AFC East: Chad Jackson

Source: DE Cunningham to be cut

August, 31, 2013
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The Patriots informed defensive end Jermaine Cunningham that he will be released, a source confirms.

Cunningham has been hurt for most of the preseason and didn't play in a game. The move is considered a minor surprise, and also reflects some of the ups and downs the team has had in the second round of the draft, as Cunningham was a second-round pick in 2010.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer are two solid second-round picks, but the list of second-rounders that haven't panned out is quite longer, and includes receiver Chad Jackson (2006), cornerback Terrence Wheatley (2008), safety Patrick Chung (2009), defensive tackle Ron Brace (2009), cornerback Darius Butler (2009), Cunningham and cornerback Ras-I Dowling (2011).

The jury is still out on safety Tavon Wilson (2012).

At defensive end, the Patriots currently have Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Michael Buchanan and Jake Bequette.

Pro Football Talk first reported the news on Cunningham.
The New England Patriots will have two new starting receivers in 2013. The defending AFC East champs let Wes Welker walk in free agency and cut veteran Brandon Lloyd. The pair combined for 192 receptions, 2,265 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

New England will go with a receiver-by-committee setup next season to replace the lost production. So far, the team signed receivers Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones in free agency. But will the Patriots add another receiver in the NFL draft?

The Patriots' track record of drafting receivers have been awful in recent years. It's the one position head coach Bill Belichick, who calls the shots in New England, has not been able to figure out.

New England's selections at receiver reads like a laundry list of draft busts. Taylor Price, Brandon Tate, Chad Jackson and P.K. Sam are among the many flops the Patriots have selected since 2004. The most productive receiver in that span, seventh-rounder Julian Edelman, was a converted quarterback and has 69 career receptions. Others, like Matthew Slater and Tate, developed into primarily special-teamers.

For some reason, Belichick simply does not have a good eye for drafting wide receivers. Is this the year Belichick and the Patriots change that trend?

New England holds the No. 29 overall pick and could be targeting a receiver in the first two rounds. Keenan Allen of Cal, Robert Woods of USC and Terrance Williams of Baylor are all possibilities.

Whoever the Patriots choose, New England wants its next rookie receiver has a more productive career than his predecessors.

Perhaps no other AFC East pick in the 2012 draft was more controversial than the New England Patriots’ selection of little-known defensive back Tavon Wilson of Illinois. Wilson, New England’s second-round pick, was the 24th rated safety by Scouts Inc. and wasn’t even invited to the NFL combine.

Wilson
This was viewed as a major reach by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who vehemently defended the pick. But looking deeper, Belichick's track record in the second round has been questionable for the past 10 drafts.

Here’s a look at Belichick’s picks in the second round since 2003:

2011: CB Ras-I Dowling and RB Shane Vereen
2010: LB Jermaine Cunningham, TE Rob Gronkowski, LB Brandon Spikes
2009: CB Darius Butler, S Pat Chung, DT Ron Brace, OT Sebastian Vollmer
2008: CB Terrence Wheatley
2006: WR Chad Jackson
2004: DE Marquise Hill
2003: S Eugene Wilson and WR Bethel Johnson

Of this group, Gronkowski and Vollmer are definite hits. Spikes and Chung have potential but need to prove they can stay healthy for a full season.

For the second round, two stud players in 14 picks (14.3 percent) is a low success rate. If you’re generous and include Chung and Spikes, that’s still only 28.5 percent.

Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com wrote a good column this weekend that Belichick should be trusted with the pick of Wilson. But history shows Belichick struggles in the second round, particularly with defensive backs. Butler and Wheatley were recent busts. Dowling didn't play last season and gets a chance to show what he can do this year.

Belichick may fool everyone with the Wilson pick. A player who was on no one’s radar could turn out to be a rookie contributor or starter in New England’s defense, which was ranked No. 31 last season.

But history suggests this could be another second-round whiff by Belichick. The pressure is on Wilson to change that trend.

Tracking starters in recent AFC East drafts

April, 22, 2011
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While working on a feature about Tom Modrak's draft record as Buffalo Bills vice president of college scouting, ESPN researcher John Fisher dug up some interesting data.

The Bills actually were the AFC East's most efficient club when it came to drafting starters since Modrak came aboard in 2002.

Several factors certainly play into that from team to team. Importance of the position, holes that allow for immediate contributions and reliance on free agents to fill out a roster all make a difference. So do the number of players drafted.

But, in general, I thought it was an interesting snapshot to share. Because the research was done to put Modrak's tenure in perspective, numbers are from 2002 through the present.

Buffalo Bills

First through third rounds: 28 players; 804 starts (15th)

Fourth through seventh rounds: 45 players; 417 starts (eighth)

Analysis: Among AFC East teams, only the New England Patriots generated more starts within the first three rounds. No other division opponent found more starts from the fourth round and beyond. The Bills have whiffed badly on some early picks, as noted in Thursday's story about Modrak. But they have done well in locating solid help in the later rounds, namely 1,000-yard receiver Steve Johnson (seventh round), Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kyle Williams (fifth round) and top cornerback and Pro Bowl kick returner Terrence McGee (fourth round).

Miami Dolphins

First through third rounds: 25 players; 599 starts (31st)

Fourth through seventh rounds: 43 players; 333 starts (16th)

Analysis: The Dolphins have done well with their recent first-round picks. Although receiver Ted Ginn with the ninth pick in 2007 was controversial, they found keepers with tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey and running back Ronnie Brown. But the second and third rounds have been a wasteland: quarterbacks John Beck and Pat White, running back Lorenzo Booker, receivers Patrick Turner and Derek Hagan, linebacker Eddie Moore. Miami's best later-round pickups since 2002 have been franchise-tagged nose tackle Paul Soliai (fourth round), Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell (sixth round) and tight end Randy McMichael (fourth round).

