Four Downs: AFC East

Four Downs: AFC East
Four Downs: AFC East
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Aaron Schatz

Buffalo Bills

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Right Tackle

One tackle spot is set in Buffalo, with Cordy Glenn signing a 5-year, $65 million extension this week. But the other tackle spot is a big question mark. The biggest problem is that 2014 second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio has never developed. The Bills somewhat made up for that failure by finding a passable right tackle, Seantrel Henderson, in the seventh round that same year. But Henderson missed the last five games of last season battling Crohn's disease, and he's likely to miss at least part of the 2016 season trying to get healthy and back to his playing weight. That leaves Jordan Mills, the Bears castoff who passed Kouandjio on the depth chart to start last December. Mills was not very good with the Bears, which is why they cut him after just two years. Buffalo didn't draft a single lineman this year; the best remaining free-agent tackle is probably Khalif Barnes, who is 34 and started just one game for Oakland last season.

Notable Undrafted Free Agent Additions: The Bills added the UDFA with the best name recognition, bringing fullback Glenn Gronkowski from Kansas State back to the Land That Birthed Gronk. But it's hard to imagine Baby Gronk making the roster without some sort of injury to starting fullback Jerome Felton, since the Bills made Felton the highest-paid fullback in the league a year ago. More likely to stick, thanks to a thin depth chart at the position, is linebacker Eric Striker from Oklahoma. He fits a certain historical mold, the undersized, athletic linebacker who goes undrafted and makes us all scratch our heads about it a few years later. (Think of a slightly taller but thinner London Fletcher.) The Bills also brought in a couple of players to firm up their questionable depth on the offensive line. The most notable is Jamison Lawk of Iowa State, who is versatile enough to play center, guard, or right tackle.

Miami Dolphins

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Cornerback

The Dolphins finished 29th in pass defense DVOA, and last year's top three cornerbacks are now elsewhere. But are the new corners any better than the departed ones? Byron Maxwell showed in Philadelphia how stretched he was as a No. 1 corner, with 9.8 yards allowed per pass according to Sports Info Solutions charting (77th out of 83 corners). Second-round pick Xavien Howard will likely start across from Maxwell, but even the most talented cornerbacks tend to struggle as rookies. The nickelback will be Bobby McCain, a 2015 fifth-rounder who allowed 9.7 yards per pass in limited playing time last season. The good news for Miami is that there are some useful cornerbacks available on the market to bolster the depth, including Leon Hall, Jerraud Powers, and the underrated Trumaine McBride, who put up league-leading charting stats with the Giants in 2013.

Notable Undrafted Free Agent Additions: Most of Miami's backup linebackers are UDFAs from recent years, so linebacker is the position where this year's UDFAs have the best chance to make the roster. James Burgess (Louisville) is actually quite similar to Eric Striker from the Bills, fitting that smaller, athletic playmaker mold. Akil Blount, the son of Hall of Famer Mel Blount, was considered the leader of the defense at Florida A&M. Tyler Gray was a versatile defender for Boise State, moving around the field, sometimes dropping into coverage and sometimes rushing the passer. One other notable signing is cornerback Lafayette Pitts, appropriately from Pitt. He was a four-year starter at cornerback and Chad Reuter of considered him a possible third-round pick before his senior season.

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New England Patriots

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Defensive End Depth

The Patriots' pre-draft decision to trade Chandler Jones to Arizona made some sense. The team simply wouldn't have enough cap space to extend all the young defenders whose contracts are coming up in the next two years, and Jones' hospitalization for synthetic marijuana mishap in January couldn't have made Bill Belichick happy. However, the Patriots haven't done much to replace their top pass-rusher. Jabaal Sheard can slide into the starting lineup across from Rob Ninkovich, but what can the Patriots reasonably expect out of free-agent signing Chris Long, who has started only 11 games with four sacks over the past two seasons? The Patriots didn't draft any pass-rushers, so if Long can't find the fountain of youth, they'll be depending on 2015 draft picks Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers, who didn't produce much as rookies.

