AFC East: A.J. Green

In Sammy Watkins, the Buffalo Bills got their guy.

Watkins
He was the top-rated player on their draft board and widely considered the top receiver available in the draft. The Bills say that he can contribute right away and if all goes according to plan, he'll soon be in a category with A.J. Green and Julio Jones.

"Talent wise, he's on par with them," player personnel director Jim Monos said at the team's pre-draft luncheon last month.

That sets the bar high for Watkins, even in his rookie season. As a rookie -- playing in 15 games -- Green caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and 7 touchdowns. In 13 games his rookie season, Jones had 54 catches for 959 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Falcons moved up 21 spots -- from 27th to sixth -- to select Jones. They were coming off a 13-3 season that ended in a disappointing Divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. In Jones' first season, Atlanta slipped to 10-6 and lost in the first round of the playoffs before rebounding and reaching the NFC title game in 2012.

Here is deal that the Falcons swung with the Cleveland Browns (sound familiar?) for Jones back in 2011:

Falcons received:
2011 first-round selection (No. 6; used to select Julio Jones)

Browns received:
2011 first-round selection (No. 27; later traded to Kansas City; Browns moved up to No. 21 to select Phil Taylor)
2011 second-round selection (No. 59; used to select Greg Little)
2011 fourth-round selection (No. 124; used to select Owen Marecic)
2012 first-round selection (No. 22; used to select Brandon Weeden)
2012 fourth-round selection (No. 118; later traded to Minnesota)

Meanwhile, the Bills moved up five spots on Thursday night to select Watkins:

Bills received:
2014 first-round selection (No. 4; used to select Sammy Watkins)

Browns received:
2014 first-round selection (No. 9; later traded to Minnesota; Browns moved up to No. 8 to select Justin Gilbert)
2015 first-round selection
2015 fourth-round selection

Essentially, the Falcons moved up 16 more spots in the first round than the Bills did, with the difference in the trades being Atlanta's current-year second- and fourth-round selections included in the deal.

Time will tell if Watkins measures up to Jones -- and if the Browns can do better than Weeden with their extra first-round pick next season.
The New York Jets have been riding the mediocrity train for almost two years, having won back-to-back games only once in a 26-game span. Their record following a victory is 1-9, with an eye-opening average margin of defeat -- 17 points. Can't handle prosperity? That's an understatement. They're allergic to it.

They can change the perception Sunday in Cincinnati, where they meet the red-hot Bengals (5-2), who have won three straight. As Rex Ryan continues to tell his team, there's no league rule that prohibits winning two in a row. Pushing while trying to block a field goal? Yes. A winning streak? No.

Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. ET at Paul Brown Stadium. What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith has yet to string together back-to-back wins this season.
1. Call him Geno (The Elevator) Smith: The Jets are up and down because their rookie quarterback is up and down. Geno Smith is 0-3 after wins, having played poorly in each game -- a total of one touchdown and seven interceptions in those contests. He was horrible in his two previous games against top-10 defenses (Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans), and the Bengals are ranked No. 9 in total defense. The Bengals had gone 20 straight games without allowing a 300-yard passer, the longest streak in the league, but they surrendered 357 last week to the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford. They won't have their top defensive back, cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles' tendon), who covered the slot on third down. That could mean another big day for Smith and wide reciever Jeremy Kerley, who was deadly last week in the slot.

Oh, by the way: Since 2008, under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Bengals are only 7-8 against rookie quarterbacks.

2. Battle for defensive-line bragging rights: This game features two of the better lines in the league. The Bengals' four-man front has combined for 12 sacks; the Jets' front (counting rush linebacker Quinton Coples) has 10.5. Bengals defensive tackleGeno Atkins is the most accomplished lineman among both teams. Since 2010, he has more sacks (24.5) than any interior lineman in the league. He'll be a huge challenge for the Jets' guards, Willie Colon and rookie Brian Winters. Truth be told, the Bengals pose problems across the board. Their ends, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, are tough assignments for Austin Howard and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, respectively. Ferguson is coming off a shaky performance.

