Pick 5
Outside Linebacker: The Jets did not generate enough heat from the outside last season, and upgrading here is the top area of need heading into the Draft. They released Jason Taylor back in late February and Bryan Thomas will turn 32 in June. Calvin Pace is a solid starter when healthy, but he isn't NFL-young either at 30, and it is a good bet that New York will target a pass-rusher with their first-round pick at slot 30. Akeem Ayers should be among the best available prospects when they are on the clock.
Defensive End: Shaun Ellis is uncertain to return as a free agent and will turn 34 in June regardless, meaning the Jets need to get younger and stronger at the position. Mike DeVito did not break free for any sacks over 16 appearances (11 starts) in 2010 additionally. New York will likely target a pass-rusher with their top pick, either at outside linebacker or defensive end.
Safety: Brodney Pool held up fine in his first campaign with New York at free safety, but he is still not considered a reliable starter and is also uncertain to return as a free agent. The Jets lack stability at strong safety as well, especially with leader Jim Leonhard coming off a broken leg. Look for the team to add depth at the position in the later rounds of the Draft, with the hard-hitting Ahmad Black(Florida) among the better options available.
Wide Receiver: Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, and Brad Smith are all Free Agents, which leaves Jerricho Cotchery as the team's only Wide Receiver certain to be in a Green uniform come September. Holmes is a restricted FA but is on record saying he wants a long term deal and will hold out if he doesn't get one. The Jets will try to sign at least one from the bunch, but keeping all three will be difficult. Gang Green recently held private workouts with two interesting WR prospects, Kentucky's Randall Cobb and Edmund Gates(Abilene Christian). Cobb is considered one of the most versatile players in this year's Draft Class. In College he played Running Back, Kick Returner, and QB in Wild Cat formations in addition to his traditional role as Wide Receiver. He'd be a perfect fit to take over for Brad Smith if the team doesn't re-sign him. Smith was primarily used as the team's Special Teams weapon and Wild Cat QB, both are roles Cobb can excel in. Gates ran the fastest 40 yard dash (4.37 seconds) for WRs at the combine and is one of the true burners heading into April's Draft. His receiving skills are still very raw but his potential is enormous. Plus Gates could develop into an excellent return guy. Considering the unknowns associated with their Free Agents, it's very likely the Jets will grab one of these guys in the early rounds.
Offensive Line: The Jets gave Center Nick Mangold a big contract extension last season and the team couldn't be happier with D'Brickshaw Ferguson and Brandon Moore, but there are concerns at right tackle. Damien Woody will enter his 13th season in the NFL and though he's still capable of opening holes and holding off the pass rush, he missed five games due to injury in 2010. Replacing Woody, or at least acquiring his eventual successor, would be a shrewd move by GM Mike Tannenbaum. However, drafting an O-Tackle in the late First Round is doubtful, so the Jets will look to use one of their Mid-Round selections on a player like DeMarcus Love from Arkansas or Marcus Gilbert (Florida). Both Love and Gilbert have the potential to develop into a dominant run blockers and since the Jets are a “Ground and Pound” Offense, either prospect would be a good fit.
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 15, R3 Pick 15, R4 Pick 14, R5 Pick 15, R6 Pick 14, R7 Pick 14, R7 Pick 15, R7 Pick 32
Linebacker: The Dolphins are in good shape on defense, but could use more depth at linebacker, namely when you consider that Channing Crowder has a poor track record with durability. A pass-rusher to complement Cameron Wake would be a plus too, especially since the linebackers are bbmeant to be blitz-happy in Mike Nolan's aggressive 3-4 defense. Miami should invest in their offense with the early picks, and will likely target a linebacker at some point in the later rounds. Nate Irving is among the prospects that would be a good fit, as he has a great motor with a knack for timing blitzes, which led to seven sacks as a senior at North Carolina State.
Running Back: Once upon a time the Dolphins Wildcat Offense, led by Ronnie Brown, was feared by opposing Defenses. But now the gimmick is up and Defenses are starting to tame the Wildcat. In addition, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are both Free Agents and rapidly wearing down. Combine these two facts and it becomes clear why most Draft Pundits predict the ‘Fins will take Alabama Running Back Mark Ingram with the 15th overall selection. Instead of relying solely on blazing speed, Ingram uses his powerful lower body and excellent vision to run over or past Defenders. He'll likely be the first Running Back drafted in this year's class, but since most of the teams drafting before Miami aren't in need of a rusher, he should be available when the Dolphins are on the clock in the First Round.
