AFC East: 2012 AFC hidden treasure

AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

The Miami Dolphins are the only AFC East team without a clear-cut starter at quarterback. But they own the deepest group of quarterbacks in the division -- and possibly the entire NFL.

Matt Moore, David Garrard and rookie first-round pick Ryan Tannehill all bring something to the table. Moore is coming off a career year and is a gamer. He won six of his last nine starts in 2011. Garrard has tons of experience and is a former Pro Bowler who has won in the playoffs. Tannehill has a ton of potential and can make all the throws. The rookie is Miami's quarterback of the future.

However, Miami is hoping one of these players can play the best football of his career right now. Moore and Garrard have the inside track heading into training camp, according to Dolphins coach Joe Philbin.

The bigger concern could be the wide receivers. Based on last week's minicamp, 34-year-old Chad Ochocinco was the best receiver on the practice field. That might be a good sign for Ochocinco, but not a great sign for the team. Miami is installing a West Coast offense that relies on timing and precision.

Miami's passing game needs both its receivers and quarterbacks to step up. One cannot work without the other.
AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

The reigning AFC champion New England Patriots could be without three of their five starting offensive linemen from last season. Longtime left tackle Matt Light retired, Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins recently had knee surgery, and fellow guard Brian Waters' playing future is unknown.

New England hopes it has several hidden gems waiting to fill in with young tackle Nate Solder, veteran lineman Robert Gallery and by re-signing center/guards Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly. New England's offensive linemen are interchangeable, but some combination of these players could be key to the Patriots' success on offense early in the season.

Solder is the most important replacement, because he is responsible for protecting quarterback Tom Brady's blind side. It was a job Light had for 11 years. Solder, a 2011 first-round pick, looked sharp as a rookie at right tackle. But playing the left side is more pressure. Gallery is a nine-year veteran with 103 career starts at guard and tackle. Koppen and Connolly could play center or guard.

It is difficult to pick New England's five starting offensive linemen at this point. Much of it will come down to Mankins' rehab and Waters' decision to return. But New England has plenty of depth and versatility to handle the adversity.
AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

Most of what we've heard from the New York Jets this offseason was their renewed focus on running a "ground and pound" offense. But don't be fooled. New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano also wants improvements made in New York's passing game.

The Jets' offense was in shambles last season. The group finished 25th in the NFL, and didn't do anything particularly well on a consistent basis. Some weeks the Jets could run the football, some weeks they couldn't. Some weeks quarterback Mark Sanchez had success through the air, some weeks he'd get pummeled and forced into multiple turnovers.

Sparano is clear that New York's identity is running the football. But the team's potential hidden treasures at wide receiver also show a commitment to throwing deep when the situation calls for it. Stephen Hill, Chaz Schilens and Jeremy Kerley are three under-the-radar receivers to keep an eye on. This group, along with No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes, could help Sanchez take the next step.

Hill is particularly intriguing. He is a second-round draft pick from Georgia Tech who didn't catch a lot of passes, but made big plays in college nearly every time he touched the football. Hill has the size and speed to get behind the defense if opponents stack the line. Schilens showed flashes during his time with the Oakland Raiders, but couldn't avoid injuries. Kerley came on strong in the second half of his rookie season, and wants to build on that momentum.

The Jets must have the ability to throw when needed to be successful. These receivers and potential hidden treasures must step up this season when their number is called.
AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

Last year Buffalo was 19th against the pass. It wasn't all on the cornerbacks, but that position was certainly part of the problem. Safeties George Wilson and Jairus Byrd had solid seasons, but the cornerback play was mostly uneven. There were a lot of penalties, missed assignments and injuries at the position.

Enter hidden treasures Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams. Gilmore was taken in the first round this year, and Williams was a second-rounder in 2011. Both are expected to contribute right away and could be Buffalo's starting tandem in 2012. Gilmore wasn't a big name in this draft but is considered an NFL-ready player. The South Carolina product has been impressive in offseason workouts. Williams was in and out of the lineup last year due to injuries. But when healthy, Williams showed flashes of being a solid and athletic corner. Ten-year veteran Terrence McGee also will compete for a starting job.

Keep in mind that Buffalo's not-so-hidden treasure -- its pass rush -- should be a tremendous boost to its cover corners. The team spent more than $100 million to add pass-rushing defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to the defense. Both players should set the edge and make it uncomfortable for quarterbacks. Teams will have less time to throw against the Bills, and that means less time for the corners to worry about coverage. This could result in more turnovers and more aggressive play.

Gilmore, Williams and McGee are not a trio of corners many are thinking about in June. But the mixture of youth and experience could pay off for the Bills this season if all three players stay healthy and productive.