New England Patriots

First through third rounds: 31 players; 823 starts (12th)

Fourth through seventh rounds: 50 players; 379 starts (11th)

Analysis: The Patriots have found their share of gems in the later rounds, including four eventual Pro Bowlers. They picked up cornerback Asante Samuel and kicker Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round, center Dan Koppen in the fifth and quarterback Matt Cassel in the seventh. They've also done incredibly well with their first-round selections. Five of their past six first-rounders have gone to the Pro Bowl. Where the Patriots have been shaky is in the second and third rounds. They've gotten receiver Deion Branch, tight end Rob Gronkowski, tackle Sebastian Vollmer and safety Patrick Chung there, for instance, but they've also misfired with quarterback Kevin O'Connell, receivers Chad Jackson and Bethel Johnson and cornerback Terrence Wheatley.

New York Jets

First through third rounds: 24 players; 766 starts (19th)

Fourth through seventh rounds: 32 players; 314 starts (18th)

Analysis: The Jets' start totals look worse because they haven't drafted as many players as the other AFC East teams. Their early round players average 32 starts, about 5 1/2 more than the Patriots. But the team that accumulated the most starts here -- the Jacksonville Jaguars with 1,172 -- averaged an extraordinary 43 per player. The Jets obviously failed with 2008 sixth overall pick Vernon Gholston and 2003 fourth overall pick Dewayne Robertson, but they've generally identified quality players inside the first three rounds, including All-Pros Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis and franchise quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
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» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Buffalo Bills

Best choice: Defensive lineman Kyle Williams. Only three players in the Bills' past five draft classes have gone to a Pro Bowl. Two of them, Williams and safety Jairus Byrd, still are on the team. Williams was a 2006 fifth-round pick who has emerged as one of the NFL's top interior pass-rushers.

Worst choice: Defensive end John McCargo. The Bills traded up to select McCargo 26th overall in 2006. He has started one game since then. He was a healthy scratch for 15 games last year. The Bills tried to deal him to the Indianapolis Colts in 2009, but he failed his physical and was sent back.

Bubble player: Left tackle Demetrius Bell. On the surface, a starting left tackle from the seventh round sounds like a steal. But when you consider the Bills have banked on Bell and avoided drafting other tackles early enough to compete with him for three years, then you'd expect Bell to be an obvious franchise player. He has been OK, but far from a clear-cut solution.

Miami Dolphins

Best choice: Left tackle Jake Long. There's not much to discuss here aside from wondering how the Dolphins would be different had they drafted Matt Ryan No. 1 in 2008 instead. But Long undoubtedly has been their best draft choice of the past five years. He's an elite blocker and protector. He has been chosen for three Pro Bowls in three seasons.

Worst choice: Quarterback Pat White. The most regrettable pick of the Bill Parcells-Jeff Ireland regime was White at 44th overall in 2009. Not even former general manager Randy Mueller's fateful 2007 draft -- two of 10 picks still on the roster -- had a dud like White, who was cut after one season and retired from baseball seven months later.

Bubble player: Defensive end Jared Odrick. Last year's first-round draft choice is in a tough spot. Odrick played one game because of a hairline leg fracture. While the rookie was out, the Dolphins' three-man defensive front was cemented. Right end Randy Starks went to the Pro Bowl, while some thought left end Kendall Langford had the better season. And don't expect Starks to return to nose tackle to make way for Odrick. The Dolphins placed their franchise tag on nose tackle Paul Soliai.

New England Patriots

Best choice: Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo. Since the Patriots drafted Mayo 10th in 2008, he has led them in tackles all three years, won The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, has been defensive captain the past two seasons, was named first-team All-Pro last year and went to the Pro Bowl.

Worst choice: Wide receiver Chad Jackson. The Patriots traded with the Green Bay Packers to move up 16 spots and select Jackson 36th overall in 2006. Who did the Packers get with the 52nd pick? Greg Jennings. Injuries and lack of commitment forced Jackson out of New England after two seasons and 13 catches.

Bubble player: Safety Brandon Meriweather. For the most part, Meriweather has been successful. The 24th pick in 2007 has been to a pair of Pro Bowls. But how they voted him a starter last year is a mystery. Bill Belichick removed him from the starting lineup for three games because of disappointing play. That plus Meriweather's presence at a recent multiple shooting in his hometown raises questions about which way his career is going.

New York Jets

Best choice: Cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Jets not only drafted him 14th in 2007, but also spent second- and fifth-round picks to move up 11 spots for the chance. He quickly established himself as an elite lockdown cornerback. As long as he stays healthy, he should remain in the conversation for defensive player of the year for a while.

Worst choice: Defensive end Vernon Gholston. He's one of the biggest busts in franchise history. The Jets used the sixth pick of the 2008 draft on a player they thought would terrorize quarterbacks. The Jets cut him after three seasons and zero sacks.

Bubble player: Running back Shonn Greene. The Jets traded up to make Greene, the reigning Doak Walker Award winner at the time, the first pick on the second day of the 2009 draft. Greene has been solid, but he has played a supporting role to Thomas Jones and then LaDainian Tomlinson. Will 2011 be the season he takes over the lead?

Top draft busts in AFC East history tallied

March, 4, 2011
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When word got out the New York Jets would release defensive end Vernon Gholston, I solicited your nominees for the AFC East's biggest draft busts.

