Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: AFC East

Four Downs: AFC East
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Rivers McCown

Buffalo Bills

Biggest Need: Wide receiver

The Bills did a lot of hole-filling in the draft, but remained with only John Brown, Cole Beasley, and Robert Foster in their projected three-wideout sets. It's a recipe that is going to make the offense extremely boom-or-bust, because Josh Allen's arm can hit deep throws, but his underneath targets are Beasley and Tyler Kroft and his completion rate underneath is going to make sustaining drives difficult. Allen had one of the two lowest expected completion percentages per NFL Next Gen Stats data in 2018 -- nothing the Bills have done is going to make the relative difficulty of his throws any easier for him in 2019.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: One player expected to be drafted who fell into Buffalo's laps is West Virginia's David Sills, who caught 15 touchdowns to finish second amongst FBS receivers. Sills found $35,000 guaranteed to take his talents up north. He'll be joined by former Buffalo Bulls quarterback Tyree Jackson, who seemed to have Josh Allen's exact skill set and none of Allen's hype. The Bills paid him $75,000 guaranteed, a top-10 amount among reported UDFAs. Iowa's Nick Easley also merits watching given the state of Buffalo's wideout depth chart.

Miami Dolphins

Biggest Need: Edge rusher

Miami's trade for Josh Rosen is, at worst, a credible stab at establishing themselves as a team with a franchise quarterback. That's a huge win for them considering how long they wandered the Tanneverse. However, in a rebuild, after letting Cameron Wake walk, they don't have much in the way of pass rush. Charles Harris might be able to rebound from a down 2018, but Tank Carradine and Jonathan Woodard aren't going to get this team 15 sacks next season. They might not even get 10.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: One name to keep an eye on is Mississippi State's Deion "Shaq" Calhoun. Calhoun didn't have a body that appealed to NFL scouts, but he showed a lot of the tenacity and play style that offensive line coaches are invested in. The Dolphins still have a lot of offensive line slots up for grabs and Calhoun could not have picked a better landing spot. Colorado State's Preston Williams could also make an impact after putting up a 96/1,345/14 split in his junior season with the Rams. A transfer from Tennessee, Williams has the size to be an outside receiver if he can get better at breaking through press coverage.

New England Patriots

Biggest Need: Tight end

Patriots fans have got to be hoping that Rob Gronkowski will do an about-face on his retirement as we get closer to the season, because this current group is lacking. Nominally led by expert-at-losing-touchdowns-to-instant-replay Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Patriots also have Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson, and Ryan Izzo. It's a group that is not likely to make life at the goal line any easier for the Pats. Seferian-Jenkins had a -25.9% DVOA last year en route to losing playing time to James O'Shaughnessy. Come back Gronk!

(After this article originally appeared at ESPN+, the Patriots did get a veteran tight end to come back, but it wasn't Gronk. It was Benjamin Watson. Watson is down to a part-time player at age 39 but he was sixth in tight end DVOA with the Saints last year.)

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: With tackle -- especially depth at tackle -- still somewhat unsolved, former Longhorns blocker Calvin Anderson has the body to be a player out there. Multiple scouting reports talked about his need for a good offensive line coach to get the most out of his drive-blocking and agility outside; he couldn't have picked better than Dante Scarnechhia. The Patriots dropped a team-high $80,000 guaranteed to secure Terez Hall, a Missouri linebacker with the ability to cover and instincts that need to be unlearned. He could compete for a roster spot.

New York Jets

Biggest Need: Edge rusher

One of the biggest upsets of the offseason is that the Jets managed to come up empty in a free agency period rife with edge rushers like Demarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark, Trey Flowers, and more. After picking Quinnen Williams over Josh Allen, the Jets remained extremely on-brand by only drafting one edge player: Jachai Polite of Florida in the third round. Polite had the lowest SackSEER rating (our college pass-rusher projection system) of any player pegged to be picked in the first two rounds. We will all be cold in the ground before the Jets have a good edge rush.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: The Jets don't have a very highlight-heavy UDFA class, but one player who could stick is North Carolina State's Tyler Jones. Jones was projected to move from tackle to guard in the NFL, but will need to hit the functional strength bar to be worth watching. Jones has the athletic profile to be a good NFL guard. Greg Dortch out of Wake Forest is a probable kick and punt returner prospect for the Jets. At 5-foot-7, 173 pounds, the question will be if he can actually play slot receiver in the pros. The skill set may be there, but the body might not be. Regardless, he brought two punts to the house last year and will be given a tryout there.

Portions of this article originally appeared at ESPN+.


17 comments, Last at 05 Jun 2019, 8:46am

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Relying on SackSEER for Polite is kind of pointless. The whole issue with him was a godawful combine, and (in his case) SackSEER really just tells you he had a bad combine. Whether the combine performance was injury related, weight related, or actually an accurate reflection of his athleticism (or "character") is the big question. If he's as athletic as he looks on film, where he was highly productive, then getting him at the top of the third is very good value. If his combine troubles are a prelude to other problems, then...he'll probably be out of the league in a couple years. Time will tell. But either way, SackSEER, which I generally find very informative, doesn't shed much light on his particular case.

