Four Downs: AFC East

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

by Scott Kacsmar

Buffalo Bills

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Tight end

The Bills immediately hit on some of their biggest needs in the draft with wide receiver Zay Jones, right tackle Dion Dawkins, and cornerback Tre'Davious White. They did not, however, select a tight end in what was a rich draft for the position. Charles Clay has been serviceable for the team the last two years, but nowhere near worth the sixth-highest average salary at his position. Clay led the team in targets in 2016 due to Sammy Watkins' injury, but he also averaged a career-low 9.7 yards per catch, and his 36.8 receiving yards per game were his lowest since 2012. The Bills are paying above-market value for below-average play at the tight end position, and that will likely continue through 2017.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: If the Bills wanted to find a receiving tight end this way, then it will have to be Tennessee's Jason Croom. He has experience at wide receiver, but needs to work on his blocking and will have to shake his history with injuries and dropped passes. Otherwise, the Bills picked up Louisville tight end Keith Towbridge, but he is more of a blocker (21 career catches).

Miami Dolphins

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Guard

After years of using high draft picks on wide receivers and offensive tackles in recent seasons, Miami targeted linebackers in this year's draft. With that unit addressed, Miami's offensive line remains the biggest area of concern, particularly at guard where the team hasn't invested first-round picks. Veteran Jermon Bushrod struggled in his move to right guard last season, and Miami waited until the fifth round to take Utah guard Isaac Asiata. A healthy return of center Mike Pouncey and a full-time move to left tackle for Laremy Tunsil should help, but Miami's interior could still struggle. That would be a problem for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has always done a below-average job of handling pass pressure. Last season, Tannehill ranked just 20th in QBR (21.2) while pressured.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Michigan running back De'Veon Smith was signed, but he projects as a poor man's Jay Ajayi, lacking the receiving talent and speed to be a productive back. Miami signed four wideouts, but the most notable is Mississippi's Damore'ea Stringfellow, who had a career-high 716 receiving yards in 2016. He is a 6-foot-2 receiver who can high-point the ball, and the Dolphins only have four real locks to make the roster at this position in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Leonte Carroo.

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New England Patriots

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Offensive Line

Did the rich get richer? The defending Super Bowl champions have strengthened their skill positions with the additions of Brandin Cooks, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, and Dwayne Allen. They added Kony Ealy to the pass rush and Stephon Gilmore to the secondary. The Patriots only made four selections in the draft, but this was not a team with many pressing needs. (In a previous article, we said that the Patriots' biggest hole was at defensive end, and they drafted two of them.)

If anything looks unimpressive with this roster, it would be the offensive line. Even that is far from a liability, given that Nate Solder is a solid left tackle and the Patriots drafted Antonio Garcia, a potential replacement down the road, in the third round. Right tackle Marcus Cannon looked far improved in his first full season as a starter. The Patriots are still relying on some younger players such as left guard Joe Thuney and right guard Shaq Mason, but offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia will put the best he can in front of a 40-year-old Tom Brady this season.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: The Patriots added Northwestern wide receiver Austin Carr, who would be a bit big (6-foot-1) for New England's typical slot receiver preference. Richmond defensive back David Jones led the FCS with nine interceptions in 2015. Defensive end Corey Vereen had 7.0 sacks for Tennessee last season.

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New York Jets

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Quarterback

Outside of the defensive front seven, the Jets are fairly weak everywhere. However, nothing may present less hope than the most important position of them all: quarterback. While some thought the team might sign veteran Jay Cutler or draft a quarterback high (again), the Jets are rolling with Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, and Christian Hackenberg this year.

If being terrible enough to earn the No. 1 pick in the draft is a goal, then McCown might be the right man for the job. He has recently helped Tampa Bay (2014) and Cleveland (2016) to the top pick in the draft, and his Browns finished No. 2 in draft position in 2015. Petty's 19.4 QBR last season was the lowest among any quarterback with at least 75 action plays. Our QBASE projection system for college quarterbacks has Hackenberg as one of the worst prospects since 1996. So the Jets may already be in the lead in the race to USC's Sam Darnold in the 2018 draft.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Gabe Marks was a very productive receiver in Mike Leach's Air Raid system at Washington State, where he caught a Pac-12 record 316 passes. Yes, most were short throws to take advantage of his short-area quickness, and you won't expect to see him go deep much at all. That means he'll project as a Wes Welker or Danny Amendola type in the NFL, but the Jets would be more than satisfied with a Wayne Chrebet or maybe even Jeremy Kerley type of career from Marks. The 2017 Jets are not exactly overflowing with receiving talent, so there is potential here in the preseason for Marks to make the team.

(Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.)


34 comments, Last at 15 May 2017, 10:36am

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Josh McCown has to be the singly-best locker room guy ever if you compare the quality of his play to the length of his career. There has to be a reason somebody always wants him around.

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Potential? He was drafted in 2002. The same year as David Carr and Joey Harrington. Josh McCown was drafted ten slots before Brian Westbrook was drafted. We're like a dozen years past "potential" at this point.

9 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

that referred to his early years, the second line was about his later years

But I got to agree , it's rediculous how few games he has started: 60 games out of a 224.

The only time he showed signs of being a reliable starter was in 2004 with the Cardinals and 10 years later in 2014 with the Bucs.

19 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

I truly think theres at least a 25 % chance that Josh McCown is on an NFL roster by 2020. And probably even a remote chance he starts in a game or two that season as well.

20 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

The NFL has changed over the past decade or so.