At the same time, the Bengals won't have it easy with Muhammad Wilkerson & Co., but they got a preview two weeks ago when they beat the Buffalo Bills, who run almost the identical scheme as the Jets. Center Kyle Cook did such a good job of reading the Bills' fronts that he received a game ball. The Bengals refer to the Jets' defense as "Buffalo on steroids." That's a compliment, by the way.

3. A pair of two-headed monsters: The two teams share a similar philosophy in the backfield, each running the ground game through two players. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory form a workmanlike tandem, steady if not spectacular (no runs longer than 27 yards). The Jets rode Ivory last week, but look for Powell to return to a prominent role. They need his cutback ability against the Bengals' aggressive front. The Jets are aware of a quote from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who said: “They’re going to figure out probably in the first 15, 20 snaps that running’s going to be pretty hard against our front seven.”

The Bengals split the carries between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard, a Darren Sproles type. The Bengals are a better offense when Bernard is on the field. They average 5.8 yards per play when he's in, 5.3 when he's out, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They've also been throwing to him more the last two weeks out of the backfield. He'll be a tough cover for the Jets.

4. Green vs. Green: The Jets have a lot of respect for Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Asked what advice he'd give cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who most likely will cover Green, coordinator Dennis Thurman said, "Get your hands on him and pray." This is an enormous game for Cromartie. If he can't contain Green, who has been targeted a league-high 77 times, the Jets have no shot. One out of every four throws to Green is a deep shot, so Cromartie had better stay awake. Green is third in receiving yards (619) and he has a hot quarterback, Andy Dalton, looking for this third straight 300-yard passing day.

Dalton has five players with at least 20 catches apiece, the kind of balance that will present issues for the Jets. Saferty Antonio Allen did a nice job last week on Rob Gronkowski, but this is Gronkowski times two. The Bengals use a lot of two-tight end packages with Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert, who sometimes lines up as a receiver in an isolation play. That could be a mismatch for a cornerback.

5. Special teams will be huge: Write it down. Both teams have a tendency to play close games, so field position and field-goal kicking will be vital. Who's hotter than Nick Folk? He's 16-for-16 in field goals, including three game winners. Former Jets place kicker Mike Nugent kicked the game winner last week in Detroit, so he has to be feeling good about himself. One thing about Nugent: He had no touchbacks in his last home game. His short leg on kickoffs could create some opportunities for new kick returner Josh Cribbs, who is familiar with the surroundings from his years with the Cleveland Browns. Oddly, Cribbs hasn't scored a touchdown of any kind in 18 career games against the Bengals.

A week ago, Sunday’s New England-Cincinnati game looked like the perfect precursor to a possible rematch in this season's AFC Championship Game. Both teams were trending in a positive direction. Their defenses were stout and healthy. And their offenses looked like they were finally getting into nice rhythms and flows after an offseason that saw both go through personnel changes.

What a difference a week makes.

The Patriots still have that upward trend going. Fresh off a confidence-building 30-23 win in Atlanta, New England comes to Cincinnati this weekend 4-0 and looking like one of the best teams in the league. The only real change is that its once-healthy defense took a major hit with veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork’s season-ending injury.

The Bengals are still dealing with their own health issues as a trio of defensive backs are trying to return this week. Without them, the entire team took a big step backward in a 17-6 loss at Cleveland that had players and coaches searching for answers. They hope they find them this weekend. If not, they’ll fall to 2-3.

For this edition of Double Coverage, we turn to ESPN.com Bengals reporter Coley Harvey and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss:

Harvey: Mike, we’ll go on and get to the big question I’m sure people all over New England have been asking the past few days: Who in the world is Joe Vellano and can he be an adequate replacement for Vince Wilfork?

Reiss: No, Coley, but that’s not as much of a knock on Vellano as it is a reflection of Wilfork’s excellence. Vellano is an undrafted rookie from the University of Maryland and he had one of the big defensive plays of the Patriots’ 30-23 win over the Falcons on Sunday night -- a third-quarter sack in which he made a quick move on center Peter Konz. He’s considered a bit undersized by NFL standards at 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds but plays with good technique, and Bill Belichick said he’s a first-on-the-field, last-to-leave type of player. Belichick also said there aren’t many Vince Wilforks out there. So it’s a big hit for the Patriots. How are things looking on the Bengals’ injury front?

