The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins did their best to close the gap between them and the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, while the Buffalo Bills’ lack of a first-round pick cost them on draft day. Chris Tripodi has our AFC East draft grades.
Without a first-round pick after trading it to move up from No. 9 to No. 4 for Sammy Watkins last season, the Bills took Ronald Darby with their 50th overall pick. Darby’s 4.38 40-yard dash opened eyes at the NFL combine, but he lacks top size (5-11, 193) and great instincts at the corner position. He just turned 21 and will have time to develop under Rex Ryan (who did not do a good job developing young defensive backs at the New York Jets), but this was an underwhelming start to the Bills’ draft. Buffalo bounced back in the third round by taking Louisville guard John Miller, who could start as a rookie. Miller comes out of his stance too high and has some fundamental flaws, but is a powerful blocker with enough movement skills to be effective in space and open holes for LeSean McCoy. Without a fourth-round pick, the Bills continued to raid the ACC by taking running back Karlos Williams in the fifth. A former defensive back at Florida State, Williams has an enticing combination of size (6-1, 230) and speed (4.48) but comes with an upright running style. Despite his size, Williams is most effective in space and lacks great instincts as an interior runner. Buffalo added linebacker Tony Steward with their first sixth-round pick and he should contribute early on special teams, a role he excelled in at Clemson. Steward’s injury history – two knee surgeries and a hamstring problem – threatened to knock him out of the draft, but the Bills deemed him worthy of a flier. The team added their third Seminole six picks later, drafting tight end Nick O’Leary. Jameis Winston’s security blanket won the John Mackey Award last season, catching everything thrown his way despite being small (6-3, 252) and slow (4.93). He’s no threat to free-agent acquisition Charles Clay. Central Arkansas receiver Dezmin Lewis broke the string of picks from the ACC and rounded out Buffalo’s draft at No. 234. His length at 6-4, 214 pounds could prove valuable in the red zone, but Lewis isn’t much of a downfield target despite a nice combination of timing, balance and body control in the air. Texas defensive end Cedric Reed was a nice addition from the UDFA pool, with the length and athleticism to create disruption in the backfield.
Grade: D While not having a first or fourth-round pick hurt the Bills in this draft, they didn’t help themselves much by reaching for Darby. Miller should fit in nicely with their offensive gameplan, but it’s hard to see more than two starters coming from this class. Their late picks will add depth, but likely won’t contribute much outside of special teams.
The Dolphins were rumored to have heavy interest in a first-round wide receiver and the speculation proved accurate, as Miami drafted Louisville’s DeVante Parker with the 14th pick. Parker was dominant after his return from a broken foot last season and his combination of size, body control and speed gives him No. 1 receiver upside while providing Ryan Tannehill with another weapon after a busy offseason. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was a boom-or-bust pick after trading down in the second round, but 330-pounders with good athleticism don’t come around often. A true nose tackle with the ability to penetrate the backfield, Phillips can be as good as he wants to be if he improves his leverage and hand moves. Without a third-round pick from the Kenny Stills trade, Miami had to wait until the fourth to draft Arizona State guard Jamil Douglas. A nasty blocker with violent hands, Douglas has issues in pass protection but will provide depth on the inside. The Dolphins had four picks in the fifth round, two thanks to their earlier trade back with the Eagles, drafting cornerback Bobby McCain, running back Jay Ajayi, safety Cedric Thompson and receiver Tony Lippett. Ajayi is the biggest name of the bunch and was initially projected as a Day 2 pick before concerns over the long-term health of his knee caused his freefall. A downhill runner with pass-catching chops, Ajayi could take over next season if Lamar Miller bolts in free agency and his body holds up. McCain was a solid player at Memphis, showing good instincts and ball skills, but lacks the measurables teams look for in a starting corner and should settle into a sub-package and special teams role. Thompson has good size (5-11, 212) and tackles well, but must improve his efficiency to be anything more than a special teamer. Lippett played receiver at Michigan State, but will likely move to corner in Miami. His hands go from below average to above average with the position change, and he has experience on defense from his time with the Spartans. At 6-2, Lippett brings intriguing potential to that side of the ball. The Dolphins signed Penn State linebacker Mike Hull after the draft. An aggressive player with good athleticism and instincts, Hull has a place in the NFL on special teams and as a sub-package player despite a lack of size (6-0, 237).
Grade: B+ The Dolphins did well in this year’s draft, adding an impact playmaker in Parker and stealing Ajayi as a potential 2016 starter and year-one rotational back. Phillips could prove to be a great pick as well, as he has first-round talent, and the rest of their picks all have a good chance to make the roster as depth players and special teams contributors.
