2011 Draft: AFC East

| May 7, 2011

(Previously posted: NFC North, NFC South, NFC West, NFC East, AFC North, AFC South)
 
If there is a team that proved what a good draft can do for you, it was the Patriots in 2010. With one of the youngest teams in the league, they went 14-2 in no small part due to outstanding play from rookies like Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, and Brandon Spikes.
 
All of the teams in the AFC East will be hoping that their 2011 draft class has as many productive players as the New England’s did in 2010. If they do, it will go a long way to boosting their team’s prospects in the upcoming season.
 
Let’s take a look at how each draft pick figures to factor into their team’s roster.
 
 

Buffalo Bills

Round 1: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Given the futility of the Bills run defense, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bills plan to start Dareus from day one. Outside of Kyle Williams, the Bills defensive line was easily handled up front and teams rushed on them at will. If the Bills do plan to play him immediately, it should be interesting to see how the Bills handle Dareus who could play any of the three spots in Buddy Nix’s 3-4.

Round 2: Aaron Williams, DB, Texas
Drayton Florence and Donte Whitner are both free agents, so the selection of a defensive back that was a college corner but has the size (6’ 205 lbs) to play safety makes a lot of sense. The Bills have expressed interest in bringing back Florence (-10.7) but believe that he is better in sub-packages then as a starter. The Bills will be hoping Williams plays well enough to start opposite Leodis McKelvin, pushing Florence to his better-suited role as nickel corner.

Round 3: Kelvin Sheppard, LB, LSU
Ranking dead last against the run is not a badge of honor. The Bills hope the addition of a bruising (6’2” 250 lbs) Kelvin Sheppard will be a great asset in improving their run defense which had more holes than swiss cheese. The Bills especially needed to address the position as Akin Ayodele (+4.3) is a free agent not expected to return.

Round 4: Da’Norris Searcy, DB, North Carolina
The selection of Da’Norris Searcy has been speculated to be a sign that Donte Whitner will not be returning to the Buffalo Bills. The Bills are expected to let George Wilson play as the strong safety, with Bryan Scott now having to fight with the rookie Searcy for the third spot on the depth chart.

Round 5: Chris Hairston, OL, Clemson
The revolving door that was right tackle position for the Bills in 2010 – Mansfield Wrotto, Cornell Green, Cord Howard, and Eric Pears all played at least 50 snaps at right tackle – now has a new applicant to join the rotation. Chris Hairston will most likely compete for the starting job with Erik Pears who played reasonably well to close out the 2010 season.

Round 5: Johnny White, RB, North Carolina
Despite watching Fred Jackson play really well in the 2010 season, seeing Marshawn Lynch carry (literally) the Seahawks to a playoff victory had to be painful for Bills fans. The selection of Johnny White seems to be one to fill the role left when Lynch was traded to the Seahawks. It won’t be easy for White to get significant carries with Jackson and C.J. Spiller ahead of him, but as long as White can keep himself away from off-the-field troubles the Bills won’t have to worry about shipping him across the three time zones a few years down the road.

Round 6: Chris White, LB, Mississippi St.
Adding Chris White late in the draft is another move that adds depth to a position that faltered during the 2010 season. As is true with all late round picks, however, even if White isn’t used right away as a linebacker he better get used to two words: “Special Teams”.

Round 7: Justin Rodgers, DB, Richmond
Justin Rodgers will have to fight to make the team, but fortunately he might be able to find a role somewhere on special teams. It may be possible that the Bills envision him as a potential future starter, but barring injury, Rodgers would probably remain low on the cornerback depth chart.

Round 7: Michael Jasper, DT, Bethel (TN)
When you have one last pick to make, why not take somebody who fans will be interested in seeing? That’s exactly what the Bills did by selecting Michael Jasper (6’4” 394 lbs) who instantly challenges for the NFL Heaviest Man Award (rumor is that in lieu of a trophy they just take them to a buffet.)
 

