Who Came out on Top in the AFC East During the Draft?
With the NFL draft in the rear view, now is a time for reflection on each team in the AFC East’s individual class. While it may be too early to give a full-on grade and assessment, we can see how each team did in terms of filling needs while also finding value with each pick.
Today, we’re taking a closer look at the AFC East to see how all four teams came out of the weekend.
The Bills went into the offseason with a glaring need at wide receiver if they want to compete in the AFC East. They filled it with the acquisition of Stefon Diggs. Diggs’ arrival came at a price, however, as Buffalo gave up a package of picks including this year’s first round pick.
Day 2 is when the Bills joined the action of the draft. At pick No. 54, they got great value in Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa. Epenesa was a likely first round pick that fell due to a subpar showing at the combine, but he’ll join a superb defensive front for Buffalo and play a role this season in rushing the quarterback. In the next round, they targeted Utah RB Zack Moss. Moss is an ideal back to complement Devin Singletary in the backfield and had some second round grades on him.
On day 3, improving offensive depth became the primary focus. They added another weapon for Josh Allen in round four with UCF WR Gabriel Davis, who has good size with an ability to snag balls downfield. Their next pick was a little puzzling, as Buffalo took Georgi QB Jake Fromm. Even though they already have Allen in place behind center, Fromm being available at No. 167 was too enticing to pass on. With their final three picks, the Bills selected Georgia Southern K Tyler Bass, Oregon State WR Isaiah Hodgins, and Pittsburgh CB Dane Jackson.
If you had to critique the Bills somewhere, it’s probably in getting guys like Fromm and Bass who don’t meet a need. But as a whole, Buffalo really emphasized getting the most out of each selection, with nearly all their picks comprised of guys who were projected to be earlier selection than where they went. In the case, the Bills had a very decent draft.
It was clear from the beginning that no team in football was going to dictate how this draft went more than the Dolphins. With 14 picks heading into the draft, including three in round one, Miami selected their next franchise quarterback. The AFC East will welcome in Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa was in play to be the first overall pick before a hip injury cut his season short, but Miami won’t complain about getting him at No. 5. Miami’s next order of business was getting Tua some protection, and they did so in the form of USC OT Austin Jackson, who should be a day one starter.
Finally, the Dolphins traded down from No. 26 to 30 and took the Auburn CB Noah Igbinoghene, who projects as their starting nickel cornerback.
The Dolphins continued to add more starting-caliber talent on day 2. They got arguably the best guard in the draft in Louisiana’s Robert Hunt, but plan on moving him to right tackle opposite Jackson.
Their other round two selection was Alabama DT Raekwon Davis, who will fight to be the starting nose tackle in their 3-4 defense. Then in round three, Miami went back to addressing the secondary, this time in the form of Texas S Brandon Jones. Jones is another pick who’s tough, physical, and who can compete for reps right away.
More work was done along the lines on the draft’s final day. Round four saw the pick of Georgia OG Solomon Kindley, who will provide more depth. The next round, Miami went back-to-back pass rushers whom they drafted at a solid value; UNC DE Jason Strowbridge and Boise State EDGE Curtis Weaver. Weaver in particular was a sack machine in college and was projected to go far higher than No. 164. After taking LSU LS Blake Ferguson, the Dolphins closed their draft with Navy RB Malcolm Perry.
Just because you have a lot of picks doesn’t automatically mean you have a great draft. But Miami did a great job in addressing critical needs on the offensive line and all over the defense, while getting high-end talent at those positions. It was a very good draft by the rebuilding Dolphins.
New England Patriots
The “King” of the AFC East, New England Patriots have some holes to fill. They are now without Tom Brady under center, were thought of by many to look strongly at quarterback early on. Instead, they traded their No. 23 selection and moved down into the second round, trying to gain some draft capital especially in the mid-rounds.
On Day 2, New England’s first pick came from a small school, as they selected Lenoir-Rhyne S Kyle Dugger. Dugger gives the Pats some youth at the safety position and seems well-adjusted enough to start making an impact right away. With their second pick of the round, they found some pass-rushing help in Michigan EDGE Josh Uche.
The following round, the Patriots once again targeted edge rusher, this time Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings. Shortly after, we saw a little bit of a surprise move, as New England took UCLA TE Devin Asiasi, followed 10 picks later by Virginia Tech TE Dalton Keene. It makes sense given the team’s affinity for having multiple tight ends on the field, but there some better ones still available according to some draft experts.
On Saturday, the surprises continued, as the Patriots made Marshall K Justin Rohrwasser the first specialist to be taken during the draft. Following the kicker selection, New England added some depth along the offensive line with Michigan OG Mike Onwenu and Wake Forest OL Justin Herron before adding Wyoming LB Cassh Maluia near the end of the sixth round. The Pats wrapped up their draft with Memphis center Dustin Woodard.
Overall, the Patriots got a couple of solid defensive players early as well as a pair of tight ends in an effort to give weapons to QB Jarrett Stidham. However, not taking a quarterback or a wide receiver, their two biggest needs, as well as reaching on some picks like Rohrwasser, makes New England’s draft look a little bit like a head-scratcher.
New York Jets
The Jets went in with two clear needs; buffing up the offensive line and finding a strong wide receiver for Sam Darnold. They opted for the o-line in the first round, taking Louisville OT Mekhi Becton at No. 11. Becton is a physical specimen, and will be an imposing force at either tackle position for New York for the foreseeable future.
During day 2, the Jets made a curious move to trade back in the second round, even though there were a number of wide receivers on the board. But even though they moved down to No. 59, they were able to draft Baylor WR Denzel Mims. Mims was someone who could’ve gone in the first round, so getting him near the second round was great value. Then in the third round, they got an intriguing boom-or-bust prospect in Cal S Ashtyn Davis, followed by the Florida EDGE Jabari Zuniga.
For the draft’s final day, New York went back to offense, tabbing Florida RB La’Mical Perine and FIU QB James Morgan. Both are expected to make the roster as backups. They made one more fourth round pick in Charlotte OG Cameron Clark, who joins Becton as someone tasked with improving the offensive line. To wrap up their class, the Jets went with Virginia CB Bryce Hall and Texas A&M P Braden Mann.
As a whole, the Jets nailed their first two picks in terms of both value and need. To compete in the AFC East they will need both Becton and Mims starting right away. There are some picks that were reaches, but overall draft experts felt that the Jets came out of the draft as winners.
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