The AFC East was one of the league’s more competitive divisions last season and only the Bills landed in the top 14 of the 2011 draft. Even still, it’s hard to argue with the job any of these teams did and the division has the chance to be just as good as it was last season, if not better. Chris Tripodi grades out the teams from the East.
With the third pick, Buffalo was lucky enough to have the player ranked at the top of many draft boards fall to them in Marcell Dareus. The former Alabama tackle should immediately help the Bills’ league-worst run defense with the size (6-3, 319) to play inside and enough athleticism to be effective in pursuit. Buffalo continued to focus on defense with their next three picks, the first being Texas cornerback Aaron Williams. Williams should help a secondary that allowed 28 touchdown passes last season and, while not a ballhawk, is good in coverage and against the run and also has the skill set to play safety. LSU’s Kelvin Sheppard was a steal in round four as a great run defender with the upside to eventually start in the middle of the Buffalo defense. The Bills went back to the secondary to take Da’Norris Searcy in round four, giving them insurance if Donte Whitner leaves via free agency. Chris Hairston is a prospect that could develop into a starter on the right side of Buffalo’s offensive line, but they still have issues on the blind side. Johnny White, another Tar Hell drafted by the Bills, adds depth to the backfield and could contribute on third downs and in the return game.
Buffalo made it a point to address their defensive issues, particularly against the run, and got very good value from their early picks. The Bills have been an enigma in recent drafts, but not this season. Grade: A-
Many thought Miami might take Mark Ingram with their first-round pick to bolster their running game, but adding Mike Pouncey will also have a positive impact on their 30th-ranked rushing attack. Much like his brother Maurkice, Pouncey should start immediately at guard or even center and his interior blocking ability will be an asset as long as the Dolphins don’t ask him to pull out into space. Second-round pick Daniel Thomas out of Kansas State is looking like the starter this season with the uncertain futures of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. He has the size (6-0, 230) and all-around talent to be a featured back but runs too high at times and needs to stay healthy to reach his potential. Fourth-round pick Edmond Gates should help Miami stretch the field on offense with his 4.31 speed and if he can polish his route-running, he has starting upside. For now, he should be a good slot option that will help Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess find space underneath.
Miami didn’t pick up many impact players in this draft but the ones they drafted came at good value and filled needs. It’s difficult to find an elite grade for a team with just six picks, but Miami’s first three picks could all play important roles for them on offense. Grade: B
New England Patriots
As usual, the Patriots had a stockpile of picks in the 2011 draft, nine to be exact. Nate Solder was a little surprising to many at 17, but New England wants to revamp their offensive line and the 6-8 tight-end-turned-tackle has arguably the most upside of any tackle in this draft. He has the size and ability to play on either side of the line. Ras-I Dowling was a first-round talent that fell to the first pick of round two and if he can stay healthy, has the potential to form a dynamic duo down the line with Devin McCourty. Shane Vereen was a questionable pick with Danny Woodhead filling the third-down back role, while Stevan Ridley in round three fits more in the mold of BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a downhill runner. Ryan Mallett was a surprising pick but he couldn’t have landed in a better spot for his development. Mallett will get to learn from one of the best in Tom Brady and the Patriots have been known for taking on players with character issues and getting the most out of them. Mallett likely won’t be Brady’s successor but his arm strength is unmatched by any prospect in this draft and he could develop into a valuable trade chip, much like Matt Cassel a few seasons ago. Marcus Cannon was a player we had graded out as a second-round prospect who went in the fifth round. He can be a force at either tackle or guard position and finding a potential starter that late in the draft is a huge coup.
New England may not have drafted any players who will make a huge impact for them right away and while they may have reached on a pair of one-dimensional running backs who are copycats of their current backfield, they got solid value in the middle of the draft and filled a few needs as well. It wouldn’t be a New England draft review if we didn’t mention the fact that they added picks once again for next season, where they will have four in the first two rounds. Grade: B-
New York Jets
The Jets lacked picks this season thanks to last season’s acquisitions of Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes, but Muhammad Wilkerson represents great value at the back end of round one. He should step in immediately at defensive end and, as seen by his 9.5 sacks last season at Temple, has the potential to help the Jets’ anemic pass rush as well as stop the run. If Kenrick Ellis can get past his legal, weight and motivational issues, he could be a steal at the end of round three. At 6-5, 346 pounds he is the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle who could develop into the player New York thought they were getting when they signed Kris Jenkins. Bilal Powell adds to an already deep Jets’ backfield while Jeremy Kerley could be the special teams replacement for free agent Brad Smith. Greg McElroy gives the Jets a future backup with good leadership ability and football IQ behind starter Mark Sanchez.
New York may not have had many picks in this draft but as a team that was once again just a step from the Super Bowl, they only needed to add a piece or two. Wilkerson was a huge add to the defense, but their later picks likely won’t have a big impact this season. The Jets did well with the picks they had but beyond Wilkerson they likely only added one potential starter down the line. Grade: C+