New England Patriots

Round 1: Nate Solder, OL, Colorado
With Matt Light as an unrestricted free agent, the pick of Solder in the first round could be an indication that Light won’t be retiring as a Patriot. It seems New England plans on pairing Solder opposite Vollmer, making them the tallest tackle combo in the league at 6’9” and 6’10”, respectively. With Vollmer having success on both the left and right side of the line, it seems the only remaining question is who will play which side? If you want to trust the words of Belichick, Solder will be lining up on the left side.

Round 2: Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
One thing’s for certain, if Ras-I Dowling can play as well as Devin McCourty did in his rookie season, then maybe avoiding drafting a pass rusher won’t turn out to be such a bad move after all. Since that seems highly unlikely, expect to see Dowling play a similar role to that of Kyle Wilson for the Jets in 2010. He will probably be the third corner behind McCourty and Leigh Bodden who is returning from injury … unless Belichick feels Dowling’s size makes him a good fit to play some snaps at safety where the Patriots were downright anemic last year.

Round 2: Shane Vereen, RB, California
The selection of Vereen virtually assures that Kevin Faulk will not be returning for his 14th year in a Patriots uniform. The addition of Vereen to a backfield that includes Danny Woodhead suggests the third-down running back role that Faulk filled for over a decade is no longer requiring his services.

Round 3: Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU
If the addition of Vereen spells the end for Faulk, the same could be said about free agent Sammy Morris after the addition of Ridley. During the 2010 season, Morris played primarily as a fullback (100 of 146 snaps) and received his carries in short-yardage situations. The Patriots most likely envision the 5’11” 225 lb Ridley more than capable of filling Morris’ role.

Round 3: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
The selection of Mallett could spell the same demise for Brady … I’m just kidding! In the NFL it’s never too soon to begin grooming a quarterback. The big loser in all of this might be Brian Hoyer who has spent the past two years behind the future Hall-of-Famer. His hopes of being the next Matt Cassel are somewhat dimmer now that he may move to third on the quarterback depth chart.

Round 5: Marcus Cannon, OL, TCU
While most prospects were getting ready for the draft, Marcus Cannon was dealing with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Though his overall prognosis is good, whether the Patriots will be able to use the mammoth Cannon (6’5” 358 lbs) this year to help replace the retiring Stephen Neal is unknown.

Round 5: Lee Smith, TE, Marshall
After the immediate success of two rookie tight ends in 2010 (Gronkowski: +12.5, Hernandez: +4.1), who can blame the Patriots for picking up another tight end? It will be an uphill battle for Smith to see significant playing time as he has three proven commodities ahead of him.

Round 6: Markell Carter, LB, Central Arkansas
What was their biggest deficiency in 2010 – pass rush – went completely neglected until the selection of Markell Carter in the sixth round. If Carter, out of Division II Central Arkansas, has been brought in as a pass-rush specialist, it will be interesting to see who he will be filling in for as each of the Patriots outside linebackers were unable to generate consistent pressure.

Round 7: Malcolm Williams, DB, TCU
Malcolm Williams didn’t start a game at TCU. After listening to his post-draft conference call, Williams was absolutely speechless that he had been drafted. For that reason I am speechless to guess even what position he will play, never mind who will be impacted on the Patriots roster. Williams is a safe bet to play special teams … if he makes the team.
 

New York Jets

Round 1: Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple
The failure of Vernon Gholston didn’t scare the Jets away from taking another defensive lineman in the first round. With Shaun Ellis, 34, and Trevor Pryce, 35, both being free agents and on the final stretch of their careers, Wilkerson looks to factor in to Rex Ryan’s defense this year. Even if Ellis is signed back to a short deal, Wilkerson will probably be slotted to fill in for the 512 snaps played by Pryce and Gholston in the 2010 season.

Round 3: Kenrick Ellis, DL, Hampton
With a second consecutive pick addressing the defensive line, it becomes obvious why Rex Ryan’s defense will always have depth. Despite incredible play from Sione Pouha in the 2010 season (+15.8), the massive Ellis (6’5” 346 lbs) is selected as a potential rotational player with Pouha.