Harvey: Before covering the Bengals, I got to know Mr. Vellano's play quite well while covering ACC football. Belichick’s assessment is pretty spot on. I’ll certainly be interested to see if, in the interim, he’s able to take over the line in a manner reminiscent of what he did in college.

One other thing I’ll be keeping my eye on this week in Cincinnati is the Bengals’ defensive backfield. Last weekend, three defensive backs (corners Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Reggie Nelson) were declared inactive because of hamstring injuries. The Bengals actually handled Cleveland’s receivers OK without them. The replacements only botched one or two third downs and dropped a couple of interceptions. All signs point to Kirkpatrick making a return this week, but the biggest spots of concern are Hall’s and Nelson’s positions. It could be a rough week if Cincinnati is without them again. Speaking of secondary play, it seems as though Aqib Talib has a pigskin magnet in his hands. What explains his four interceptions?

Reiss: Talib has been a real difference-maker for the Patriots since they acquired him last November from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a trade. He is playing very well, at a Pro Bowl level in my view, and his presence has been a big part of the defense playing at the high level it has through four games. I don’t believe the Patriots have had a true man-to-man matchup cornerback with Talib’s complete package since Ty Law (1995-2004) and that includes Asante Samuel. In Week 3, we saw Talib essentially follow Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson all over the field. It’s possible we see the same type of approach against A.J. Green on Sunday. Fill us in on what makes this Bengals offense go … assuming it’s going anywhere at this point.

Harvey: Well, if we used last week as the only reference point, we would see that the Bengals’ offense isn’t being motored by much at all. There’s no ground game to speak of and the passing game has been inconsistent. The offensive line and tight ends are the only ones who have played at a solid level all season. Aside from the four times Andy Dalton was sacked against Green Bay, the line has mostly kept him upright this season.

In theory, the Bengals want their offensive identity to hinge upon the run setting up the pass. (Earlier this week, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden admitted the unit is still searching for just what that identity is.) They have two running backs in former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard, who are more than capable of picking up big yards at any time, but for whatever reason they just haven’t done that consistently this season. Beyond that, Dalton and Green have formed a formidable duo in the passing game.

It looks as though Tom Brady has a few weapons on offense this year. Who are turning into his top targets with Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski out?

Reiss: It has been Julian Edelman and undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins (the former Cincinnati Bearcat) playing the majority of snaps at receiver. Edelman is tied for the NFL lead with 34 receptions and he might be one of the more undersold stories in the league. A seventh-round draft choice in 2009 from Kent State who made the transition from college quarterback to NFL receiver/punt returner, he was supposed to be the heir apparent to Wes Welker if the day ever came that Welker was no longer with the club. But a confluence of events, most notably a series of injuries, led to him becoming a free agent this past offseason and he received little interest on the open market. So he came back to New England on a minimum-level, one-year deal, with the chance to earn more in incentives, as the Patriots paid the big bucks to Amendola instead. But with Amendola out the past three games, they’ve needed Edelman more than ever before. He has delivered. Neat story. As I look at the Bengals, one question that keeps cropping up is whether Dalton is that franchise guy to build around. What have you seen from him in that regard?

Harvey: Two Ohio men doing work for the Patriots. I’m sure there will be some proud Buck -- er, Bearcats and Flashes, at Paul Brown Stadium this weekend.

With respect to Dalton, you know, I’m trying to stand in the guy’s corner as long as I can. But the more he has games like last Sunday’s, the tougher it gets to defend him. The thing is this: Dalton has had some really great games in his career. He has thrown for more than 300 yards five times, he has finally beaten the Steelers and Ravens and owns a win over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, too. As good as some of those highlights have been, though, he has had some dark days. Few have been as ugly as this past Sunday. He had a season-low 29.7 QBR. Brutal.

On the flip side, Brady looks as though he’s still adding to a Hall of Fame résumé. How much help has he gotten from New England’s rushing game this year? Does it appear the Patriots have a truly balanced scheme this year?

