(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.
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.
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.