by Joe Drake
It’s that time of year again. The season has come and gone, the Lombardi trophy has been hoisted and the NFL Combine is over. At this point there is nothing except individual workouts and Pro Days from now until the NFL Draft on April 28th. The teams have studied their prospects on game film and have seen their athleticism up close and personally at the NFL Combine – now they have decisions to make. Today I’m going to break down who each AFC East team – the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills – should be targeting in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Pick #8, Miami Dolphins
Let’s go in the order of the draft and thus, we’ll begin with the Miami Dolphins. This is a talented team coming off an incredibly disappointing season. It’s almost impossible to understate how much the Dolphins failed to live up to expectations in 2015. However, there is a silver lining to their dismal season – they now own a top ten pick in the draft and can draft a player that will have an immediate impact without worrying about the salary cap.
Miami has a couple needs on both sides of the ball. On defense they could use secondary help, namely at corner to help and eventually replace Brent Grimes and potentially at a pass rushing position should the Dolphins part ways with Olivier Vernon. On offense the Dolphins would benefit from adding a top tier lineman to the fold as well as drafting quarterback as part of a contingency plan for Ryan Tannehill.
While the Dolphins do have legitimate concerns on offense, they’re not pressing enough to warrant using the eighth overall pick to address them. It is unlikely the top linemen in the draft fall into the eight slot and selecting a QB with their top pick would undermine last year’s big check to Tannehill. That leaves us to fill the holes on defense. Miami should take either Joey Bosa or DeForest Buckner should either slip to the eight spot. Both players bring tremendous talent at a premium position that cannot be overlooked. In the likely event that neither player is available, Vernon Hargreaves would make an excellent addition to the Dolphins’ defensive backfield. Good-enough size and sound fundamentals make Hargreaves the best true corner in the draft and a great selection for Miami
Pick #19, Buffalo Bills
2015 was an up and down year for the Bills. The worst part is that their mediocre success on the football field and in the win column translates to a mediocre slot in the draft. At 19, it will be difficult to bring in a player who will have an immediate impact – which will be a priority if they lose Mario Williams to free agency or a trade.
The Bills’ biggest need is going to be filling the pass rushing hole left when Mario Williams leaves. Whether or not it happens this offseason remains to be seen, but even if it doesn’t, he’s unlikely to be there long term. Filling that role is going to be an absolute necessity if Williams is gone before draft day.
Picking in the the second half of the first round makes things a bit more difficult for Buffalo as they’ll have to “hurry up and wait”. The top two prospects the Bills should be targeting are Shaq Lawson from Clemson and Emmanuel Ogbah from Oklahoma State. Each brings an impressive skill set that would help them fill the shoes of Mario Williams one day they are both polished enough to have an impact in 2016. In the unlikely event that both are still available at 19, the Bills should take Lawson over Ogbah. Lawson played against talented left tackles all year long in the ACC and continued to shine in the College Football Playoff against Oklahoma and Alabama.
Pick #20, New York Jets
The Jets are stuck between a rock and a hard place. After opening the checkbook in the offseason and stocking the 2015 roster with expensive veterans like Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Ryan Fitzpatrick, they have little to show for it. New York failed to make the playoffs but also failed to come away with a decent draft position.
Where to begin? The Jets are a team in flux. They have a myriad of needs and a bevy of aging players. How long can Ryan Fitzpatrick be a serviceable quarterback? Can anyone play alongside Revis in the secondary? Who will bring pressure off the edge? These questions all need to be addressed in 2016.
This is one of the most difficult picks to predict because the Jets have so many concerns to address. Their best bet is to take the best available player as he’s likely to be an upgrade for New York no matter the position he plays. Ideally, a stud defensive back like Mackensie Alexander would still be on the table and the Jets would get a steal at a position of great need. That situation is unlikely. What is more likely to happen is that a solid edge-rushing option is available like the previously mention Lawson or Ogbah or even Kamalel Correa from Boise State and the Jets pounce on it. Drafting one of these guys would help bring pressure from the outside — something that is always necessary when you have to face Tom Brady twice a year.
New England Patriots
The Patriots do not have a first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft resulting from the “Deflategate” scandal last year. So let’s pick up with them at the end of the second round. Despite their success in 2015 – they reached the AFC Championship game – the New England Patriots have a few glaring weaknesses that need to be shored up for their continued success.
If you watched the Patriots last year, then right away you realize that they are in desperate need of serviceable offensive linemen. The Patriots offensive line was essentially a game of musical chairs with one guy being knocked out after each week. After the offensive line, the next most glaring need is the receiving corps. Outside of Rob Gronkowski (who is a tight end) and Julian Edelman, the Patriots have just about nothing to offer Tom Brady in terms of capable receiving threats.
With their first pick coming in the second round and the Patriots’ propensity for draft day trades, it is a bit trickier to accurately predict who the Pats will take.But let’s not get discouraged. It is unlikely that New England will see offensive lineman who can have an impact for them right away slip that far down in the draft, so let’s look at wide receiver. It is perfectly reasonable for good receiver to be available at the end of the second round which makes Josh Doctson and Will Fuller excellent targets. With Edelman in the slot, New England could use a big, fast threat on the outside to stretch the defense and either one of these guys fits the bill. If by some miracle both guys are still on the board, New England should take Fuller who found success against much tougher defenses than Doctson faced.