These disappointments received the most votes for each club:

Buffalo Bills
  1. Defensive end Aaron Maybin (11th in 2009)
  2. Tackle Mike Williams (fourth in 2002)
  3. Quarterback J.P. Losman (22nd in 2004)
  4. Defensive tackle John McCargo (26th in 2006)
  5. Defensive end Erik Flowers (26th in 2000)
Comment: Sadly, Buffalo's list suggests readers don't remember the team before the Music City Miracle. Last year's strong safety, Donte Whitner, finished sixth. Epic busts Walt Patulski (first in 1972), Tony Hunter (12th in 1983) and Perry Tuttle (19th in 1982) received only one vote each. Nobody mentioned running back Terry Miller (fifth in 1978).

Miami Dolphins
  1. Receiver Yatil Green (15th in 1997)
  2. Receiver Ted Ginn (ninth in 2007)
  3. Running back John Avery (29th in 1998)
  4. Cornerback Jamar Fletcher (26th in 2001)
  5. Receiver Randal Hill (23rd in 1991), Eric Kumerow (16th in 1988), running back Sammie Smith (ninth in 1989)
Comment: The Dolphins were the most nominated team in this exercise. They led with 16 nominees and the number of votes cast. Green didn't play in his rookie or sophomore seasons because of injuries and lasted eight games his third year. My pick would have been Kumerow, whose career consisted of three seasons, zero starts and five sacks.

New England Patriots
  • Running back Laurence Maroney (21st in 2006)
  • Receiver Chad Jackson (36th in 2006)
  • Receiver Hart Lee Dykes (16th in 1989)
  • Cornerback Chris Canty (29th in 1997)
  • Offensive lineman Eugene Chung (13th in 1992), defensive end Kenneth Sims (first in 1982), linebacker Chris Singleton (eighth in 1990)
Comment: I was surprised Sims didn't receive more attention. He was the No. 1 choice ahead of Marcus Allen, Gerald Riggs, Mike Munchak, Jim McMahon and Chip Banks. Maroney received the most votes, but he also generated the most spirited debate because many readers disagreed he should be considered a bust. Jackson was a second-round pick, but the Patriots traded up 16 spots to get him.

New York Jets
  1. Running back Blair Thomas (second in 1990)
  2. Defensive end Vernon Gholston (sixth in 2008)
  3. Tight end Kyle Brady (ninth in 1995)
  4. Defensive tackle DeWayne Robertson (fourth in 2003)
  5. Receiver Johnny "Lam" Jones (second in 1980)
Comment: There was a lot of material to work with here. I was satisfied readers emphasized the magnitude of the bust over the freshness of Gholston's release by voting for Thomas. The next running back off the board in 1990 was Emmitt Smith.

Who are AFC East's biggest draft busts?

March, 1, 2011
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Every NFL team has drafted a few colossal busts.

The Buffalo Bills drafted Notre Dame defensive end Walt Patulski first overall in 1972 and Ohio State linebacker Tom Cousineau first overall in 1979.

The Miami Dolphins selected Florida State running back Sammie Smith ninth in 1989. The New York Jets selected Southern Methodist defensive back Russell Carter 10th in 1984.

Recent years have brought us Dolphins receiver Ted Ginn, Bills tackle Mike Williams and New England Patriots receiver Chad Jackson.

After spending a few days in Indianapolis at the NFL scouting combine and upon learning Monday night the New York Jets have parted ways with 2008 sixth overall draft choice Vernon Gholston, let's gather a list of the biggest busts in AFC East history.

Submit your candidates for each team in the comments section below this article and state your case.

I will compile the suggestions and come up with a worst five draft picks for each franchise later this week.

Double Coverage: Pats vs. Colts in 2015

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
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Colts and PatriotsESPN.com IllustrationPeyton Manning and Tom Brady have been at the center of arguably the best rivalry of the past decade. Who will carry it on when they step away from the game?
The annual AFC showdown is upon us, and with it come the recurring storylines.

That's right, the Indianapolis Colts will meet the New England Patriots on Sunday for an eighth straight season. The NFL's greatest ongoing interdivisional rivalry showcases two of the great organizations of this generation and renews the discussion about Peyton Manning's stats versus Tom Brady's championships.

We've decided to rekindle the debate, but before you throw your head back and groan in anticipation of the clichés, hold your horseshoes.

The purpose of this debate is to eliminate Manning and Brady and look into the future.

Which team has the better long-range outlook once Manning and Brady move on?

For the purpose of this discussion, we've set the target for 2015 -- one year beyond the length of Brady's latest contract extension -- to examine which team has the better infrastructure to cope with life minus its iconic quarterback.

Tim Graham: Time to get after it, Paul. But no weapons this time, please. I've just recently completed the physical therapy from our last debate.

Paul Kuharsky: Well, this back-and-forth will be less physically taxing, and since there is so much forecasting, you may actually be able to put your Jedi training to use.

Graham: Get this debate started we shall, hmmm?

Kuharsky: So what do the Colts and Patriots have now that's going to be a big factor for them in five years?

Jerry Hughes
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill 2010 first-round pick Jerry Hughes develop into a cornerstone on the Colts' defense?
I count eight guys who are in their first, second or third year with the franchise who I expect will still be prime contributors in 2015. But only three of the eight fit into the framework of the four most important positions on the field -- quarterback, left tackle, defensive end and cornerback. Those players would be corners Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey and defensive end Jerry Hughes.

Hughes is still unproven, but it's early and Colts president Bill Polian saw the potential for him to ultimately replace a Dwight Freeney or a Robert Mathis.

