The AFC East is in flux. The Patriots, at their most vulnerable in recent history made the Super Bowl in a “rebuilding year.” The Jets locker room is divided and nearly fell apart at the end of the season. The Bills have shown flashes of success, but collapsed down the stretch, and the Dolphins are still looking for a QB under ANOTHER new head coach.
Looking at the division champion, and super bowl runner up Patriots, they are a team with a ton of glaring holes on the defensive side of the ball. The Patriots have nobody on their roster that has proven capable of getting pressure off the edge. While the Patriot pass defense was horrendous this past season, the blame cannot be placed solely on the secondary. Relying on Andre Carter and Mark Anderson this past season as primary pass rushers is dangerous business. Both played well, but they are one trick ponies.
Look for the Patriots to use one of their first round selection on a pressure player. A few players I like for them are Courtney Upshaw, Nick Perry and Shea McClellan. The Pats also have a glaring weakness up front. Ever since they traded Richard Seymour, the AFC East champs have been struggling to find a main stay on the DL to compliment Vince Wilfork. It will be interesting to see how this position is addressed, as they have flirted with the 4-3 defense last season unsuccessfully. Devon Still and Jerel Worthy are potential selections here.
Other crucial weaknesses for the Patriots are in the secondary. They need to figure out where Devin McCourty is going to play. As a CB he put in the second worst season in NFL history, giving up over 1000 yards on his own according to Pro Football Focus. McCourty improved when he moved to FS late in the season.
If the Patriots brain trust believes he is a FS than they must address the CB position, Julian Edelman cannot be a regular in the secondary. If McCourty is deemed a CB, than they Patriots must address the FS position to find a compliment to Patrick Chung.
The New York Jets are a team in identity crisis. The formula to Rex Ryan football is a dominant running game, and a complex pressure based defense based on forcing turnovers. The Jets still do not know if they have their quarterback, and by trading for Tim Tebow have divided the locker room even more.
The Jets running game struggled through much of the season after a failed experiment of going pass heavy. The defense struggled to get pressure, and had to commit large amounts of players to get pressure.
The first order of business for the Jets in the draft should be addressing the pass rush. They will get their shot at a few very good prospects. Ryan likes to schematically beat people up front to get his pressure. Without a true threat to pass rush, they have to commit more than they would like which allows for teams to attack them in the passing game. Look for the Jets to strongly consider Andre Branch, Perry, or Melvin Ingram.
The Jets also need help at WR. Santonio Holmes has struggled with his attitude and his production as a number 1 WR since being handed that role. Plaxico Burress likely will not return, leaving Jeremy Kerley as the number 2 WR. Kerley is a nice player as a slot or in a gadget role, but they need a legitimate threat to help whoever will be taking the snaps. I like Reuben Randle, Tommy Streeter, or Stephen Hill in the second round.
The Jets also have holes at RT, where Wayne Hunter was one of the worst starters in the league last year. The Jets could also use another young player to develop along the defensive line, to eventually bookend with Muhammad Wilkerson. They also could use a late round safety, since Eric Smith failed to live up to expectations.
The Buffalo Bills teased the NFL world in the first part of the season starting 4-1. They then proceeded to fall off and finishing tied for last in the division. The Bills addressed their pass rush in a big way this offseason landing Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. The Bills on paper have one of the best front lines in the league. Where are the Bills holes?
The Bills just lost breakout LT Demetress Bell to the Eagles in free agency. If they hope to have any success this season they will need to find someone to block for Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills could address this position with Riley Reiff, Jonathon Martin, or Cordy Glenn at number 10. They also could use the tenth pick on a WR such as Michael Floyd or Justin Blackmon should he slip.
The Bills have no legitimate threat to play across from Steve Johnson. After LT, this is the next need for the Bills. If they choose to wait till round 2, they could target Randle, Streeter, Hill, or Alshon Jeffreys.
Later in the draft the Bills likely will address their defensive weaknesses, with some crucial LB depth and a rotation caliber CB. With a team like the Patriots in the division, secondary players are crucial.
The Miami Dolphins had another disappointing season, finishing 6-10 and are now under a new coaching staff headed by Joe Philbin. The Dolphins have had a rough offseason losing Brandon Marshall in a trade, not retaining Will Allen, and not addressing the looming quarterback problem.
Miami is at a tricky spot in round 1, they likely will be forced to make a choice at pick 8. The two biggest needs for the Dolphins are at quarterback and pass rusher. Ryan Tannehill is a possibility and likely will be on the board. Mike Sherman, the Dolphins offensive coordinator coached Tannehill at Texas A&M, and if Sherman has a strong conviction on Tannehill then he will likely be the pick. If they choose to pass on Tannehill the pick likely will be either Melvin Ingram or Quentin Coples.
In the middle rounds the Dolphins have to either find a pressure player, or 2 starting caliber wide receivers. After losing Marshall, the team is left with Brian Hartline as the number 1 WR. Hartline is a nice player, but should not be a number 1. Look for the Dolphins to take a hard look at Randle, Chris Givens, Mohammad Sanu, and Marvin McNutt in the middle rounds. It is entirely possible that they pick two of them with their 3 picks on day 2.
Later in the draft the Dolphins will likely try to pick up a TE to compliment Anthony Fasano and Charles Clay. It is also likely the Dolphins look for an athletic offensive linemen to develop, and potentially a mid-to-late round free safety.