Reiss: The running game has been solid for three of the first four games of the season, the exception being the Sept. 12 win over the Jets (credit to a strong Jets run D that day). The interesting part has been how all the backs are contributing. It’s a true committee with Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden the top three at this time as Shane Vereen is on the injured reserve/designated to return list. The Patriots aren’t afraid to keep it on the ground, as we saw Sunday night when they ran it 10 straight times at one point. Overall, it’s a team that is playing some good complementary football the past two weeks -- offense, defense, special teams. I try not to overlook that third phase, where kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been particularly solid for them. So how do the Bengals look in that area?

Harvey: Last week’s injuries actually forced the Bengals to keep their most electric returner, Adam Jones, off the field in special teams situations. To make sure they had enough healthy corners, they made sure to relegate him to defense-only status. If the Bengals get a little healthier in the secondary, expect to see him back in return scenarios this week. Cincinnati’s punter, Kevin Huber, has been solid all year. Twice this season he has been recognized by ESPN Stats & Info’s Mark Simon as his Punter of the Week awards. Final question: You asked about Dalton. Now I’m asking about Brady. How much longer can he put up the kind of numbers that has made his career so special so far?

Reiss: There is no sign of decline. Part of what has been so impressive about his work this year is that he’s had to break in so many new targets. He said earlier in the year that it has required more patience, and he’s not generally the patient type, but he’s really like another coach. It’s impressive to watch, and because he takes such good care of himself, I wouldn’t count him out from playing past his 40th birthday. Obviously, there needs to be some good health-based fortune for that to happen. But the clock is ticking and one of the storylines that resonated in New England this year was if the team put enough weapons around him to maximize the special opportunity it has with a once-in-a-lifetime talent. It has been a good debate, but here they are at 4-0 and chugging along, with Brady the catalyst.

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Tom Brady and JJ WattGetty ImagesThe Texans sacked Tom Brady, left, just once in their first meeting with the Patriots. Can J.J. Watt and the front seven do a better job in the rematch?

The Patriots seemingly snickered after they blew out Houston on "Monday Night Football" back on Dec. 10.

The Texans arrived in New England wearing letterman jackets that they thought showed team unity, but instead came off as high schoolish, particularly after they were easily dispatched in what Andre Johnson called the biggest game in franchise history.

For the Patriots it was the next game on the schedule.

Before the Texans got on the bus, middle linebacker Bradie James said the Patriots had delivered a lesson in championship football. The Texans headed back to Houston, humbled and officially in a slump. They lost two of their next three, fumbling away the AFC’s No. 1 seed and a first-round bye.

A win over Cincinnati in the wild-card round earned the Texans a trip back to Gillette Stadium.

Can the Texans put up a better fight as major underdogs Sunday? James Walker of the AFC East blog joins me to discuss the game.

Paul Kuharsky: Tom Brady shredded the Texans in that regular-season game, James. He threw four touchdown passes in no time, recognizing Houston couldn’t keep up with his targets, particularly Aaron Hernandez. Now, Brady has Rob Gronkowski back.

Do you see any way the Texans can get Brady off his game at home in the playoffs?

James Walker: The key to stopping Brady is not a secret: You must beat him up. Brady doesn’t like getting hit in the face, especially at age 35. The problem is that is much easier said than done. New England is extremely good at self-scouting and schemes very well to keep Brady upright. Houston got only one sack against Brady in the first meeting, so it was no surprise that he threw four touchdowns. I expect New England to once again keep some running backs and tight ends in protection to keep Houston’s pass rush off Brady. The Texans will need to throw caution to the wind and blitz more defenders than New England has blockers, and that’s where the chess match begins. Brady is tremendous at reading the blitz and rarely gets fooled with coverages. That's why he's so difficult to beat. Speaking of quarterbacks, what do you expect from Houston counterpart Matt Schaub in his first divisional-round playoff game?

