Over the next few weeks I will look at ways teams may address their needs through the draft. These draft picks obviously will produce their own stats, but look for them to increase or decrease the stats of their new teammates. For the first installment I will be taking a look at the AFC East. Most of these teams lack playmakers on the defensive side of the ball so look for these teams to address those needs in the early rounds of the draft.
Buffalo Bills: In the early portions of last year, the Bills offense exploded to become one of the more potent attacks in the league. Then, of course, Fred Jackson went down with an injury. This took away the Bills best weapon and the offense suffered tremendously because of it. His injury allowed defenses to focus on Ryan Fitzpatrick and he suddenly looked normal again. With Jackson back in the fold, the Bills will expect a return to their high scoring ways next season.
The defense of course is another story. They ranked 26th in the league in terms of yards allowed and we had them as the 27th best defense in the league. Obviously improvements need to be made and the Bills have decided to switch their defensive formation to a 4-3. Overall the Bills had a -20.7 rating but their real problems occurred with the pass rush where they had the seventh worst grade in the league at -13.2. Aside from Marcel Dareus, the only defensive player currently on the roster who played significant snaps and accrued a positive rating in the pass rush was Chris Kelsay with a +3.2. Clearly Shawne Merriman proved not to be the answer either with his inability to stay healthy. The Bills should address this need through the draft.
Picking No. 10 should afford the Bills some opportunities to address their pass rushing concerns. Quinton Coples is considered the top pass rushing prospect in this year’s draft and would fit perfectly with the Bills 4-3 system. While he is not a Julius Peppers type of prospect, he certainly has the ability to play all 3 downs which should afford him the ability rack up 6-8 sacks his rookie year along with making some tackles for loss in the running game. If Coples lands with the Bills, expect him to take away most Merriman’s opportunities, while also taking some of the pressure off Kelsay and Dareus. These two players should be afforded more opportunities without being double-teamed, which should boost their fantasy numbers. The only problem is that defensive lineman typically get pushed up in the draft, so I would not expect him to be around when the Bills pick.
Courtney Upshaw and Melvin Ingram will both be available when the Bills pick and both would be perfect fits as pass rushing specialists. They both had incredible senior seasons in terms of racking sacks and tackle for losses, but I would not expect them to be used much on the first two downs. If one of those two were drafted expect the Bills to use someone else (Kyle Moore?) on the first two downs. With the addition of one of these players we should again expect better fantasy performances from Kelsay and Dareus.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins biggest need entering the draft is the quarterback position, and I fully expect them to make a run at RG3. Another major area of need for the Dolphins is RT where Marc Colombo garnered a horrible -26.7 rating and is also a free agent. A player such as Riley Reiff would fit in perfectly with this offensive line. Given these facts I would expect the Dolphins to address some of their defensive issues in the 2nd or 3rd round.
With a possible switch to a 4-3 the Dolphins are in need of an OLB. Zach Brown would be a perfect fit on the weak side alongside Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett who both have the ability to fit in this formation. With Brown’s ability to be in coverage you would expect to see both of these players to be able to rush the passer more, which is an area where both were effective in limited opportunities. This could cause their sack total rise to the 4 or 5 range given this situation.
Of course, there is the possibility that the Dolphins do address some of their other needs in the first round. With the possible switch to a 4-3 reinforcements may need to be brought in at the defensive end position. Cameron Wake could become only a 1 down player in this situation, but shouldn’t given his +8.9 rating against the run. Koa Misi has only shown an ability to stop the run, grading out as a top-20 3-4 OLB against the run, but he is also a below average pass rusher. The Dolphins have also stated the desire to move him to inside linebacker this season. Again, Quinton Coples would be a perfect fit in this situation with his ability to play all 3 downs. He would again be able to post quality fantasy stats and Wake should benefit with finally having a quality rusher on the opposite side.
New England Patriots: With two first round picks the Patriots should be able to address their major needs on defense, secondary and pass rusher. Kyle Arrington was able to post a +3.2 rating, but no other defensive back who played at least 25% of the team’s snaps posted a positive rating. After only playing 52 snaps in the regular season Sterling Moore was able to post a +3.8 rating in the postseason, but I doubt the Patriots will trust him enough to just hand him the starting position. Drafting a player like Janoris Jenkins or Stephon Gilmore could provide competition with Moore while also facilitating a move for Devin McCourty to safety where he seemed to be more comfortable after posting -6.5 rating against the pass during the regular season. This should allow to McCourty to increase his tackle numbers given his strong +5.1 against the run. Also, I would expect to see a drop off in Arrington’s interception numbers since opposing teams will want to test the rookie and Moore.
Another area where the Patriots may look to address is pass rusher. This could be solved simply by resigning Andre Carter and Mark Anderson who posted +5.1 and +11.9 ratings while rushing the passer last season. However with both being free agents I doubt both will return to New England. Some players who could solve this issue would be Whitney Mercilus of Illinois, Nick Perry of USC, and Andre Branch of Clemson. All three of these players produced at high levels last year in school and would also be able to fit in the ever changing schemes of Bill Belichick. Drafting one of these players would allow Carter or Anderson to continue producing good fantasy stats.
New York Jets: The Jets are another team who could look to address some of their offensive issues in the first round (WR, RT, QB?) but also have some major defensive needs. Pass rusher and safety are two positions where the Jets struggled last year due to injuries and ineffectiveness. Both Aaron Maybin (+7.5) and Jamaal Westerman (+1.5) were able to post positive rating while rushing the passer but neither are dynamic and struggle against the run (Maybin only faced the run 24 times all season). Adding a player like Melvin Ingram would allow the Jets to let Bryan Thomas walk in free agency and not have to let Maybin face the run. Being an RFA, Westerman could leave in free agency, but if he does come back expect him to split time with a new acquisition. Calvin Pace’s numbers could also drop if Rex Ryan decides to take him off the field in passing situations given his 34th ranked pass rushing productivity rating amongst 3-4 OLB’s.
Safety is another area of concern for the Jets. Jim Leonhard has been a solid performer for the Jets, but his inability to stay on the field will likely force the Jets to let him walk in free agency. Brodney Pool has been average performer posting a -0.4 rating and with their lack of depth I expect the Jets to bring him back next year. However, Eric Smith has to be considered one of the worst safeties in the league. His -14.6 rating is dismal and his coverage skills are some of the worst in the league. Being the only safety worthy of a top 50 pick I would expect the Jets to make a run at Mark Barron. This will allow the Jets to sit down Eric Smith and only allow him to used on special teams. Having another quality safety around should allow the rest of the Jets secondary to increase their numbers in terms of INT’s.
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