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Thursday, June 6, 2013
AFC East Offseason Stock Watch

By James Walker


Organized team activities and minicamps are in full swing around the NFL.

Here is a look at whose stock is rising and falling in the AFC East:

Falling

1. New England Patriots injuries: The Patriots are banged up, and it’s only June. Key players such as tight ends Rob Gronkowski (arm, back) and Aaron Hernandez (shoulder) have already missed a majority of offseason work, while other players like starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (arm, shoulder) and wide receiver T.J. Moe (Achilles) suffered injuries in organized team activities. Moe is out for the season, and we’re still waiting on the prognosis of Dennard. Tight end Jake Ballard (ankle) and starting tailback Stevan Ridley (hamstring) also suffered minor injuries in OTAs this week. The Patriots have found a way to overcome injuries in the past. But they certainly don’t want those type of issues this early in the year.

2. New York Jets’ QB competition: There have been little fireworks this spring in New York's quarterback competition. The battle between veteran incumbent Mark Sanchez and rookie second-round pick Geno Smith has been lukewarm, at best. Both quarterbacks are learning a new West Coast scheme under first-year Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. The Jets would like one of these quarterbacks to begin to separate from the other, but that hasn’t been the case. Sanchez or Smith must perform better and more consistent in minicamp and training camp.

3. Brandon Spikes, Patriots linebacker: OTAs are considered voluntary. But, fair or unfair, players are still looked down upon by the team when they decide not to show up. Spikes is taking a risk by choosing to work out on his own in Florida this offseason. He’s bypassing OTAs and valuable team-building so he can do his own regimen. This probably doesn't sit well with the Patriots, who are a no-nonsense team. The pressure is now on Spikes to prove that his decision to stay away from the team paid off. He must show up next week in tremendous shape, and as an improved linebacker during mandatory minicamp next week.

Rising

1. Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins cornerback: Grimes has been one of the most impressive players in Miami's OTAs the past few weeks. Making it more impressive is the fact that Grimes is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury. Grimes says he's 100 percent, and it's looking that way so far. He’s moved well and made plays in practice. You can already see flashes of the cornerback that made the Pro Bowl two years ago. Miami is counting on Grimes to stay healthy and become the No. 1 cornerback that he was with the Atlanta Falcons. It will be up to the Dolphins to monitor Grimes and not overwork the cornerback this summer in training camp.

2. Jake Ballard, Patriots tight end: Opportunity is knocking for Ballard. With Gronkowski and Hernandez both on the shelf, Ballard is getting some first-team reps this spring in New England’s offense. Gronkowski, in particular, will miss much of training camp, and could miss Week 1 if there are any setbacks. So Ballard must stay ready. As we mentioned, Ballard injured his ankle in practice Tuesday. He also has a history of getting injured. But after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury, Ballard should get an opportunity to produce for New England this season considering the lengthy injury history of his fellow tight ends.

3. Michael Egnew, Dolphins tight end: I don't want to overrate spring practices. But based on what I'm seeing now versus a year ago, Egnew looks like a different player. The second-year tight end is getting open and making plays. He came to the Dolphins with credentials. He was a prolific tight end at Missouri, has good size and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds at the NFL combine. But Egnew didn’t show anything last season, and was inactive for 14 games. Perhaps the light is starting to come on for the young tight end in Year 2.