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
Mike Carter/US PresswireMatt Schaub's ability to connect on big plays downfield could be key for the Texans.
PK: Schaub finally had his first playoff experience last week and he’s now 1-0 in the postseason. But facing Cincinnati at home and New England on the road are two different things. He did fine against the Bengals, but I felt like coach Gary Kubiak was especially careful not to require many throws that were even moderately risky -- especially after Schaub threw that bad pick-six. Schaub has a bit of an unfair reputation for not being good in big games, mostly because he hasn't been in many big games. To spring an upset here, he’ll have to supplement the run game with some big plays and, obviously, avoid killer mistakes. To have a chance, the Texans need to really ride Arian Foster. He has gone over 100 yards in all three of his playoff games. He had 19 touches in that regular-season blowout. To maximize their chances, I’d say he’s got to have close to 30 this time.

JW: Paul, I agree: Foster is the biggest key for the Texans in this game. He enters with some momentum after rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown last week against the Bengals. Getting Foster 30 or more productive carries would not only wear on New England’s defense, it would keep the Patriots’ high-scoring, up-tempo offense off the field. New England has thrived this year by getting off more plays and offensive possessions than its opponents. Houston's best chance is to slow down the game and make it ugly. Teams that beat the Patriots this year, such as San Francisco and Baltimore, ran the football well and limited New England’s possessions.

PK: What’s the status of the Patriots' run game? Stevan Ridley ran fine in the regular-season game, gaining 72 yards on 19 carries. He earned a little doghouse time late in the season because of some fumbling issues. Has he regained the trust of Bill Belichick and the staff? And how much does it matter? It’s not as though New England needs to run or is afraid to play a game without handing it off a lot and we know that they will keep throwing it even in a blowout situation. So does it even matter if they can run it?

JW: Trust is big in New England, and Ridley has yet to earn it in the playoffs. Last year Ridley fumbled in the divisional round and didn’t play for the remainder of the postseason. The Patriots do not have the luxury to bench him again this year, which makes Ridley a key player to watch. New England’s offense usually passes to set up the run, but the ground game is more important than most people think. The Patriots rarely blow leads because they can run successfully when they need to. That time usually comes in the second half once they’re ahead.

[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
AP Photo/John BazemoreStevan Ridley may not figure heavily in the game plan, but he needs to make the most of his opportunities and limit mistakes.
I don’t expect Ridley to be a huge part of the game plan. His carries probably will be in the teens. But he needs to make the most of each carry and take care of the football. If Ridley doesn’t step up, look for the Patriots to go to a more dependable and sure-handed option such as Danny Woodhead. The Texans' defense allowed 42 points and 419 yards in the first meeting. What adjustments will Houston’s defense need to make to be more successful in the rematch?

PK: The coverage has to be way tighter. Johnathan Joseph played in the first meeting but had not been practicing and had missed time with groin and hamstring injuries. Brandon Harris was starting for the first time as the nickel after Brice McCain’s foot injury. The Texans set out to slow Wes Welker and they did, then got killed by everyone else. They know they aren’t going to get more than a sack or two on Brady because of how he gets rid of the ball and how skilled he is at changing protections. I expect they’ll mix it up on Hernandez and Gronkowski but they won’t be afraid to treat them as receivers.

The secondary had a bad night in Foxborough and a bad final quarter of the season. Joseph and Kareem Jackson and safeties Glover Quin and Danieal Manning are all better cover guys than they showed that night, when they were even getting beaten by Donte' Stallworth, who had been back in the league for barely five minutes. They simply have to be better if the Texans are going to be in this game.

JW: I was with you in Houston last weekend, and I noticed the secondary played much better than the last time I saw the Texans in Foxborough. Joseph looked more like himself and did a good job, for the most part, on Bengals Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green. On the other hand, I think an intriguing matchup will be Patriots corner Aqib Talib against Houston’s Johnson, who had another monster season. Big games and matchups like this are why the Patriots acquired Talib in a midseason trade. He instantly became New England’s best cover corner. The Patriots usually play a lot of zone, but they’ve been able to mix zone and man coverages a lot better in the second half of the season with Talib in the lineup. Houston will have a few opportunities to take shots down the field with Johnson against Talib one-on-one, and I think whoever wins those battles will have an impact on this game.

PK: It’ll be hard for the Texans to pull a surprise if there aren’t a couple of big Schaub-to-Johnson connections.