Others who may still be staples when Manning is gone: receiver Austin Collie, linebacker Pat Angerer, tight end Jacob Tamme, tight end Brody Eldridge and punter Pat McAfee. Can that group be the core of a team that continues to win? I wish I could offer a solid yes or no instead of a tepid maybe.

Beyond that, we've got five drafts to consider, right? And Polian regularly finds undrafted gems. I don't doubt the Colts will have talent. But they'll need new Freeney-, Dallas Clark- and Reggie Wayne-caliber stars, plus the replacement quarterback.

Graham: Patriots overlord Bill Belichick has drawn deserved criticism for his draft failures. He has swung and missed at his share of Terrence Wheatleys and Kevin O'Connells and Chad Jacksons in the early rounds.

But when you accumulate as many picks as the Patriots have and have elite football minds evaluating the talent, those bad decisions are going to even out eventually. The Patriots appear to be warming up when it comes to successful drafting.

[+] EnlargeAaron Hernandez
AP Photo/Paul Spinelli Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez ranks second on the Patriots in catches and receiving yards.
The Patriots went into Heinz Field and manhandled the Pittsburgh Steelers with four rookies in their starting defensive lineup (defensive end Brandon Deaderick, outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and left cornerback Devin McCourty) and a rookie tight end (Rob Gronkowski), who caught three touchdowns. Another rookie tight end (Aaron Hernandez) ranks second on the team in catches and receiving yards. Their punter is a rookie.

They don't have as many second- and third-year contributors, but inside linebacker Jerod Mayo was defensive rookie of the year in 2008. Among the sophomores are starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and receivers Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman, who also handle return duties.

Without question, there will be a drop-off at quarterback when Brady retires, but the Patriots are loaded with core youth.

Kuharsky: The Colts may draft better, but they also draft less. Polian's not the draft pick wheeler-and-dealer Belichick is. Are those the guys who will be lining up the Manning and Brady successors?

It's a quarterback-driven league, and teams minus Manning and Brady will have major voids. We've got to talk about the replacements for the iconic quarterbacks, but it's hard to offer much conjecture on what kind of guy that will be without talking about who will be finding him.

Polian is 67 years old, and the last time I asked him about any sort of plan for retirement he gave me a head tilt and an uncomfortable expression.

Graham: I've noticed a lot of people do that around you.

Kuharsky: If things are neat and tidy, the suspicion is he and Manning -- the guy he hit the jackpot with when he picked him over Ryan Leaf -- will exit together. The next generation is waiting in the wings. Chris Polian is Indianapolis' vice president and general manager.

Chris Polian
AP PhotoCurrent Colts VP Chris Polian is likely play a key role in finding Peyton Manning's successor.
I'd expect Bill Polian will have a strong hand in selecting the Colts' quarterback of the future. But it will ultimately be Chris Polian who's connected to that signal-caller the way Bill Polian is connected to Manning. The younger Polian has a good reputation and good football genes, but it's hard to know how much of his father's personnel judgment he's inherited and how much he's learned. And having to replace a guy many will argue is the greatest quarterback of all time will be an awfully difficult assignment.

Graham: I don't know how long Belichick plans to coach, but even if he were to get tired of the week-to-week grind of getting his boys ready to play, it's fathomable he'll stick around to run the operation, handpicking his successor and overseeing football operations.

It would be silly to give Belichick more than a smidgen of credit for drafting Brady in the sixth round a decade ago. If Belichick truly knew what Brady was capable of, the Patriots wouldn't have passed on him until the 199th pick. So it's not like Belichick will simply wait until Brady's on the verge of retirement and automatically snag a replacement.

Kuharsky: True. But they knew more than everybody else when they finally did take him.

Graham: Belichick trusted his scout, and they unearthed a gem.

I believe Belichick's support staff is stronger than Polian's. Senior adviser Floyd Reese oversaw the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans' drafts when they picked Steve McNair and Vince Young. Player personnel director Nick Caserio, like a lot of Belichick's sidekicks over the years, will develop the tools to run his own show someday.

Kuharsky: I don't know that Belichick's got better support. It's just more well known and visible support.

Graham: And a high-profile owner who is willing to trust his front office, will spend money and doesn't dare meddle. That's another key component to New England's success over the past decade.

Kuharsky: Moving onto the replacement quarterback himself, Curtis Painter is Manning's current backup. But based on his work in a couple of regular-season games the team didn't care about winning at the end of last season and some preseason work, most people aren't forecasting anything special from him. And that would amount to quite a lengthy apprenticeship anyway.

Graham: You wouldn't think the Patriots have Brady's successor on the roster either. Brian Hoyer is an undrafted sophomore with virtually no experience so far. But you never can tell how these guys will develop while working alongside Brady for a few years. This is the team that identified Matt Cassel, a seventh-round draft choice who hadn't started a game since high school, as its top backup for 2008. He ended up going 11-5 when Brady blew out his knee.

Kuharsky: The Colts will need a guy for a super-tough replacement job. It would be awfully difficult for them to land in a Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre or Michael Vick for Donovan McNabb replacement situation.

After hitting a grand slam with the No. 1 pick in 1998, odds would suggest that it will be tough for them to line up with the right guy at the right pick at the right time. The way they build, odds are Manning's heir will be a guy who plays a full college career. So he's a college freshman or a high-school senior right now, depending on their plan for easing him in.