Round 4: Bilal Powell, RB, Louisville
With the pick of Bilal Powell, the Jets are obviously continuing to focus on what has made them so successful in the past two years: a great defense and a powerful running game. After being picked in the same round as RB Joe McKnight in 2010, it will be quite the battle between them for the third spot behind LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene.

Round 5: Jeremy Kerley, WR, TCU
Since both Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes are free agents, the Jets wide receiver position could potentially lose over 75% of its receiving yards and more than 85% of its receiving touchdowns. Given it will be difficult for the Jets to bring both receivers back, it is not surprising to see them add a receiver as insurance against losing both.

Round 7: Greg McElroy, QB, Alabama
It’s probably time for free agent QB Kellen Clemens to start packing his stuff, as the pick of Greg McElroy has virtually sealed his fate with the Jets. 40-year-old Mark Brunell will probably be slotted as the second quarterback on the depth chart but it shouldn’t take long for McElroy’s name to be in that spot.

Round 7: Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado
With their final pick in the draft, the Jets elect to get some more insurance for Edwards/Holmes free agency situation. And if you are going to get some insurance, you might as well get insurance that is athletic enough to at least play some special teams for you.
 

Miami Dolphins

Round 1: Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida
Outside of Richie Incognito (+6.5), none of the Dolphins interior lineman had a good year. The Dolphins hope to have found a solution to that problem with the selection of Mike Pouncey. The only question is what spot will they have him play? Incognito played better as a guard than as a center, so it ultimately comes down to whether Pouncey will compete with Joe Berger or John Jerry.

Round 2: Daniel Thomas, RB, Michigan State
Both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are free agents, so the selection of a Daniel Thomas early wasn’t a shocker. The Dolphins are expected to try and resign Brown, but ultimately the question has to be asked if Brown is one too many injuries away from producing at levels like he did in the past. In 2010 Brown finished third to last in average yards after contact (100+ rushing attempts). The Dolphins hope the addition of the bigger Thomas (6’ 230 lbs) will result in a rushing attack that finishes better than 21st in the league like it did last year.

Round 4: Edmond Gates, WR, Abilene Christian
Let’s just assume that Brandon Marshall will be okay for the season opener, whenever that happens to be. The Dolphins receiving corps has a number of good to great players in Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, and Brandon Marshall. What each of those players lacked, however, is game-breaking ability. Tony Sparano might finally have that with Gates who ran the fastest receiver 40-time at the combine in 4.37 seconds.

Round 6: Charles Clay, TE, Tulsa
Anthony Fasano is one of the more complete tight ends in the NFL, equally adept at catching and blocking. What the Dolphins could use, however, is a player they hope Charles Clay turns out to be – a receiving-focused tight end that can exploit matchups against linebackers. Despite how complete Fasano’s game is, he would benefit immensely if Clay turns out to be the weapon they hope he is.

Round 7: Frank Kearse, DT, Alabama A&M
It will be a tough slog if Frank Kearse wants to make the team. Given that his 6’4” 315 lb frame will probably prevent him from playing special teams, he will have to try and work his way up a pretty deep Dolphins defensive line including Paul Soliai (+17.7) who was signed to a one-year deal after an great 2010 season.

Round 7: Jimmy Wilson, DB, Montana
With two outstanding young corners in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, Wilson would be competing for the nickel or dime corner spot with Benny Sapp (-1.3) and Tyrone Culver (-4.4). If he is unable to beat either of those two out, his only hope of remaining on the roster is contributing on special teams.
 
 

  • thadjw

    Great stuff and very interesting to read and digest. Been turning more friends onto this site. I’m a Pats fan and this data is very interesting to consider. How many of these guys will even make the roster for the Patriots? They have drafted many good players over the last few years. How many spots will even be open? I am unfamiliar with the key details of this aspect of football manpower management but the recent, excellent Peter King article seemed to say that any other pick besides Mallett was unlikely to make the team so Mallett as a (often carried by NFL teams) 3rd QB was a good draftee for that reason as well?