Houston will arrive in New England with an "us-against-the-world" mentality, because the Texans are heavy underdogs. The Patriots aren’t invincible. But if they start fast, they may look that way to the Texans yet again.

Morning take: Santonio Holmes' rehab

October, 5, 2012
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Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC East: Morning take: It's going to be a long road back for Holmes, who should be ready for offseason work. Football is an unpredictable game, where injuries can happen at any moment.
Morning take: Green is as hot as any receiver in the NFL. Dolphins corner Sean Smith will draw the tough assignment after doing a decent job against Larry Fitzgerald last week.
Morning take: The entire Bills defensive line should be more consistent. This group hasn't dominated week in and week out as I expected. But it's still a young season.
Morning take: Spikes is one of the biggest hitters in the AFC East. New England's defense seems more aggressive when Spikes is healthy and productive.

One more reminder that it's all guesswork

April, 28, 2011
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With the Buffalo Bills drafting first in the AFC East (again), I'll be reporting Thursday night from their facility.

Who do you think they'll select third overall?

Before blurting out your answer, take a look at this amusing research from the Buffalo Bills media relations crew.

They charted 160 mock drafts over the past year. Here are the guesses:
That's an awful lot of incorrect guesses and a good reason I don't do a mock draft.

Kiper evaluates our AFC East reader mock

April, 27, 2011
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Mel KiperHoward Smith/US PresswireMel Kiper largely agreed with AFC East readers and the blog's mock draft.
U.S. Department of Labor analysts have confirmed Mel Kiper is the second-busiest man in the country this week and would have been first had the president not felt compelled to hold a weird news conference Wednesday.

Even with Kiper's heavy workload -- imagine how much care must go into crafting his final notes and hair the night before the draft -- he took the time to share his thoughts on our AFC East reader mock draft.

We verified our first round Wednesday with a long-form certification process: a six-week, pick-a-day reader vote.

Kiper's intrepid editor, Chris Sprow, caught up with him to go over the AFC East reader mock draft.

Here are Kiper's thoughts:

  • It's hard to argue with any of the top three picks here. If the trade domino doesn't fall, no reason this couldn't happen.
  • I'm going to stick with A.J. Green to the Bengals. Blaine Gabbert makes some sense, but if they still believe there's hope they can somehow hold onto Carson Palmer, they don't make that pick. But this could be one they are still undecided on, which is a theme this year.
  • If Green isn't there for Cleveland, I don't expect them to pass on Julio Jones, which means I don't think he's still there at No. 10 for the Redskins.
  • I like the pick of tackle Anthony Castonzo to Detroit because my gut says they know protecting Matthew Stafford is priority No. 1. I just think they might still see Tyron Smith there.
  • Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will love Robert Quinn if he's around with the 11th pick. If Quinn is not, Aldon Smith could go that high. His tape is phenomenal in spots.
  • J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan are perhaps the most interchangeable picks, so these picks don't seem off at all for the Patriots and Chargers. Could play out that way.
  • I'm not as high on Derek Sherrod as some, but would love to be proven wrong. I just think he's there past Philly at No. 23. Slight reach for me.
  • Danny Watkins is a definite possibility at No. 28, but I think New England can go in so many different directions because of how many picks they have.
  • No Jake Locker? No Andy Dalton? I wouldn't count on it.

The last point lends itself to the nature of our project. We began six weeks ago, and quarterback buzz always ramps up as we draw closer to the draft.

Mock drafts also can't accurately factor trade scenarios, and those kinds of draft-day maneuvers will dictate where quarterbacks are drafted after Cam Newton and Gabbert.

It was nice of Kiper and Sprow to share some bonus analysis for us. Much thanks.

It won't be long until we find out how well we did.

Video: What if QBs go 1-2 ahead of Bills?

April, 27, 2011
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With the NFL draft one day away, Scouts Inc. analysts Kevin Weidl and Steve Muench tap into the latest buzz.

They discuss the possibility quarterbacks come off the board with the first two picks. That would leave the Buffalo Bills with virtually no choice but to draft a defender at No. 3, but they'd get the best one in the entire draft class.