Graham: The Colts and Patriots finish too high in the standings every year and don't get to pick until the 20s. That will make it nearly impossible to snag some golden-armed top prospect in their assigned draft positions. But the Patriots frequently go into drafts with other teams' picks -- and an abundance of them. They often have copious draft assets to move up if they want to. Or maybe the Patriots will obtain that big-ticket pick waaaaay in advance. A year ago, Belichick traded Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders for their 2011 first-round selection. That's the kind of creative investing that could pay off with a high-quality quarterback prospect down the road.

Kuharsky: It will definitely be more difficult for the Colts to get to the top of a draft to get a premier guy. And there may need to be a post-Manning down-cycle for the team to get up there and find the guy. Scribes in Indianapolis often wonder aloud what happens to the Colts' crazed support if they turn into a 5-11 rebuilding project. The rest of the AFC South certainly hopes that's how it works, and that the division is a lot more wide open once Manning's not in it.

And while we're forecasting five years out, I have two questions: Will Manning still be a deadpanning TV commercial superstar? And will Brady have had a haircut?

Graham: There's one unwavering prediction I can make about hair, Paul, but it's not about Brady's.

AFC East preseason finale observations

September, 2, 2010
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With all 32 teams wrapping up their preseason schedules Thursday night, here are a few quick hits from each AFC East game:

Detroit Lions 28, Buffalo Bills 23
  • Trent Edwards was efficient in his one quarter, completing all four of his passes for 66 yards, including a 50-yard strike down the left sideline to Lee Evans.
  • But because Edwards is so inconsistent and injury-prone, backup quarterback remains a big question mark. Ryan Fitzpatrick had the night off. Brian Brohm played less than two quarters and completed 7 of 15 passes for 78 yards and an interception that was tight end J.P. Foschi's fault.
  • Bills kicker Rian Lindell is in midseason form. He nailed field goals from 47, 50 and 41 yards. Remember when former coach Dick Jauron shied from letting Lindell try long kicks?
  • The Bills still have a tough decision to make at receiver. Chad Jackson had a game-high five catches for 59 yards, but hobbled off the field late. James Hardy, a 2008 second-round pick, was targeted seven times but made three catches for 23 yards in the second half.
New York Giants 20, New England Patriots 17
  • Rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski is becoming a folk hero. He caught his fourth touchdown of the preseason, a 5-yard toss from Tom Brady on their first drive. The touchdown wasn't as eye-popping as Gronkowski's first two, but he did have a defender hanging on him.
  • New England's first-team defense looked shaky again. Eli Manning marched right through them, going 86 yards on nine plays for a touchdown to open the game. The Giants' starters picked up two more easy first downs on the second possession before punting.
  • Running back Laurence Maroney finally got some action after being a bystander the previous two games: nine carries for 32 yards. Uninspiring. For the record, Fred Taylor started the game.
  • Rookie Devin McCourty bounced back from an awful performance in the previous game, and that's a good sign with veteran Leigh Bodden sidelined for the season. McCourty played only two series but made three tackles and had a pass defensed.
New York Jets 21, Philadelphia Eagles 17
  • Rookie running back Joe McKnight had a rough preseason. He lost his third fumble, and this one was returned 64 yards for an Eagles touchdown. Rex Ryan said McKnight will make the roster and be deactivated until he proves himself in practice.
  • Had the Jets not used a fourth-round draft choice on McKnight, he'd be gone. He was outplayed by Chauncey Washington and Danny Woodhead. Washington ran 12 times for 56 yards, including a long of 22 yards. Woodhead had 12 carries for 45 yards and a 14-yard touchdown.
  • Mark Brunell had an efficient game: 11-of-17 for 118 yards and touchdown passes to Santonio Holmes and Jeff Cumberland.
  • Holmes had a busy night in what will be his last action for a month. He had four catches for 97 yards. His touchdown traveled 51 yards and came in the fourth quarter. Probably not fair to do to Philly reserves who won't be employed come Saturday. But Holmes will be out of commission while serving a four-game suspension.
Dallas Cowboys 27, Miami Dolphins 25
  • The Dolphins had a nerve-racking sequence in the second quarter. Franchise left tackle Jake Long, my pick as the club's most indispensable player, got shaken up on a play when Chad Henne absorbed a blindside sack and fumbled. Four plays later, Sam Hurd beat cornerback Sean Smith for a 43-yard touchdown.
  • Tyler Thigpen, not Pat White, received the prime mop-up duty after Henne and Chad Pennington took their turns. Thigpen did well. He was 10-of-18 for 160 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He ran three times for 20 yards.
  • Only 12 rushing attempts for Dolphins running backs, but 39 passes. Not sure what it means. Maybe coach Tony Sparano just wanted to let Pennington and Thigpen air it out. Maybe the Dolphins didn't want to waste their backs. But I doubt that ratio is a blueprint for the regular season.
  • Tough decision coming at receiver, even after the Greg Camarillo trade. Patrick Turner (one catch for 29 yards) was a third-round pick last year, but hasn't produced as much as undrafted rookies Marlon Moore (4 catches, 31 yards and a touchdown) or Roberto Wallace (3 catches, 59 yards and a touchdown).

Observations from Colts-Bills in Toronto

August, 19, 2010
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TORONTO -- The Buffalo Bills bounced back from a putrid performance in their preseason opener to beat the Indianapolis Colts 34-21 on Thursday night in the Rogers Centre.

