AFC East combine primer

February, 21, 2012
2/21/12
1:00
PM ET
About 300 prospects will arrive in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine. Stocks will rise and fall over the next several days, as we get closer to the NFL draft.

Here are seven things to keep an eye on the AFC East:

Coin flip: The Miami Dolphins will find out in Indianapolis where they will pick in April's NFL draft. The league will hold a coin flip between Miami and the Carolina Panthers to determine who holds the No. 8 and No. 9 overall pick. Both teams finished with the same record and same strength of schedule this past season.

Pass-rushers at a premium: Every AFC East team, to some degree, needs more help rushing the passer. Keep an eye on athletic defensive ends and/or outside linebackers who really stand out at the combine. The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, in particular, are two teams looking for a dynamic pass-rusher. Both teams could be aiming to find one in the first round.

Double trouble: The Patriots are one of three teams with two picks in the first round. Traditionally, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick likes to trade back for additional picks. But I have a feeling New England will do the unexpected this year. That could mean either trading up or simply using their two first-round picks in the slots provided. New England has a bevy of needs, particularly on defense. The Patriots could use help at all three levels defensively.

Safety first: The New York Jets need a safety (or two) more than any team in this draft. New York's defense was beat over the middle often last season by pass-catching tight ends. Jim Leonhard is a free agent coming off a season-ending knee injury and isn't expected to sign with a team until he's 100 percent. Starter Eric Smith struggled mightily and the Jets could use an upgrade there. Alabama's Mark Barron is the top safety prospect in the draft and often linked to New York with the No. 16 overall pick. The Dolphins and Patriots also are in the market for a safety.

The Dolphins-Tannehill connection: A player who really has a chance to improve his stock at the combine is Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have received all the attention during the season, but Tannehill has a chance to move up in the first round with a good combine and workouts. New Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman coached Tannehill at Texas A&M and is high on the quarterback. Would Miami consider Tannehill at No. 8 or No. 9? Probably not. But things can always change if Tannehill’s stock skyrockets in the coming weeks.

Watch the interviews: Teams have a chance to interview a certain number of prospects at the combine. Watch for who the Bills, Jets, Patriots and Dolphins decide to spend personal time with next week.

Don't forget free agency: There will be plenty of talk about free agency at the combine, which is scheduled to start in a few weeks. There are many free-agent storylines in the AFC East. For example, the Bills will enter their final talks with pending free-agent receiver Steve Johnson. If progress can’t be made in Indianapolis, Johnson will most likely hit the open market. Will the Patriots use the franchise tag on Wes Welker? What will the Dolphins do at quarterback? How will the Jets slash payroll? These are all questions that will be asked at the combine.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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