In the past Romo or Cutler would have been hanging on for whatever backup job they could get so they can eek out a few more years of pay. Now they're both too expensive or only willing to play for a contender.

And drafted QBs would have ridden the pine for 3-4 years to the point where even if they weren't great, they could be serviceable backups. Now rookies are thrown into the fire and discarded if they aren't considered good enough in the first 2-3 years.

So players like McCown get to hang around providing enough experience and developmental insight to the current incumbert while not being good enough to start.

21 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Well, they all make more money now for sure, but Cutler and Romo were both able to walk off into plum media roles so I don't think they are representative of all aging QBs. Guys like Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Schaub both finished their careers as backups having once been long-term, good quality starters.

I'm always skeptical of the idea of an old QB helping to develop a young QB. What's in it for the old guy, grooming somebody to replace him? Preparing to play QB in the NFL seems like a challenging business; I can't imagine there is much time spare for teaching/mentoring. You employ coaches to do that.

The fact that the Jets management have brought in McCown hints to me much more that they are very anxious about their young QBs, and are desperately trying to hedge their bets.

22 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Tangentially, I have to wonder if the ex-player commentator bubble is going to collapse soon. Seems every reasonably famous player gets a studio job if he wants one. Hell, Ray Lewis got one, and that man has never uttered a coherent sentence in his life. ESPN's MNF pregame shows are already ridiculous, with a dozen ex players and coaches getting in one sentence each before the next star chimes in. Now that ESPN has suddenly realized that TV sports revenues won't rise exponentially forever, I have to think that the networks are going to start to be a bit more hesitant to pay yet another ex player.

23 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Yeah I agree. Either that, or hopefully they'll be turned over more quickly. I've long lamented that commentators in all sports seem to have unending job security, long after they have stopped putting any effort into saying anything insightful or original.

I'm actually looking forward to hearing Romo on commentary next year, in the hope that he will offer some fresh perspective as a just-retired QB. But if he doesn't I'd like to see him moved on quickly. That's probably too much to ask.

24 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Accoring to "81 percent of retired QBs who threw at least 3,000 passes and were at least a half-standard deviation better than average4 eventually made their way into a broadcast booth. (The only notable holdouts in the modern era are Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and — yes, he was that good — Jeff Garcia.)"

26 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Manning easily could if he wanted to, Favre either didn't want to or perhaps his . . . interesting late-career photography hobby torpedoed that, and, well, Jeff Garcia is still probably trying to find a starter gig somewhere.

32 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

I honestly don't think Favre cares. He likes his life not doing squat down in Hattiesburg. He's had some fun coaching HS football and being involved in his daughters' lives for the first time in his life. I'm sure he's had opportunities. But it's work he'd rather not do right now and he doesn't need the money.

33 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

not me but other people tjhink j. Garcia tlaks funny and paid some woman to marry him so he would nto appear as gay. argument must be that he paid some other guy to impregnate his wife or maybe the kdis are adopted.

28 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Double post, so here's a relevant link instead:

I had no idea Tony Dungy was such a piece of crap human being, though in retrospect I maybe should have guessed

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

It's cool though, after the draft the Jets now have plenty of safeties. They just need one of those safeties to step up into the Sammy Baugh role and they'll be covered at quarterback.

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

don't have plenty fo safeties. thinkt ehy have adams and maye from drfat. c. pryor stull on team for now. very possible cut after juen 1. everyone else bnackup type like that hairless guy

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Uhm,no. TE was never the biggest need for the Bills. We have Clay and even he is not used since Tyrod is too small to throw over the middle. TE was way down the priority list of needs.

29 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Clay's ineffectiveness + his price tag was adequately covered. They could have drafted a morre effective rookie, and then would have been free to use his cap space addressing other needs.

And the idea that Taylor is "too small to throw over the middle" is insane. I guess Drew Brees is too then. No wonder the Saints traded Jimmy Graham, Brees was too small to throw to him anyway lol

13 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

They released Pennington because of his injury issues, as well as a horrible 2007 campaign for him. Farve was good until the last 4th of the season, and then they let him go because he wanted to be in Minnesota. Fitzpatrick was 14th in DVOA and 10th in DYAR two years ago, so they had decent quarterback play 2 years ago. Of course, Fitz isn't a good quarterback and that was a mirage, but he really wasn't bad that year.

17 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

The Jets have made some pretty poor decisions over the years-drafting Sanchez, not protecting Pennington or O'Brien, drafting Vernon Gholston. They haven't been as bad as the Jaguars or the Browns, but that's a two-edged sword; they didn't have a chance to draft a Luck, a Mariota, a Winston or Carson Wentz (not sold on Wentz yet).

Next year's draft will be interesting. I'm not sure Baker Mayfield isn't the safest quarterback prospect going, but everyone is projecting him in the third to fifth round. Darnold looks the best, but he's only played one year so far. Rosen fell apart this past year, Josh Allen has a career 56 completion percentage, and Lamar Jackson looks great at running the ball. It is a good draft for quarterbacks, but if he stays out of trouble, Mayfield may end up being a huge steal.

30 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

The Eagles weren't bad enough to "have a chance to draft" Wentz either, by your logic. They traded up for him, something the Jets could also have done

18 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

It depends. Would you rather start the season with no hope but with the chance you could be pleasantly surprised, or have hope only to see your hopes dashed and spend the entire offseason in misery?

16 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

"While some thought the team might sign veteran Jay Cutler " I just read that Cutler has retired to be a commentator for Fox. And I read it on, where is my XP so we can relive the great momnets of Smoking Jy Cutler's career