Notable Undrafted Free Agent Additions: The tight end depth chart is pretty full in New England, but Vanderbilt's Steven Scheu really impressed at his pro day. He ran a 4.70 40 and benched 225 pounds 23 times, which would have both finished second among combine tight ends. Shaquille Powell (Duke) is a small running back who fits the Patriots' receiving back mold with 35 catches as a senior. The Patriots have a good record with undrafted cornerbacks (Hi, Malcolm Butler!) and brought in three this year. Jonathan Jones (Auburn) stands out because he finished third among cornerbacks in the 40 at the combine, but he's also only 5-foot-9. The others are also short, Cre'Von LeBlanc of Florida Atlanta (5-foot-10) and V'Angelo Bentley of Illinois (5-foot-8).

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New York Jets

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Quarterback


The greatest loss from the NFL's decision to move the draft out of New York is that we didn't get to see the reaction of Jets fans to this year's second-round selection of Christian Hackenberg. Draft Twitter widely ridiculed the pick, and it's hard to argue; according to our QBASE projection system, Hackenberg has one of the ten worst projections of any quarterback taken in rounds 1-3 over the past two decades. Hackenberg will battle for the starting job with Geno Smith, who ranked 36th out of 39 quarterbacks in passing DVOA in 2013 and then 30th out of 36 quarterbacks in 2014 (minimum 200 passes). Smith came out as below replacement level in both of his first two seasons; as we've written multiple times in the past, the list of quarterbacks who came back from negative DYAR (and significant playing time) in their first two seasons to have successful NFL careers basically consists of one guy: Alex Smith.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is nobody's idea of a Hall of Famer, but the Jets' decision to lowball him in free agency could cost their strong defense a playoff spot in 2016.

Notable Undrafted Free Agent Additions: The Jets have a truly fascinating group of undrafted free agents. The most promising talent from a Football Outsiders standpoint is Ohio State wide receiver Jalin Marshall, one of this year's deep Playmaker Score sleepers with a 60.4 percent Playmaker Rating. Marshall was also a five-star recruit coming out of high school, and is good returning punts. Lawrence Thomas (Michigan State) was also a top recruit coming out of high school who never was very productive in his college career but has played both fullback and defensive end. The most interesting story may be Jason Vander Laan, who won the Harlon Hill Trophy as the best player in Division II twice as a running quarterback. He'll be switching to tight end in the pros. Vander Lann isn't even the only two-time award winner in the Jets' UDFA class. Punter Tom Hackett (Utah) is a two-time winner of the Ray Guy Award. He'll battle with seventh-round pick Lachlan Edwards (Sam Houston State) for the Jets' punting job.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Portions of this piece were previously published on ESPN Insider.


5 comments, Last at 22 Jun 2016, 1:42pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

SAW asrtle on vander laan. was described as lower college level tom tebow. but unlike tebow is coachabakle and willing to learn new psotiion.

also see mel blount son ios with dolpjhins. that means kid was born around 1994 meaning mel was probably maybe 45 years old rthen. compare/contrast this to the metcalfs, etrry and eric, who were so close in age they played in NFL in same decade

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

"Ryan Fitzpatrick is nobody's idea of a Hall of Famer, but the Jets' decision to lowball him in free agency could cost their strong defense a playoff spot in 2016."

Lowball? Nobody else offered him more, so it's hard to say the offer was below market value. The team has said they are still trying to sign him, and most people around the situation expect him to sign eventually (perhaps with the team sweetening the offer a bit). Maybe those expectations will prove ill-founded, but you can't talk about the QB position without at least mentioning that possibility.

EDIT: If Fitz really is likely to sign, there's a good argument that LT is the team's biggest weakness. Clady's a major health risk and there is no viable replacement for him on the roster if he gets hurt again.

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

The Jets have a truly fascinating group of undrafted free agents. The most promising talent from a Football Outsiders standpoint is Ohio State wide receiver Jalin Marshall

4 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

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5 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

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