Sorry for the delay, without further ado, here are my offseason grades for the AFC East.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
2011 DRAFT PICKS: Nate Solder, OT (1-17); Ras-I Dowling, CB (2-33); Shane Vereen, RB (2-56); Stevan Ridley, RB (3-73); Ryan Mallett, QB (3-74); Marcus Cannon, OT (5-138); Lee Smith, TE (5-159); Markell Carter, DE (6-194); Malcolm Williams, CB (7-219)
I think the New England Patriots had a stronger draft than most people give them credit for. The glaring hole that I see in their draft is that they failed to address the wide receiver position and waited until the 3rd round to address their running back need. Nate Solder is a perfect fit for this line as he is a large athletic tackle that can be plugged in immediately. I really like what the Patriots did in the 3rd and 4th round as much as anyone. Stevan Ridley was a highly underrated running back in college who could be a strong addition to the backfield in another year or two. I also think Ryan Mallett can be a starting quarterback in this league and I feel like the Patriots will soon pull a “Cassell” or “Kolb” and be able to turn this 4th round draft pick into more draft picks. The best thing the Patriots did in this draft is set themselves up nicely seeing as they now have 2 first round and 2 second round picks in 2012.
KEY ADDITIONS: Logan Mankins, G (Patriots); Matt Light, OT (Patriots); BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB (Patriots); Albert Haynesworth, DT (Redskins), Chad Ochocinco, WR (Bengals), Shaun Ellis, DE (Jets)
KEY LOSSES: Marcus Stroud, DT; Tully Banta-Cain, LB; Ty Warren, DE; Nick Kaczur, OT; Alge Crumpler, TE
The New England Patriots did not make the big splashes that other teams did but what’s important is they made the necessary one. They were able to re-sign Mankins and Light so with the addition of Solder this is a solid offensive line going into next season. They were able to bring back BenJarvus Green-Ellis who was able to provide a ground attack for the Patriots last season. Most importantly, if Albert Haynesworth can return to Tennessee form the Patriots got him for a ridiculously good value and by pairing him with Vince Wilfork, the Patriots might have the tools necessary to shut down that dangerous running game of the New York Jets. In addition they were able to go and get Shaun Ellis from the Jets to give the Patriots a great defensive line. Chad Ochocinco was another great value trade who I think will have a great year in New England. Not a ridiculous year but his presence should also open up the field for Wes Welker and those young tight ends. I project a 9 – 10 touchdown, 1100 yard season for Ochocinco in this offense which makes this an excellent pick-up.
NEW YORK JETS
2011 DRAFT PICKS: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE (1-30); Kenrick Ellis, DT (3-94); Bilal Powell, RB (4-126); Jeremy Kerley, WR (5-153); Greg McElroy, QB (7-208); Scotty McKnight, WR (7-227)
Going into the draft, the New York Jets biggest concern had to be their defensive line – getting younger and more athletic at the position. They finally gave up on bust Vernon Gholston and the aging Jason Taylor will not be back. Additionally, they also lost Shaun Ellis to the rival Patriots. I feel like Wilkerson will be giving quarterbacks in the East nightmares for years. He is a tall, athletic, fast defensive end with great strength and instincts. Kenrick Ellis could be a great force upfront for the Jets. I do like the Greg McElroy pick in the 7th round. A lot of times, draft experts talk about intangibles which really means “we don’t know what else to call it but we like it” or someone being a winner. The difference between Super Bowl contenders like the Jets and teams like the Broncos – is the Jets took a quarterback who is a winner, but they grabbed him in the 7th round as opposed to trading up in the first. Overall this was a really good draft for the Jets without a lot of picks. The only downside is I feel like their linebacker corps could also use some help.
KEY ADDITIONS: Santonio Holmes, WR (Jets); Antonio Cromartie, CB (Jets); Mark Brunell, QB (Jets); Plaxico Burress, WR (Inactive); Nick Folk, K (Jets); Wayne Hunter, OT (Jets); David Harris, LB (Jets); Derrick Mason, WR (Ravens)
KEY LOSSES: Braylon Edwards, WR; Shaun Ellis, DE; Jason Taylor, DE; Brad Smith, KR/WR/QB
The New York Jets did some excellent things in the free agency period. Braylon Edwards was a big loss but with his pending suspension, the Jets felt like Plaxico Burress was a better risk to take. Re-signing Santonio Holmes was a must and then the addition of the ageless wonder Derrick Mason gives the Jets a strong receiving corps. Bringing back Cromartie was necessary once they lost out on the Asomugha sweepstakes and since the kicker market was relatively weak, it was so important for the Jets to re-sign Nick Folk. The big losses for the Jets are Shaun Ellis who left for the rival Patriots but the Jets anticipated this loss in their draft. One really big loss for the Jets, that most don’t realize, was do-it-all Brad Smith. His long kick returns, and ability as a wild cat QB was a big part of the Jets success the last two seasons and he will be missed more than most Jets fans realize. Overall, the Jets did a great job in the offseason.