    Other thoughts that interest me and may interest you (I hope and great stuff like I said before)… How much is the hard cap a key to things right now (if it’s back and it will be back relatively soon enough so that team’s should strategize for this)? I’ll form this idea around three questions 1) If the Pats were inclined to get an OLB like Manny Lawson then what is the hit at the likely market price for him vs the hit to the cap of a trade-up for a Quinn at #14? 2) Is there any key aspect to the two players that would push a team one way or the other depending on how rookie contracts are bad or good for teams vs veteran contracts? i.e. – Is it a straight up difference in money or is contract type a factor? 3) If the team is running out of slots for the team and is always conscious of the potential cap implications then is there any way to tell a guy like Stevan Ridley that the picked him knowing he was a 5th or 6th round guy because they needed that position and that they’d like to pay 5th/6th round money? i.e.- Can you pick a guy high because he is also at the right salary for exactly what you want or do you basically have to pay a round comparable price? It is brilliant to be thinking of cap and budget with a 3rd rounder but only if that is even possible.

    Not sure how Practice squad players are carried and 45 and 53 man rosters etc.

    It seems to me that NFL GMs will be well served using this type of data going forward. MIT Sports Analytics Conference had over half the NBA teams represented. Is there some excitement for this type of data in the NFL and I imagine so? Do they claim it is too subjective and if so then how does your site answer this question.

    Thanks again and I support the site. If I would like to get a Patriots membership then please say a word or two on how people like me would most like to look through the data? What is the best thing about it for non-professional readers? If I subscribe now will I get to see 2011-2012 data too or just backwards? Thanks, TJ

    Oh and one last question for the non-Patriot fans here… Is Pouncey really likely to be as good as his brother? Like Gil Brandt said on NFL radio… There’s a reason he didn’t leave last year like his brother… He was considered to be a later round prospect (and that basic aspect of talent has not necessarily changed).

  • thadjw

    And please go with this as I reply to your interesting reply to a previous post on the team need piece you wrote a little while back:

    -Hear you on Dowling… It would be awesome if he paid off anything close to a McCourty type level. Did your close examination of McCourty really reveal that he is that great or is he talked up a little extra because of the pure stat of the INT number, some of which are lucky for any player and are often hard to repeat?

    -I give your Help Wanted Patriot article props because you said safety when very few (read as zero) draft experts said safety was a possible need area for Pats… And Dowling is a possible safety type guy as well as a CB. Maybe Belichick felt the same way and is thinking that way is a possibility for Dowling. Maybe he’s a reader too!

    -Yes, CB is big for pass first NFL but pass rush is too and I’m concerned there for the Pats.

    -Interesting perspective on the DE spot and the change over Quinn would be asked to make in a 3-4. I will bring up the info in the article on PFF recently talking about Mario Williams. This article mentioned that Tamba Hali only had to drop into coverage about 12% of the time as OLB. Quinn could be used in a similar fashion as well perhaps yes? Or is their scheme quite different (it is Romeo Crennel though)?

    -I am happy with the Pats and the pick stockpiling. An extra 2nd rounder (for the 1st they hold onto) into infinity is fine with me. I just feel they could have gotten more out of this year. It looks like they pick Dowling a little high, it looks like Vereen and Ridley were a bit high, they got no pass rush, and they traded for the Saints future first rather than another team’s (BB should’ve throw in another 2nd or 3rd from his side next year in order to induce crummy, potential-Andrew-Luck-holding-2012-pick teams into trading up with him). Peter King’s article gave specifics on teams wanting to deal for their picks and there was a particular market for QB needy teams this year.

    In terms of trading up/trading down, the question is a good one. I think people have become inpatient with the Patriots since it seems they never cash in on their stockpile of picks. Ultimately, you only trade up if you believe “YOUR GUY” is there at the right cost…the Patriots obviously didn’t think Quinn was that.