Quarterback: In his first full year as the team's starter, Chad Henne, was a major disappointment, especially since the Dolphins brought in superstar Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall. Miami was one of the lowest scoring teams in the AFC and barely averaged 320 yards of Offense per week. But should the team's Offensive woes be placed directly on Henne's shoulders? That is something the team will have to decide before heading into April's Draft. If they believe in Henne, a Quarterback won't be drafted until the later rounds. But if the ‘Fins have no faith in the former Michigan star, than the team could look to replace him with an early round prospect. Problem is, the Dolphins don't have a 2nd Round pick (traded to Denver in Brandon Marshall trade). No way Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton are still on the board when the Dolphins are on the clock with Pick 15. Ryan Mallet, Colin Kaepernick, and Andy Daltonwould be a major reach at 15, leaving the Dolphins in a serious predicament. Miami may have to wait until the 3rd Round to grab a QB, which means passers like Christian Ponder(Florida State), Pat Delvin (Delaware), or Greg McElroy(Alabama) may be there only realistic options.
Offensive Line: Like we mentioned above, we aren't sure if the Dolphins' inability to move the football should be blamed entirely on Henne. Their Running Backs struggled and the Offensive Line didn't open many holes or hold off pass rushers. Left Tackle, Jake Long, is the only franchise lineman on this squad. Miami will look to draft a Left or Right tackle (perhaps one of each) in order to solidify this shaky unit. Some mid-round Guard selections include Georgia's Clint Boling, Michigan's Stephen Schilling, and Fresno State's Andrew Jackson.
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 3, R2 Pick 2, R3 Pick 4, R4 Pick 3, R4 Pick 25, R5 Pick 2, R6 Pick 4, R7 Pick 3, R7 Pick 42
Outside Linebacker: It is time to turn the page on 2009 first-round bust Aaron Maybin, who is yet to record a sack over his first two years in Buffalo. 2010 sixth-round selection Arthur Moats flashed some potential as a rookie with 2.5 sacks, but can't be counted on to consistently bring the heat for next season, and former intimidator Shawne Merriman remains a big question mark as well after failing to make an appearance with the club since being cut loose by San Diego. The Bills ranked close to the cellar of the NFL with a measly 27 sacks last season, and it is clear that they need to add pass rushers at outside linebacker who can also handle a full role in their 3-4 defense. The versatile Von Miller(Texas A&M) will be a tempting prospect at pick No. 3, but they should be able to find quality in the later rounds to provide some relief to their woes, as this is one of the deepest positions in the Draft.
Defensive End: The Bills have a rising star in Kyle Williams at nose tackle, but the defensive end position is a mess, and it is no surprise that they surrendered an NFL-worst 169 rushing yards per battle in 2010. While former Raven Dwan Edwards was certainly an upgrade, he still suffered through bouts of inconsistency and was not considered an impact starter. The Bills need to target a prospect that can effectively hold up against the run and the pass, and most importantly occupy blockers so the linebackers can make plays. Da'Quan Bowers(Clemson) would likely have been in consideration for Buffalo's top pick if not for concerns regarding his surgically-repaired knee, and the Bills will most likely address this need a round or two later in the Draft unless they are high on Robert Quinn(North Carolina) or decide to trade down.
Inside Linebacker: Paul Posluszny is an elite pro and the leader of Buffalo's defense, but is not a lock to return as a restricted free agent. And there is no stability at the other inside spot between outcast vets Andra Davis and Akin Ayodele. As mentioned earlier, the Bills' run defense is dreadful, and the club needs to bring in capable reinforcements, otherwise it will be another weekly train wreck in 2011. Mason Foster(Washington) is the best prospect at the position against the inside run, and may still be available when Buffalo is on the clock in the second round.
Quarterback: With the #3 overall selection the Bills should have the chance to draft either Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert (basically whichever player the Panthers don't take with the 1st pick). But we are pretty confident the Bills will look to add a pass rusher, namely Von Miller, with the 3rd pick. Plus we aren't convinced the team lacks faith in Ryan Fitzpatrick to run their Offense for the long-term. If the Bills draft Newton or Gabbert at #3, they'll feel pressure to start him out of the gate, instead of giving them time to adjust to the NFL. But if they wait until one of the middle rounds to draft a QB, they can put Fitzpatrick under center and allow Head Coach Chan Gailey to groom his young passer for the future. There is a good possibility TCU's Andy Dalton and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick fall to the 2nd or 3rd Round. Even Washington's Jake Locker may be available for the Bills to snatch off the board in the 2nd Round. All three of these passers will need a year or two to get adjusted to the NFL, but have the skill sets to develop into a quality Quarterback if given some time to polish their skills.
Offensive Line: Now that we established the Bills are either taking a Defensive Tackle, Linebacker, or Quarterback with the 3rd overall pick, we can shift our focus to the later rounds, where Buffalo will look to bolster their Offensive Line with a quality Right Tackle. Buffalo fans can forget about the big name guys like Anthony Castonzo (B.C) , Nate Solder (Colorado) , or Tyron Smith(USC). But with the second pick in the 2nd Round, the Bills may have a chance to grab Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod or Alabama's James Carpenter.