Some notes and observations from the game:
  • Trent Edwards might have won the starting quarterback job with how he responded to one specific play. On a third-and-10 play in the first quarter, Colts defensive end Robert Mathis crushed Edwards while throwing. The hit knocked off Edwards' helmet and chipped a tooth. Two possessions and five plays later, Edwards hooked up with Lee Evans for a 70-yard touchdown bomb.
  • Bills coach Chan Gailey said of the sequence: "I never thought anything less would happen to be honest with you. All of our guys have moxie. You've got to have moxie to play quarterback in this league. I was impressed with that, really impressed with it. I asked after he got hit 'Are you OK?' He didn't even flinch. ... I think he's a tough guy."
  • If the Bills can count on three home-run plays a week, they'll be fine. Their touchdowns were a 31-yard C.J. Spiller run, a 78-yard Terrence McGee interception return and a 70-yard bomb to Evans.
  • Spiller's run snapped a string of 20 straight preseason possessions without a touchdown for the first-team offense. He's going to be fun to watch, one of those players who has a legitimate shot to score every time he touches the ball because he makes tacklers miss.
  • Backup quarterback Brian Brohm didn't get the most glorious opportunity to make an impression or gain ground on Edwards. Brohm could have gotten a series against the Colts' first-team defense, but Gailey sent Edwards out for a fifth possession with 11:49 left in the second quarter. Brohm entered the game with 6:05 left in the half.
  • Brohm's performance was OK against the Colts' backups. He threw a lot of high-percentage short stuff, completing 14 of 21 attempts for 125 yards with no touchdowns or no interceptions. He had a wonderful chance to throw for his first NFL touchdown right before halftime. The Bills had second-and-goal from the 5, but Brohm misfired on two passes. The Bills kicked a field goal.
  • Brohm set up the goal-to-go situation with a gorgeous pass and catch by Chad Jackson along the right sideline for a 26-yard gain.
  • Would have been nice to see Brohm air it out on third and long. In the third quarter, Brohm dumped off to Chad Simpson for 4 yards on a third-and-13 play. On a third-and-12 play two series later, the Bills ran.
  • Spiller was busy without Fred Jackson (broken hand) and Marshawn Lynch (sprained ankle). Spiller averaged only 14 carries his senior season at Clemson. He ran 10 times for 54 yards in a quarter and a half of work.
  • Spiller looked scintillating on his touchdown scamper, but his jitters and jukes didn't fool the Colts all the time. He averaged 2.6 yards on his other nine carries. He had runs that went for minus-6, minus-2, zero and 1 yards.
  • Overshadowed by Spiller was undrafted rookie running back Joique Bell, who ran 11 times for 80 yards and a touchdown. He's making a statement. Simpson, conversely, ran eight times for 8 yards.
  • The Bills' defense gave Peyton Manning some problems. He completed 8 of 15 passes for 91 yards and one touchdown with one interception. His 66.3 passer rating was less than half of Edwards'.
  • After an ugly opener against the Washington Redskins six days earlier, the defense rebounded with a great first series. Defensive lineman Marcus Stroud batted down Manning's first attempt. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin nearly intercepted a long ball to Reggie Wayne. Nose tackle Kyle Williams stuff Joseph Addai for a 3-yard loss on a screen pass.
  • Gailey said he was just wanted to give him more time in pass-rushing situations, but it's disconcerting to see last year's 11th overall draft choice, Aaron Maybin, on the field at the end of a preseason game.
  • Bills cornerback Ellis Lankster had another rough game. Taj Smith got behind him for a 43-yard touchdown strike from Curtis Painter in the second quarter.
  • Despite 35 points in the first quarter, the Rogers Centre was rather sterile again, just like the previous three Bills games played here. The announced crowd was 39,853 fans.
  • The crowd, however, got interesting in the final minutes. Perhaps the best play of the night: A Rogers Centre security guard chasing down a fan who sprinted onto the field with 1:55 left in the game. The fan had about a 20-yard head start, but the guard caught up to him and slammed his head to the turf. As the guard walked back past the Colts sideline, Wayne went out of his way to give him a high-five.

A look at Buffalo's first depth chart

August, 9, 2010
8/09/10
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Since we took a gander at the Miami Dolphins' first depth chart of the summer, we ought to peek at the one other AFC East club that released theirs on Monday.

The New York Jets haven't released one yet. And I won't bother to analyze the New England Patriots' depth chart because Bill Belichick has been known to take an arbitrary approach.

Nick Kaczur still listed at right tackle? Devin McCourty a third-string cornerback? A two-back set with Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk both starting?

Doesn't look right.

But new Bills coach Chan Gailey seemed to sketch an honest depth chart in advance of Friday night's preseason opener against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

No real surprises on the first-team offense, but it should be noted Demetrius Bell is listed at left tackle despite missing time while coming back from his knee injury. Jonathan Stupar is the tight end ahead of Shawn Nelson.

Most interesting are the reserve receivers. James Hardy, a second-round pick two years ago, is fourth at one receiver spot. He's behind starter Steve Johnson, Roscoe Parrish and undrafted rookie David Nelson.

Felton Huggins is on the second team behind Lee Evans and ahead of former Patriots second-round draft pick Chad Jackson.

For the record, the quarterbacks are Trent Edwards, then Ryan Fitzpatrick, then Brian Brohm, then Levi Brown.

No bombshells on defense.

Most notable is Drayton Florence ahead of Leodis McKelvin at right cornerback. Last year's 11th overall draft choice, Aaron Maybin, is behind Miami Dolphins castoff Reggie Torbor at outside linebacker.

Third-round rookie Alex Carrington is the top backup at left defensive end ahead of 2006 first-rounder John McCargo.

Paul Posluszny still appears as a starting inside linebacker even though he has missed almost all of camp because of groin surgery. Donte Whitner and Jairus Byrd are the safeties.