  • Rodney Hart

    (Sorry for the delay in response, I will try and make up for it with a researched answer…)
    I do agree that they have had a lot of picks over the past few years and an extremely successful 2010 draft, but with all do respect to Peter King, I would be shocked if picks Solder through Cannon didn’t make the roster in one fashion or another (i.e. Cannon will probably be an IR or Practice Squad player due to his illness). I do agree with King in a sense, however, that it makes sense to not load up your team with 1st and 2nd round picks as ultimately only so many guys can play and it may be more valuable to consistently trade up those picks and cash in when the right guys are there. …it’s just that the draft is an entity unto itself and after months of not having football, fans can be caught up in the hype that makes the first round feel like the only round that counts (when that certainly isn’t the case).

    Salary Cap Scenarios (Great questions, had to do some research to get you a good answer on this one):

    1. Let’s first take a guess at what it would have cost against the cap to take Quinn at #14: Brandon Graham, DE for the Eagles was taken at #13 in last years draft and was signed to a 6-year contract. After doing the math and some rough numbers, if he finishes his contract he will average as a $3.02 million dollar cap hit each year. In 2009 the cap was $123 million, so using that number a #13 pick is roughly 3% of your cap a year.

    It’s hard for me to speculate what Manny Lawson might be paid as a free agent, but for comparison purposes let’s look at two linebackers who were free agents last year: Karlos Dansby and Joey Porter. Karlos Dansby will be an average of $11.8 million cap hit if he plays out his whole 5-year contract (more heavily loaded at the end of the contract). If Joey Porter plays out his whole 3-year contract then he will be an average of $7.1 million cap hit…but a lot less of his money is guaranteed.

    So in terms of money/cap hit, I would say that assuming Quinn is not a bust he would be better value than a free agent. This makes sense given rookies are unproven commodities, so the more risk involved translates to a more affordable contract.

    2. I get where you are going with the Stevan Ridley argument…but I would like to hear the conversation between the Patriots and Ridley’s agent if they were to say, “Wellll, even though we took you in the 3rd round, we really think you are a 5th-6th round pick so that’s how we want to pay you.” Ultimately, they probably have a certain plan to use him making the 3rd round pick worth their while despite what other prognosticators said. The truth is (after running some numbers on draft picks from 2010), the difference from a 3rd and 5th round pick was about 100k against the cap a year…obviously not an overwhelming difference.

    In terms of NFL GMs, depending on how much work they do on their own, I absolutely feel that this site offers data that would be valuable to them. PFF is less concerned with applying complicated formulas to standard statistics to come up with something “innovative”, but rather doing incredibly hard work to watch every game, every player, and every play to give the most accurate picture of players and teams in the NFL. There is a reason that PFF is the only place to get certain statistics like snap counts, because PFF is the only team that is dedicated to doing it and it is not easy work. I am working on draft analysis using PFF data now and I think (somewhat biased because I am a draft-guy) some of the findings will be fascinating.

    For non-professional readers (and this is in just my opinion), PFF is the best source to understand what is happening across the league on teams that you may not have a chance to follow as often. For example, Patriots about to play the Bills? Wow, Kyle Williams (who maybe you have previously never heard of) seems to be playing incredibly well for the Bills..let’s see how the Patriots decide to deal with him. Or right now in free agency, who played well last year that maybe isn’t really getting talked about.

    PFF gives you information that is way beyond basic statistics; it provides context for them.

    If you want to get a good idea of what the statistics look like, I believe that you can get a free subscription to the 2008 data which would let you really explore it before signing up. I promise, it’s worth it.

    • thadjw

      Good stuff. Excellent stuff on the cap numbers. I guess that they could quickly talk to Ridley and his agent in the short time before they pick him to talk money but agree this cap hit is not huge anyway. It does seem odd that Belichick did take a 5th/6th rounder with a high 3rd but oh well… Maybe he will be just what they need for tough yardage inside.

      In your cursory analysis do you think Pouncey (of this year) will be as good as his brother? Some twins perform differently.

      I really enjoy the draft as well. I really think the Patriots should have traded up for at least one possible impact rusher. Watching game tapes on DVR it seems like the OLB corps really could be better. Cameron Jordan is mobile enough to play DE too. He should have got a look. He could even fake a rush and drop into coverage on zone blitz schemes and the Pats could generate legit pass rush!