New England Patriots
After losing Vince Wilfork to the Texans in free agency, the Patriots selected his replacement, Malcom Brown, with the final pick of the first round. An explosive interior lineman with great athletic ability for his size (6-2, 319), Brown has motor questions which are the only reason he fell out of the top 20 picks. If New England gets him motivated, he’ll be a steal. Second-round safety Jordan Richards was rated as a late-rounder by most, and we had him as a seventh-round pick. He is well built at 5-11, 211 pounds but has limited range and athleticism as the Patriots continue their recent trend of curious second-round picks. Third-rounder Geneo Grissom was another reach on our board but is a hard-working, instinctive defender who plays best in the box. Lacking range in pursuit and pass-rush skills, Grissom is small (6-3, 262) for a run-defending defensive end. New England had a trio of fourth-round picks, taking Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers, Florida State guard Tre Jackson and Georgia Tech center Shaq Mason. Flowers has good instincts and burst off the snap, but his lack of size (6-2, 266) and speed (4.87) may limit him to backup duties. Jackson is a 6-4, 330-pound mauler on the inside who we had just outside our top 75. He overextends in pass protection and gets beat by speed rushers, but will be an impact run blocker. Mason is an explosive run defender who lacks experience as a pass protector coming out of Georgia Tech’s triple-option scheme. The Patriots plan on moving him to center, but he has the potential to back up multiple spots on the line and could have some untapped upside. New England spent a fifth-round pick on Navy long snapper Joe Cardona, who may need to serve active duty before playing an NFL down. Linebacker Matthew Wells and A.J. Derby were drafted in the sixth round. Explosive at 6-2, 222 pounds, Wells ran in the 4.4s at his Pro Day and should have special teams value. Derby is a former JUCO quarterback with solid athleticism and upside as a developmental tight end once he gains experience at the position. The Patriots continued to add to their defense in the seventh round, taking Marshall cornerback Darryl Roberts and Alabama outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson. Fast and athletic, Roberts can be a solid special teamer and contribute in nickel or dime packages as a zone corner. Dickson was a fourth-rounder on our board who shows good instincts and movement skills and an ability to bend the edge. He can play on every down. Wide receivers Chris Harper and Devin Gardner, a former quarterback at Michigan, were name additions as UDFAs. They come with some potential, but lots of work to do to refine their games.
Grade: C The Patriots hit with Brown at the end of the first round, especially if they get him to play hard all the time. Their Day 2 picks were questionable but having nine picks on Day 3 allowed them to add depth and a few players with starting potential. New England went heavy on smart, instinctive defensive players who lack NFL measurables and while those players can fill a role on the team, none project as impact defenders.
New York Jets
After the Redskins threw the draft’s first curveball by taking Brandon Scherff at No. 5, the Jets countered by taking the top player on many draft boards, including ours, in USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Williams may not start right away on a stacked defensive line, which says a lot, but Todd Bowles should be able to get creative and play him significant snaps alongside Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. After dominating against double teams as the focus of opponents’ gameplans in college, Williams can use his athleticism and versatility to wreak havoc in the trenches against single blockers. New York added much needed speed to their offense by taking wide receiver Devin Smith in the second round. The Ohio State product has 4.42 wheels along with great ball-tracking skills and an ability to win in contested situations. A go-route specialist, his route running needs refinement as his route tree is limited right now, but Smith will have an immediate role as a field stretcher and has some long-term upside. Third-round pick Lorenzo Mauldin is a tough outside linebacker with solid quickness, burst and good hand moves. He doesn’t have a high ceiling but his non-stop motor should make him productive as a pass rusher with all the talent around him in the front seven. The Jets moved up one spot in the fourth round to keep the Browns away from quarterback Bryce Petty, who excelled in Baylor’s spread system. Petty is a smart player with all the physical tools and an ability to throw on the move, but will need time to learn how to run a pro-style offense. If Chan Gailey sticks around it could speed up Petty’s development, as Gailey incorporates parts of the spread offense in his game plan. Guard Jarvis Harrison was the Jets’ fifth-round pick and is a nasty blocker with Day 2 upside. Harrison comes with work ethic questions which dropped him into the third day, but has the potential to be a very good run blocker. Seventh-round nose tackle Deon Simon dominated FCS competition at Northwestern State, but his motor runs hot and cold. He could do well to learn from fellow small-school stalwart Damon Harrison. With a few extra roster spots after the draft, the Jets did well to add playmaking linebacker Taiwan Jones out of Michigan State, rangy and aggressive safety Durell Eskridge from Syracuse and athletic South Alabama tight end Wes Saxton. All came with top-165 grades from us, with Jones especially providing nice insurance if Demario Davis leaves in free agency.
Grade: B+ The Jets surprised everybody with the Williams pick, but it gives them insurance for Wilkerson’s impending free agency at least, and another front-seven disruptor at best. Smith and Mauldin were good value picks who fill immediate holes, while Day 3 brought the Jets some developmental players with upside. Mike Maccagnan did a nice job moving around and the manipulating the draft board in his debut as general manager despite having half as many picks as the Patriots, the effect of which was mitigated by a few nice UDFA pickups.
Chris Tripodi has been writing draft reviews and rookie reports for Draft Insider since 2008. He is also an ACC and C-USA scout for Optimum Scouting and writes about the New York Jets for Pro Football Spot. Follow him on Twitter @christripodi to talk NFL Draft and Jets football.