Who's handling the punt and kickoff return duties? No clue. TBA is listed in both slots.

Pats draft bust seeks redemption with Bills

June, 28, 2010
6/28/10
4:18
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- There's an assumption when an elite organization such as the New England Patriots misfires on a high draft choice that it must be the player's fault.

Chad Jackson carries that stigma, a 36th overall selection the Patriots dumped after two seasons and 14 games.

[+] EnlargeChad Jackson
AP Photo/David DupreyKnowing he is running out of chances, Chad Jackson is trying to make up for lost time.
Jackson knows he's running out of chances and appears to be an underdog to make the Buffalo Bills' roster. Head coach Chan Gailey said he intends to keep five receivers. Jackson, who didn't play a down anywhere last year, might need somebody else to get hurt.

"I got a lot to prove around the league," Jackson told me after a Bills minicamp practice last week. "I was a high draft pick, and coming out I had a lot of disappointments. Right now, I'm just trying to make up for it."

Jackson left the University of Florida after a sparkling junior season. He led the SEC and tied a Gators record with 88 receptions for 900 yards and nine touchdowns.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick carries an aura of infallibility, and with inside information from Gators coach and close pal Urban Meyer, Patriots fans figured Jackson would be a star when they traded up 16 spots to draft him in 2006.

Jackson battled hamstring and groin problems through his rookie season. He was limited to 12 games and only one start. He caught 13 passes for 152 yards, but he did score three touchdowns. In the AFC Championship Game, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He played in only two games in 2007.

When the Patriots cut him in August 2008, there was a belief Jackson wasn't willing to put in the time necessary to be great -- whether it was through rehab, learning the playbook or film study.

"There's two sides to every story," Jackson said. "I won't get into all that. But I had my opportunity and I didn't take full advantage of it."

I asked him if he could do anything differently, what would it be.

"Not get hurt," he said with a laugh. "When I got hurt, I fell back. I tore my ACL. I hurt my hamstring. Then they brought Randy Moss and Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth and all those guys in. I was put on the backburner. I'm just trying to make up for lost time now."

Jackson spent four games with the Denver Broncos in 2008 but couldn't find work at all last year. He turned 25 in March.

You would think there's room at receiver on Buffalo's roster. Terrell Owens and Josh Reed weren't re-signed. But the Bills had a pretty deep group last year and have youngsters worth looking at.

If Gailey sticks with his plan of keeping five receivers, then Jackson could be in trouble.

Lee Evans is the No. 1 receiver. The Bills also have James Hardy (a 2008 second-round pick), Steve Johnson (a 2008 seventh-round pick the organization has been intrigued by), Roscoe Parrish (a dangerous punt returner) and Marcus Easley (a fourth-round pick this spring).

"The wide receiver position is open," Jackson said. "I can come in here and get a starting spot, No. 2 or No. 3 spot. I got a lot of opportunity here ahead of me.

"I think I've made a good impression. I'm not gone right now, so I must be doing something good."

Bills minicamp notes and observations

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
3:35
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills wrapped up their three-day minicamp Friday and broke for the summer. Here are some random thoughts from their five practices ...

  • It was difficult to get any kind of idea what the offense will look like. Not only did head coach Chan Gailey rotate his top three quarterbacks through first-team rotations, but he also did the same with his skill players. For example, in a seven-on-seven drill Thursday afternoon, Trent Edwards took the "first-team" reps, but his touchdown passes went to Chad Jackson and undrafted rookie David Nelson.
  • [+] EnlargeChan Gailey
    AP Photo/David DupreyIf Chan Gailey knows who his starting quarterback will be, he didn't tip his hand during minicamp.

  • I'm no scout, but I thought Edwards looked better than Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm. Edwards threw a nice ball and didn't seem to make as many mistakes as Fitzpatrick and Brohm did.Brohm did close out the last practice well. Shortly after throwing an interception right to linebacker Andra Davis, he came back in a two-minute drill and found Donald Jones for a touchdown on the final play of minicamp.
  • Wide receiver James Hardy, the 41st overall pick two years ago, looked like he still was getting into shape. Gailey said Friday that Hardy had been slowed down this spring but didn't say why. Turns out Hardy underwent sports hernia surgery after last season and couldn't work out for six weeks, a league source said.
  • Buffalo's defensive backs have incredible hands. There's an old saying that if defensive backs could catch, then they would be wide receivers. But when I watched the Bills' secondary go through individual drills, the ball rarely touched the turf.
  • Running back Marshawn Lynch didn't look obviously out of place for having missed almost every voluntary offseason workout, but Gailey noted Lynch was behind the rest of the offense in terms of knowing the playbook."I don't think he's caught up," Gailey said. "You can't miss that much and be caught up, but he seems to be a fairly quick study."
  • Aaron Schobel still appears on Buffalo's roster at outside linebacker, even though the two-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher hasn't shown up all spring or summer and came close to announcing his retirement two weeks ago. Gailey called the July 29 start to training camp a "natural" deadline. "Our stance hasn't changed," Gailey said. "Nothing has changed. We would have liked to have him here, but he chose not to. He's got a tough decision in his life to make, and we understand that. It's not like we don't understand. We do. He'll have a lot of catching up to do when he gets here."
  • Left tackle Demetrius Bell sat out the entire offseason while recovering from knee surgery, but Gailey said Bell will be ready to participate when training camp opens.
  • The Bills have one of the league's best kicker-punter combinations in Rian Lindell and Brian Moorman. The club didn't bother to bring in any other legs. The Bills didn't spend much time practicing field goals, but when they did Lindell was perfect, hitting from as deep as 53 yards by my spot.
  • Compared to the other AFC East workouts I attended, the Bills were quieter and more reserved -- probably due to the fact they're installing a new offense and learning a 3-4 defense. The Miami Dolphins have that militaristic feel under barking head coach Tony Sparano, while the New York Jets are highly animated with a lot of trash talk going back and forth between the offense and defense.