Also discussed is Florida center Mike Pouncey to the Miami Dolphins at No. 15 or to the New England Patriots at No. 17.

Patriots, Bills on clock together in our mock

April, 27, 2011
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With the 32nd pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the Green Bay Packers select ... Akeem Ayers, outside linebacker, UCLA.

We wrapped up the first round with another slim margin. Ayers, a strong candidate for several previous spots, finally found a home -- but by one vote over Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston.

We have a complete first round, but with two more picks still to make Wednesday(read below).

First, here's our rundown ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris
  27. Atlanta Falcons: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  28. New England Patriots: Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins
  29. Chicago Bears: North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin
  30. New York Jets: Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed
  31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Texas cornerback Aaron Williams
  32. Green Bay Packers: UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers

Upon the suggestion of a couple readers, I made the call to extend our mock by forecasting the Patriots' and Bills' picks at Nos. 33 and 34.

Reader mrf042579 made an excellent observation about that decision:
Tim, anyway you could make the Bills pick on Thursday end before the actual draft starts? I think if votes are still being allowed after the start of the real draft, it could potentially mess up the last pick of our mock (as in people voting after the draft starts for a player the Bills wouldn't pick if they don't actually take Miller at #3).

Consider it done. I'll ask for both selections here.

Please place your nominations in the comments section below this article, and make it clear which player you're sending to which team.

The Patriots and Bills are on the clock together. And then we're finished.

Pack up the reader mock? Think again ...

April, 26, 2011
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With the 31st pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select ... Aaron Williams, cornerback, Texas.

Slim pickings, for this one.

Only two prospects were nominated, Williams and Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor. Williams won by a vote.

But what caught my attention in the comments section were requests from readers frankb1031 and yehya. They asked to extend our mocktastic project to include the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills with the 33rd and 34th picks.

What a great idea that works out perfectly. We can maintain our daily pace and reveal the Bills' selection Friday, when the second round takes place.

Yonder reads our up-to-date mock draft board ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris
  27. Atlanta Falcons: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  28. New England Patriots: Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins
  29. Chicago Bears: North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin
  30. New York Jets: Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed
  31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Texas cornerback Aaron Williams

The Green Bay Packers are on the clock with the final selection of the first round.

Drop your suggestions in the comments section below or vote under the link on my Facebook page.

Readers like Reed to Jets in AFC East mock

April, 25, 2011
4/25/11
8:34
AM ET
With the 30th pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the New York Jets select ... Brooks Reed, defensive end, Arizona.

Readers came through with a flurry of suggestions that evolved into an interesting race.

UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers was the early leader. Baylor nose tackle Phil Taylor generated slower, steadier action.

But Reed proponents came on late for a convincing victory. Others to get attention were UCLA safety Rahim Moore and Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea.

A lot of Pac-10 love there.

Regular voter zack10bearden weighed the options:
Akeem Ayers is probably the best pass rusher left, but I don't think he is angry enough for a Rex Ryan defense. They need Phil Taylor to make their current pass rushers better. The key to these 3-4 type defenses is the nose tackle and DEs making the OLBs better.Phil Taylor is a better value at 30

Reader willparuta21 wrote:
Brooks Reed is a monster. He has to be the pick here. Fastest split 10 time out of any DE at the combine. Everyone know that the only way to win the AFC East is if you can pressure Tom Brady. Brooks Reed will help the Jets do that from both the down lineman and outside linebacker position!

Our weeks-long project almost has reached its conclusion.

This is where we stand ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris
  27. Atlanta Falcons: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  28. New England Patriots: Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins
  29. Chicago Bears: North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin
  30. New York Jets: Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed

The Pittsburgh Steelers are on the mock clock with the 31st pick.

Even though we've gone through all the AFC East clubs, let's sprint through the finish line on these last two choices. Please submit your Steelers recommendation in the comments section below this article or in the underneath the link on my Facebook page.

Jets finally up in AFC East reader mock

April, 22, 2011
4/22/11
8:07
AM ET
With the 29th pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the Chicago Bears select ... Marvin Austin, defensive tackle, North Carolina.