      Love the site. I’ll purchase the Patriots membership when the new season starts. I’ll keep looking for your excellent articles.

      One other question… What’s te eat way to get footage of saaaay Jim Leonhart and game tape one can judge his performance from? Do you guys get coaches tapes that show secondary? Or is the TV footage good enough. Have a great one, TJ

      • Rodney Hart

        On the Ridley pick, I think that as we agree the money difference isn’t that huge, but even after a phone call I just don’t think that his agent would be able to keep his job if he was to agree to take less money since ultimately what if another team wanted him in the 3rd round? Sometimes I think you just have to throw out the prognosticators grades on players in the draft; say a guy is a 5th-6th round grade as an overall running back but excels as a short-yardage back. On a team that is only going to ask him to do what he is really good at, he becomes a better option than a guy who might be a better overall graded back (i.e. he can catch, break some long runs, has decent power) but isn’t better at anything than the guys already on your roster. Cause you have piqued my interest, once he signs with the Patriots I’ll take a look at his roster numbers and see if they are closer to running backs in the 3rd round or 5th round.

        On Pouncey (older), PFF isn’t quite as effusive in their praise of him as everyone else is. He played okay, but we had him as the 18th rated center overall on the season. He gave up 3 sacks, 4 QB hits, and 17 QB pressures, all of which were in the bottom 5 of centers who at least played 950 snaps. He was hot and cold..a number of really good games and some others where he really struggled. He is definitely a guy that has developed a certain reputation, that if you don’t watch Pittsburgh regularly you might think he is the greatest center to ever play.

        Pouncey (younger) definitely seems to have similar athletic ability of his older brother, so unless he flat out stinks I wouldn’t be surprised if he develops the same reputation of his older brother as it would be as interesting a story as there is for offensive lineman. Even if he is talked about in the same breath of his brother, be sure to check PFF as we have the best source of offensive lineman information.

        I agree, the Patriots certainly could use some help on the pass rush but I am not confident that Cameron Jordan is the guy for that. I am not doubting his talent, but I just think that his strength is as a 3-4 end and not OLB. I wouldn’t close the book on Jermaine Cunningham, PFF had him rated as the 13th best 3-4 OLB mainly on the strength of good play against the run but also showed some signs as a pass rusher.

        With the $90 PFF membership you get a full calendar year of PFF’s statistics for all teams. If you start today you’ll get access to everything PFF has to offer (including previous years) and all of next year given that you’ll have it for an entire year. Check out the details here.

        We don’t actually have coaches tape to review games, but TV tape can get the job done for the most part. A great place is NFL Gamerewind where you can re-watch all games.

        • thadjw

          I’m not closing the book on Cunningham! I really like him. I hope he continues to get better and hope he gets some pressure on the QB! Is he good in coverage too?

          I just think it’s like Bill Cowher said on NFL radio the other day… It’s his choice to have two great rushers rather than four great CBs! We need some attack like we used to have early this decade. We could have even gotten Quinn, Fairley, AND Jordan with the way they fell and the picks we had. We need DE and OLB rush and you convinced me that it’s worth the risk at these prices vs free agents available. And we should have traded with any other team besides the Saints for a next year 1st. A little upset with the Pats draft!

          Again awesome stuff. I’m becoming a member and I call in to NFL radio where I have mentioned your site. The best thing that sets you apart in my eyes is the objective OL analysis and the intelligent new-take-on-things grist you deliver for our consideration. Keep it up and Patriots always is great to see! Lots of fans!! TW

          • thadjw

            Oh and one quick thing- Your answers have been awesome but I want to challenge you on one thing- I think you are saying Maurkice is older… That is part of my previous question bc I think they are twins and that Maurkice graded higher after LAST college season so he entered the draft. mike was graded as a second rounder by guys like Gil Brandt so he stayed. Now his brothers performance is going to get him some cash but he is not as talented it seems!?