Buffalo takes a chance on Chad Jackson

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
6:50
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A marginal signing within the AFC East usually isn't worth a blog post. I particularly have a hard time getting inspired to write about a player who couldn't find work the entire season before.

[+] EnlargeChad Jackson
Icon SMISince getting drafted by the Patriots in the second round of 2006, Chad Jackson has only 14 catches.
But Chad Jackson is a special case. He's one of the division's most notorious flameouts in the past decade.

The Buffalo Bills signed Jackson on Wednesday. Terms of his contract weren't disclosed, but it's safe to assume it's a low-risk deal for Buffalo.

Bill Belichick, Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels couldn't find a use for him, but maybe new Bills coach Chan Gailey will figure out how to extract production from a receiver who once was considered the most promising of his draft class.

Jackson is the Patriots' greatest draft failure on Belichick's watch. They overvalued the University of Florida receiver and kicker returner enough to move up 16 spots and draft him 36th overall four years ago.

He was the second receiver drafted that year, 11 picks after the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Santonio Holmes, but the Patriots cut him after two seasons. Jackson has 14 career receptions for the Patriots and Denver Broncos.

"Talking to people in the organization, they misjudged how important football was to him," said former NFL linebacker Steve DeOssie, who hosts a Patriots postgame show on Boston sports-radio station WEEI. "I don't think he worked as hard as they anticipated him working.

"A receiver in that offense has to make some reads. He had to do a little more homework than with some other offenses, and he wasn't ready to put in the work. It wasn't a physical-skills scenario. He wasn't putting in the effort the Patriots expect, especially out of their top picks."

Jackson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds. He was supposed to be the replacement for Super Bowl hero Deion Branch.

Hamstring and groin injuries limited Jackson's rookie season to a dozen games and 13 receptions. Then he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the AFC Championship game. He didn't return to the field until Week 10 of the 2007 season. He finished that season with zero catches and was released at the end of 2008 training camp.

Denver picked him up a month later. He played in four games, catching one pass. Denver cut him at the end of training camp last year, and he couldn't find a new employer until Wednesday.

"Overcoming injuries is all a part of work ethic," DeOssie said. "The guys who work hardest from rehab are the ones who come back best. If you choose not to work hard at rehab, especially a guy whose livelihood depended on speed, you don't stick around.

"Injuries weren't the reason. Hopefully, that's a lesson he's learned. I've seen it click before. Maybe he's one of those guys. Sometimes, you think differently at 25 or 26 than you do at 21 or 22."

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 3, 2010
3/03/10
12:00
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» NFC Schemes/Themes: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Schemes and themes.

Buffalo Bills: As if the Bills didn't have enough holes to fill, they've chosen to overhaul their defense. New coach Chan Gailey and defensive coordinator George Edwards are converting a Tampa 2 defense into a 3-4. They're missing the keystone of that scheme, a blocker-absorbing nose tackle. Logic would suggest the Bills draft either a nose tackle or an offensive tackle with the ninth overall pick, but they had the need for a left tackle last year and selected pass-rusher Aaron Maybin with the 11th pick. The 3-4 switch is good news for Maybin because he was invisible as a rookie and projects better as an outside linebacker. Still, the Bills will need to infuse that position with more talent in this transformation.

Miami Dolphins: Because quarterbacks coach David Lee and offensive coordinator Dan Henning were the Wildcat innovators, many look at their draft needs through that prism. They didn't disappoint the prognosticators last year when they reached to draft scat quarterback Pat White in the second round for the purposes of using him in their direct-snap offense. I'd be surprised if the Dolphins drafted for Wildcat purposes again this year. White's selection was a disappointment. He was no threat as a passer, and the coaches couldn't figure out a way to use him. Another theme to watch is how the Dolphins draft linebackers. They didn't like the way their linebackers performed under defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, inside linebackers coach Edwards (now with the Bills) and outside linebackers coach Jim Reid. All three coaches are gone.

New England Patriots: The Patriots have incredible flexibility entering the draft with four selections among the top 53 slots. They can go any direction they choose, but will Bill Belichick keep his picks or barter them? The Patriots have tweaks to make all over the place, particularly on defense. Fortunately for the organization, Belichick has a much better success rate when it comes to identifying defensive players early. Some of the Patriots biggest draft mistakes on Belichick's watch have been on offense. They found a keeper with left guard Logan Mankins, but didn't connect on such prospects as tight ends Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson and receivers Chad Jackson and Bethel Johnson. Running back Laurence Maroney has been a contentious pick, too.

New York Jets: General manager Mike Tannenbaum said at the NFL scouting combine Friday the organization isn't placing any extra importance on collecting draft picks, but the Jets need to sow young talent onto their roster. Over the past three years, the Jets have traded away most of their draft picks to move up in the order and select players such as cornerback Darrelle Revis, linebacker David Harris, quarterback Mark Sanchez and running back Shonn Greene -- all successes to date. But their ranks have been thinned with only three draft picks last year and 13 since 2007. The Jets have used undrafted free agents and castoffs from other teams to fill out their roster, a philosophy that's difficult to maintain for the long haul. The Jets also are affected by the "final eight" plan that prevents them from signing unrestricted free agents until they lose one. A plump draft class would do the Jets wonders.

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