Now that the active period of free agency is dying down, the National Football League and its 32 member teams can now focus on the upcoming NFL Draft. While some of this year’s roster shaping has taken place during free agency, the future for each franchise is built through the draft.
This is the first part of an eight part series that will break down the draft needs of each team. Part one will start with the AFC Eastern Division. After the division caused quite the stir in free agency we’re all anticipating what their moves in the draft will be.
With that being said, here are the draft needs for each team in the AFC East…..
The New England Patriots lost three of their best defensive players just as free agency began last month. They cut nose tackle Vince Wilfork and cornerback Brandon Browner, they also lost corner Darrelle Revis –arguably the best cover corner in the league- who decided to return to the New York Jets.
They did sign corners Bradley Fletcher and Chimdi Chekwa, but both men are still largely unproven at the NFL level. They also re-signed reserve defensive lineman Alan Branch to contend for Wilfork’s nose tackle spot, but he only has eight career sacks and none since 2012. Plus, he’ll be 31 this season.
The Pats’ need some youth to compete for these positions. Here are some players that Bill Belichick should look at as April 30th approaches…..
Washington’s Danny Shelton (6’2”, 339), Texas’ Malcolm Brown (6’2”, 319), and Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips (6’5” 329). All three men possess the size and strength that made WIlfork so successful. Plus, all three players have speed for their size and they can eat up blocks pretty well.
There are plenty of corners to choose from in this year’s draft. But with the Patriots picking so low this year, and with owner Robert Kraft liking to keep costs down (especially with younger players), here are some players that could fit those molds….
Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (5’9”, 192), Florida Atlantic’s D’Joun Smith (5’10”, 187), and Connecticut’s Byron Jones (6’1”, 199). Neither man has the size that comes with most cornerbacks these days, and they all have a few things to learn about coverage schemes.
But coach Belichick is one of the best teachers in the game, plus they’ll benefit from a solid front seven in front of them, and excellent safety play in between them (especially after re-signing Devin McCourty).
The Bills don’t have too many needs this time around. Their defense is pretty much set, and their recent offseason moves as referenced in my previous article addressed some of their major holes. But the needs they do have could become a pressing issue if not addressed.
The Bills gained running back LeSean McCoy but lost what could have been a solid backup in C.J. Spiller. And as quarterback Kyle Orton heads into possible retirement, there’s once again uncertainty at the position in case E.J. Manual struggles again.
Buffalo did sign former Baltimore Raven’s backup signal caller Tyrod Taylor to add depth to the position, but he’s only thrown for 199 yards in his entire career. There’s questions to be answered as Taylor has not played a full season since his senior year at Virginia Tech.
Buffalo doesn’t have a first round pick, and possess low picks for the remaining six rounds. Here are the players –based on probable availability- who could fill out the Bills roster….
Florida State’s Karlos Williams (6’1”, 230), South Carolina’s Mike Davis (5’9”, 217), and Minnesota’s David Cobb (5’11”, 229). All three of these men played in spread offenses just like C.J. Spiller did at Clemson before Buffalo drafted him.
And just like Spiller, they can be used in the passing game and could get looks as kick returners. It would be the perfect complement for McCoy’s power running style.
Georgia’s Hutson Mason (6’3”, 209), Arizona State’s Kelly Taylor (6’2”, 210), and South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson (6’3” 218). The Bills don’t need a rookie quarterback to take over and lead the team. They just need one as an insurance policy.
The Dolphins seem to be set on defense based upon their moves at the start of free agency. But they have some empty spaces on offense. Losing H-Back Charles Clay is huge because he was a crucial contributor as a runner, pass catcher and blocker.
Miami also needs an every down running back. The team is hesitant to re-sign Knowshon Moreno because of his recent string of injuries. They have former Oregon standout LaMichael James on the roster but he’s only rushed for 193 yards and a touchdown over three seasons.
The other halfbacks on the current roster include Mike Gillislee (who hasn’t played a down since December of 2013), Lamar Miller (who rushed for 1,099 yards after Moreno went on injured reserve but can’t handle the load on his own), and Damien Williams (who saw limited action as a rookie last season).
They can also use a wide receiver to boost depth. They’ll need some young blood to push the other guys on the roster. Here are some players who could be of great use to the Dolphins this summer….
There are only seven fullbacks who declared for this year’s draft. They are as follows: Yale’s Tyler Varga (5’11”, 222), Alabama’s Jalston Fowler (5’11”, 254), Oklahoma’s Aaron Ripkowski (6’1”, 257), Louisiana State’s Connor Neighbors (5’11”, 229), Army’s Larry Dixon (5’11”, 239), Rutgers’ Michael Burton (5’11”, 242), and Hawaii’s Joey Iosefa (6’0”, 247).
Of these seven only Fowler, Ripkowski, Neighbors, and Burton played in pro style offenses. Those four should have no problem adjusting to the pro game. Varga and Iosefa both played in spread offenses and were mainly used as feature backs (both combined for 5,203 rushing yards in college) and as pass blockers.
They’ll both need to become better receivers, learn how to run block, and become NFL fullbacks.
Then there’s Dixon who operated in Army’s triple-option offense. He’s proven that he can run, but needs to learn how to be a receiver and a blocker. Replacing Clay won’t be an easy task.
With the Dolphins owning the 14th overall pick, they have a chance to land one of the top halfbacks and a mid-level wide receiver.
Selecting Miami Hurricane Duke Johnson (5’9”, 207) seems like a no-brainer. The Dolphins could also choose from Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon (6’1”, 226), Northern Iowa’s David Johnson (6’1”, 224), or Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford (6’0”, 208). All three men would make for a very interesting position competition in training camp.
Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett (5’10”, 182) could be an interesting fit for this team. Stanford’s Ty Montgomery (6’0”, 221) is also worth a look.
Michael Vick is still a free agent and it’s doubtful the Jets will bring him back. Geno Smith still hasn’t proven himself to be a capable NFL quarterback, Matt Simms and Ryan Fitzpatrick were added recently but that won’t necessarily lead to wins.
Fitzpatrick has been a journeyman since arriving on the scene from Harvard back in 2004. He shows occasional flashes of brilliance mixed with constant bouts of inconsistency. Simms –the youngest son of Hall of Famer Phil Simms- on the other hand needs more experience as he’s only attempted 39 passes in his career.
As for the situation in the backfield, Chris Johnson is still a free agent and he may be too costly to bring back. The Jets did re-sign Bilal Powell, and he’s proven himself to be a solid backup, but has yet to prove himself worthy of being a featured back.
The Jets have a vast selection of players to choose from with the sixth overall pick. Here are some of those players….
Florida State’s Jameis Winston (6’4”, 231) and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota will most likely be gone by the time the Jets choose their first pick. But they can still grab Baylor’s Bryce Petty (6’3, 230), Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson (6’2”, 213), and UCLA’s Brett Hundley (6’3”, 226).
All three players played in spread offenses in their college days but each player brings something different to the table. Petty is the best pocket passer of the bunch and is probably the most accurate passer of this year’s draft class.
Hundley could be a younger version of Vick based on his speed and athleticism, while Grayson has the “big time arm” that many coaches covet.
The teams that draft before the Jets have more pressing needs aside from running back. With that being said, the Jets would be foolish not to pick Georgia’s Todd Gurley (6’1”, 222), Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (6’1”, 215) or Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (5’9”, 205).
One division down, seven more to go.