Similar to the New England Patriots' selection at No. 28, there was a wide variety of nominations. Eight players were mentioned for the Bears. The first seven ballots cast named six players.

Austin barely beat out Maryland receiver Torrey Smith, with readers reasoning the Bears will need a replacement for Tommie Harris.

That brings us to the New York Jets with the 30th selection.

What direction will they go? Outside linebacker? Defensive line? Safety? Tackle? Wide receiver?

They can have anybody except these 29 prospects ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris
  27. Atlanta Falcons: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  28. New England Patriots: Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins
  29. Chicago Bears: North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin

Now it's up to the Jets with the AFC East's final draft choice.

Please tack your suggestion in the comments section under this article and provide your reason. I'll pull out a few of the more compelling thoughts and reprint them when I reveal the pick on Monday morning.

Patriots snag Watkins in AFC East mock

April, 21, 2011
4/21/11
8:09
AM ET
With the 28th pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the New England Patriots select ... Danny Watkins, offensive lineman, Baylor.

Despite a surprisingly low number of votes, this was the most varied nomination process of our project. Ten players were presented for the second of New England's first-round draft picks. The first eight ballots cast named six different prospects.

Watkins, who can play guard and tackle, emerged as the choice ahead of Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed and Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston. Others to get multiple votes were Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, Texas cornerback Aaron Williams and even Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett.

Many predicted the Patriots would trade out of this slot.

Reliable mock voter zack10bearden wrote:
No question they trade this pick. Too many teams will want to give up too much to get back into the late 1st for a reach at QB. Then they will use the 1st overall pick in the second round on Justin Houston. If by some freakish miracle they actually take this pick it will likely be Houston which only means they will have traded the 33 overall pick instead.

Patriotslove12 liked the idea of Watkins to bolster a line with a couple question marks. Right guard Stephen Neal retired. Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins is unhappy.
If they don't trade down from this spot, I can see them selecting Danny Watkins from a value standpoint. He is most likely rated behind only Pouncey at his position on the Patriot's board, whereas there has already been a run on OT's.

Watkins has a great story. He's a Canadian who used to be a firefighter and didn't start playing football until 2007 at Butte Junior College.

With three picks to go, here's our rundown so far ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris
  27. Atlanta Falcons: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  28. New England Patriots: Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins

The Chicago Bears hold the 29th selection. For those unfamiliar with their needs or the players still hanging around our imaginary draft board, feel free to do some research on ESPN.com's draft page.

Once you've done that, drop your choice in the comments section below this article.

We're almost done, folks.

Patriots back on clock in reader mock

April, 20, 2011
4/20/11
9:58
AM ET
With the 27th pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the Atlanta Falcons select ... Adrian Clayborn, defensive end, Iowa.

For the record, Clayborn's closest competition was Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston.

Now quickly on to more important matters.

The New England Patriots are on the clock for their second of two first-round draft choices. Readers had them drafting a defensive end 17th overall.

Where will the Patriots go here?

These are the players off the board ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris
  27. Atlanta Falcons: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn

In reality, the Patriots are strong candidates to trade out of this -- or any -- spot. But for the purpose of compiling a mock draft, projecting the trade partner and the return assets aren't feasible.

So please pick the best player.

The suggestion boxes are open in the comments section below this article or beneath the link on my Facebook page.

More cornerback love in AFC East mock

April, 19, 2011
4/19/11
9:10
AM ET
With the 26th pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the Baltimore Ravens select ... Brandon Harris, cornerback, Miami.

Readers felt the Ravens' biggest need was at cornerback. With Jimmy Smith taken off the draft board one pick earlier, Harris was the next one in line.

Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward also received a healthy number of votes but fell a few short in our mission to draw up the most accurate first-round mock we can.

Here's where we stand with six picks to go ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris

The Atlanta Falcons hold the 27th selection and are up.

Please drop your nomination in the comments section below this article. Facebook friends can cast their ballots on my page under the link.

As a reminder, you can visit ESPN.com's draft page if you'd like to research team needs and top prospects with analysis from Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and Scouts Inc.

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