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

I don't really understand the Bills assessment. Isn't signing Cole Beasley and Tyler Kroft as underneath targets exactly the kind of thing to "make the relative difficulty of [Allen's] throws any easier for him in 2019."?

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

I don’t know if this is what the article intended, but maybe they’re trying to say you wouldn’t want to try to build your offense around a short passing game with assets like Beasley and Kroft when your QB can’t hit short passes.

The whole Bills receiving core doesn’t make sense considering Allen’s strengths and weaknesses. Sure, there’s speed with Brown and Foster, which is definitely something worth having, but it makes no sense to add the Beasley’s of the world. Because of Allen’s accuracy woes, they should be targeting receivers with wide catch radiuses. I think because Kelvin Benjamin sucked so so bad for them last year it’s shied them away from that prototype, but it makes sense in theory to go after targets like him

9 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

That really doesn't gibe with the rest of the article, since the 2 QBs on either side of Allen at the bottom of that estimated completion percentage chart are the starters for the Jets and Dolphins.

Allen has no chance of success, so any and all comments are available.

5 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Interesting to see last year's leading receiving missing from the list of Bills receivers. I expect Zay to also be in the mix for underneath targets.

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Most teams would give anything for their position of weakness to be Tight End. And look at that schedule. The rich get richer.

8 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Ah, I love a fine whine.

The Patriots' easy-looking schedule (tied for 27th in traditional SoS) is mostly due to the rest of the AFC East having an off year last year. MIA/BUF/NYJ went 10-20 outside the division, which was the worst division when looked at this way, but better than any other "worst" division for a decade or more. The rest is due to the Patriots beating a lot of teams: they went 7-2 against teams they will face again this season, including such "softies" as the Chiefs and the Texans.

The Patriots' opponents in the AFC North and NFC East cancel out as far as strength of schedule goes. So they didn't get any help there.

If you took away the "Patriots beat people a lot" effect, I suspect they would still have a below average SoS this season, but nothing to deserve the level of whining we see.

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Normally I can get on the train of "the Pats schedule isn't as week as you think because....", and maybe it will be true this year; But I think there is very good reason to believe the AFC East might be in for another down year this year. On a related note I think it's possible the Bills will make a run for one of the worst offensive seasons of all time this year, and if that isn't something to cheer about I'm not sure what is.

11 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

I would be surprised to see the non-Pats AFC East do worse than 10-20 outside the division this year.

But that's the "regression towards the mean" talking.

There will certainly be some low-lights. I agree that the Bills offense seems like a good candidate for that honor. I'm guessing we'll see a few highlights, too. Which, I have no idea. That's what makes the season fun.

12 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

I'm curious at how you both arrive at the Bills' offense somehow being worse than last year? While the upgrades they made weren't spectacular, they definitely improved (I don't know how they could get worse) on that side of the ball, especially the O-Line. Gore will run for 700 behind practically anything, which would be an uptick from Shady last year. Do you think Allen's just going to spectacularly implode? Because all the pieces around him are better.

15 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

I was really only agreeing that they would be bad, not the historically bad part. I don’t assume they will be worse than last year, just not tons better.

It would be fun to be proven wrong. Buffalo needs some luv for a change.

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Ben Watson will begin the season with a 4-game PED suspension.

According to his statement he was taking "bioequivalent" testosterone treatment after he announced his retirement and before he thought about coming back and when he decided to come back and thus was subject to drug tests he tested positive. He said that he told NE (and other teams he was talking with) about the failed test and that NE offered the contract despite knowing about the suspension.

16 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

You can understand why the Pats signed Watson despite the suspension - better chance for those old bones to get through the regular season intact.
They should consider sitting Brady for the first four games as well - he really seemed to fall off (eye test) in the last 3 or 4 games before the playoffs, apparently due to an MCL sprain. The bye week did seem to rejuvenate him.

17 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

I don't deny the validity of what you've said - Brady did right well following the Goodell-mandated vacation in 2016 - but the rejuvenation seemed to begin in week 17, thanks to the Jets. 73% completions, 4 TDs, no picks.

13 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

If the past two decides have proven anything to me, it is that there is essentially no move Miami could have made in the offseason that would allow them to compete with the Patriots. Thus, I'm not all that fired up for next season. The bright-side news in all this is that the Dolphins have had several "good" first seasons with new coaches, there some hope their past four number one picks will shine under new leadership, their defense could hardly feel worse than last season, and this team was 3-0 last year until everyone got hurt. All in all, this team feels like a 6-10 team at best that will be searching for answers again next offseason.

14 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

"former Buffalo Bulls quarterback Tyree Jackson"

I had to read this sentence like 6 times before it made sense.