Draft Needs: AFC East
Teams have now had a month of free agency to chase down veteran upgrades, replacements, and hole-fillers, but their roster-twisting work is not done. Next on the horizon is the 2013 NFL draft and with it comes the yearly opportunity to land youthful talent that, ideally, will provide a long-term positive impact.
In the coming days, we’ll be taking a division-by-division look at the top draft needs as things stand today, and Steve Palazzolo will also offer early- and late-round draft day options for each team as we go. We kick the series off with this run through the AFC East:
With a new regime in Buffalo, the search for a franchise quarterback has already begun. It’s hard to believe that the Bills’ signing of Kevin Kolb will take them out of the quarterback market in the draft, but they may choose to pass at the position in favor of building the roster elsewhere.
Wide receiver is not a particular area of strength, but former coach Chan Gailey was not shy about trotting out his sub-par group more than any coach in the league, as the Bills played with at least three wide receivers over 80% of the time. If Gailey was returning, wide receiver would surely be a top priority heading into the draft and it still should be under new coach Doug Marrone. The other glaring hole for the Bills is at left guard where Andy Levitre departed via free agency to the Tennessee Titans, and replacing our No. 9 rated guard’s production won’t be easy.
Still, when looking at the top need, it comes down to the quarterback position rather than periphery spots like wide receiver and guard. The problem in this draft is the lack of consensus Top 10-type picks like those that were present last year. Will the Bills find their signal-caller of the future?
Early round option: Geno Smith, West Virginia
While many are pegging the Bills with Marrone’s former quarterback at Syracuse, Ryan Nassib, Smith is the better prospect and there’s a chance he drops to the Bills at No. 8 overall as he is not without flaw. This year’s quarterback class is as clouded as any in recent memory, so if Smith is off the board, the Bills could look at Nassib or perhaps NC State’s Mike Glennon with their first rounder.
Mid/late round option: Tyler Bray, Tennessee
Bray’s physical ability is of first-round quality, but poor decision-making, both on and off the field, should drop him into the middle rounds. He tantalizes with big time throws, then disappoints with inconsistency in a way that would make Rex Grossman proud. Still, the upside may be too good to pass up in the middle of the draft.
Perhaps the most active team in free agency this offseason, the Dolphins are looking to make a major move in the division and they’re loaded with five picks in the first three rounds of the draft. With a number of needs met during free agency, the biggest remaining concerns appear to be finding a pass rusher to line up opposite Cameron Wake, and perhaps replacing departed free agent Jake Long at left tackle. At this point, second-year tackle Jonathan Martin is in line to start on the left side, but he’s coming off a rookie campaign that saw him rank 76th out of 80 qualifying tackles at -22.0, and he performed equally poor at both left and right tackle. If the Dolphins choose to relegate Martin to the right side, they have the ammo to move up into the Top 10 and grab one of the left tackle prospects expected to come off the board in that range.
Whether or not Miami decides to give Martin the first shot at left tackle, they can’t ignore the defensive side where finding Wake’s complementary edge rusher should be a top priority. Wake was our top 4-3 defensive end last season, grading at +53.8, but he was a one-man show as his 86 pressures represented 31% of the team’s total. DE Jared Odrick manned the position opposite Wake last year where he posted a -19.8 pass-rush grade on 566 attempts. An upgrade could do wonders for the Miami defense.
Early Round Option: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Many analysts have linked Miami to Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner at No. 12 overall, but if they make a move for their offensive tackle in the first, Moore would be a nice pick in the second round. He was thought to be in the first-round discussion before disappointing during offseason workouts, but he had a nice career coming off the edge at Texas A&M.
Mid/Late Round Option: Tourek Williams, Florida International
If the Dolphins continue to neglect pass rushers until the middle rounds, there are a number of smaller school options such as the All-Sun Belt defensive end Williams.
New England Patriots
Since 2010, the Patriots have brought in a lot of talent through the draft and combining it with free agent additions has left few holes on the roster. It’s not that they’re elite at every position, but they certainly have depth to boast in the top 53. Two positions that still need attention are wide receiver and defensive tackle. The recent signing of Tommy Kelly eases the burden on the defensive line as he adds a pass-rushing complement to Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love up front.
It’s no secret that the Patriots have a less-than-stellar track record when it comes to drafting wide receivers and they’re heading toward a high-noon showdown against their arch nemesis on April 25th. They’re noted ‘double drafters’ as they often attack positions of need with not one, but two of their picks in a given draft. Even before Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd departed via free agency and release, respectively, wide receiver was high on the Patriots’ radar. Add to it the failed signing of restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders — to whom they offered a contract which the Pittsburgh Steelers then matched — it’s fair to expect the Patriots to come away with a couple of wide receiver options in this draft.
Early Round Option: Markus Wheaton, Oregon State
Though he’s not the sharpest route runner, Wheaton has speed that shows up on the field. He may be the draft’s best vertical threat and his body control makes him a weapon in the back-shoulder game as well. New England would have to use its first round pick to secure his rights as he’ll be gone by the time they pick in the second.
Mid/Late Round Option: Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech
Perhaps it’s cheating a bit in calling Rogers a mid-round prospect as he’s a top-round talent, but off-field question marks and a deep wide receiver class could keep Rogers off the board for a while. If he stays focused, he has the potential to become an elite possession receiver in the Anquan Boldin mold and that’s well worth the risk in the third round.
New York Jets
It’s certainly difficult to narrow down just one need for the Jets after years of neglecting the draft has left them with a depleted roster. This offseason has been a refreshing change that has seen them sign low-profile, high-upside players such as DT Antonio Garay and OLB Antwan Barnes (both from the Chargers), instead of winning the annual ‘paper battle’ by bringing in big names on bloated contracts. A philosophical change from ‘win now’ to building with patience will prove a much better strategy for the organization and it starts by keeping, and hitting on, their draft picks.
As mentioned, needs abound throughout the roster, but one glaring hole on recent Jets teams has been the lack of an edge rushing presence. Head coach Rex Ryan had Terrell Suggs in Baltimore, but he has been unable to get production from the likes of Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, Garrett McIntryre, and of course the famed draft miss, Vernon Gholston. An influx of youth at the position is necessary when going up against Tom Brady and the emerging Ryan Tannehill in the AFC East.
Early Round Option: Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Mingo’s explosiveness and frame should put him in the Top 5 mix, though he could fall to the Jets at No. 9 overall if there is a run on quarterbacks and/or offensive tackles. He should pack on some pounds in the NFL and he has the potential to fill the coveted Suggs role in Ryan’s defense as an elite pass rusher and run stopper. Since the Jets have holes at both outside linebacker spots, Stanford’s Chase Thomas would be a good option for the strong side in the second round.
Mid/Late Round Option: Lerentee McCray, Florida
Nobody gave offensive tackle Luke Joeckel more trouble last season than McCray, who consistently beat the potential top pick off the edge. He was one of the unsung heroes on a loaded Florida defense last year and his ability to play traditional outside linebacker while also rushing the passer will make for a nice mid-round selection.
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