2011 DRAFT CLASS: Mike Pouncey, C (1-15); Daniel Thomas, RB (2-62); Edmund Gates, WR (4-11); Charles Clay, FB (6-174); Frank Kearse, DT (7-231); Jimmy Wilson (7-235)
For me, the Miami Dolphins draft was kind of a mixed bag. But overall there were a few things I really liked about the draft for the Dolphins. First off, I love the Mike Pouncey pick for him in the first round. While it has been a slow process, the Dolphins have been doing a good job of building their offensive line. They got their tackle in Jake Long a few years back and now they have the second most position in the line in a strong, athletic center in Pouncey. I really am a fan of Daniel Thomas and think he could be a great addition to that backfield. The fact that the first running back went off the board late in the first round makes almost any running back with starter potential, such as Thomas a good value. The player I love in this draft for the Miami Dolphins is Edmund Gates. Having watched several Abilene Christian games, I can tell you this about Gates – he’s got great awareness, excellent hands, and amazing athleticism. He is a raw talent but when he gets in space, watch out – he was one of the fastest players in this year’s draft. He is going to be compared to the Chicago Bears’ Johnny Knox (also from ACU) but I expect, with some development, that Gates will be better than Knox. Great value pick in the 4th round. I’m intrigued to watch him develop.
KEY ADDITIONS: Reggie Bush, RB (Saints); Kevin Burnett, LB (Chargers); Matt Moore, QB (Panthers); Tony McDaniel, DE (Dolphins); Marc Colombo, OT (Cowboys); Ronald Fields, DT (Broncos); Jason Taylor, DE (Jets)
KEY LOSSES: Ronnie Brown, RB; Tyler Thigpen, QB; Channing Crowder, LB
I have not been big on Reggie Bush these past few years but I think this is a trade that makes sense. He is a pass catching running back and a great athlete and may be the heir apparent to the now departed original Wildcat, Ronnie Brown. He also gives the Dolphins a threat as an excellent punt returner. The addition of Marc Colombo gives the Dolphins a pretty good offensive line and I like the additions they made on defense with Fields and Burnett. Crowder will definitely be missed. Of course the biggest question for the Dolphins in my mind is who is going to play quarterback? I am not going to go as far as to say Chad Henne and Matt Moore are never going to be more than a number 2 but for a team that improved overall in the offseason, they actually took a step back at the quarterback position. It’s a sad state of affairs when losing Tyler Thigpen actually weakens your QB position. There were a number of serviceable starters available via trade and draft and I think the Dolphins should be calling Cincy around the clock to see what it would take to get Carson Palmer there. While I believe he is retired for good, this is one of a small handful of teams that should be calling Favre and it might not hurt them to give Randy Moss a call either.
2011 DRAFT CLASS: Marcell Dareus, DT (1-3); Aaron Williams, CB (2-34); Kelvin Sheppard, LB (3-68); Da’Norris Searcy, S (4-100); Chris Hairston, OT (4-122); Johnny White, RB (5-133); Chris White, LB (6-169); Justin Rogers, CB (7-206); Michael Jasper, G (7-245)
I don’t know if Buffalo really drafted the positions they needed but they drafted a lot of good players. A lot of good teams have been built on the basis of B.P.A. (Best Player Available) and when you are as bad as the Bills were last season, the focus really does need to be on getting as many good players as possible. While I will continue to argue that I believe Patrick Peterson was the best overall player in the draft, I believe Marcell Dareus was a perfect defensive pick for the Bills. The Bills run a 3-4 defense and as a pass-rusher, Dareus could easily be converted into a defensive end. I also love the Williams, Sheppard, and Searcy picks. This defense should be much improved this coming season. The biggest questions have to be though, why the Bills did not address their offensive line until day 3 or use a single pick on a wide receiver or tight end.
KEY ADDITIONS: Nick Barnett, LB (Packers); Drayton Florence, CB (Bills); Brad Smith, WR/KR/QB (Jets), Tyler Thigpen, QB (Dolphins)
KEY LOSSES: Paul Posluszny, LB; Donte Whitner, S; Lee Evans, WR
One of these offseasons, Buffalo is going to have to make a splash if they ever hope to compete with the Jets and Patriots. Losing Paul Posluszny and Donte Whitner was significant. But the Bills re-signed the guy they needed to in Drayton Florence. Nick Barnett is a nice replacement for Posluszny and I could see this being a stout defense that now features the likes of Aaron Williams, Marcell Dareus, Shawne Merriman, Nick Barnett, and Jairus Byrd. I also like the Tyler Thigpen signing as he is a solid back-up quarterback and it was a good move to take Brad Smith away from the rival Jets. Gailey did some wildcat looks in Kansas City with Thigpen and in this offense he could find places for Thigpen and Smith. However, the offensive side of the ball needs plenty of work. The offensive line is non-existent and they traded away a highly underrated receiver in Lee Evans which I believe they will regret. But if this defense can hold teams to 10 points a game, the Bills might just have a shot.
Overall the AFC East had a pretty strong offseason. The New England Patriots definitely improved. The Bills and Dolphins should field a better team than last season and the New York Jets look about the same to me. As always this should be a very tough division and I expect great defense across the board from all four teams.