AFC East: Robert Ayers

Josh McDanielsRon Chenoy/US PresswireFormer Denver coach Josh McDaniels, right, is back with the Patriots. He'll help New England prepare for a Broncos team led by quarterback Tim Tebow, whom he drafted.
Someone has to lose Saturday's divisional-round playoff game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos. But one person will smell like roses this weekend no matter the outcome: Josh McDaniels.

The formers Broncos head coach and current Patriots assistant has cleverly positioned himself in a win-win situation.

On one hand, McDaniels rejoins New England at the perfect time to help the team make a deep playoff run. McDaniels has plenty of inside knowledge on the Broncos' roster and would get a lot of credit if he helped New England win its first playoff game since the end of the 2007 season.

On the other hand, if New England (13-3) were upset by the Broncos (9-8), it would be in large part due to McDaniels' most controversial draft pick in Denver: Tim Tebow. McDaniels was heavily ridiculed for "reaching" to take the former Florida quarterback in the first round. One more win by Tebow would advance Denver to the AFC Championship Game and within one game of the Super Bowl. That would be the ultimate vindication for McDaniels, who believed in Tebow from the start when no one else did.

Obviously McDaniels would prefer the former outcome, not the latter. But both options have McDaniels sitting pretty in this AFC playoff game filled with interesting storylines.

After an ugly two-year stint in Denver, after which he was fired, and one year with the St. Louis Rams, McDaniels was welcomed back in New England.

"I have a lot of respect for Josh, not only as a coach, but as a friend," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Casario said this week. "I’ve known Josh a long time, it’s no secret. I think it’s great to have him back. It’s great to have him a part of our program and our system again. His goal and our goal is for everyone to work as hard as they can in preparation for this game, and that’s what we’ll try to do."

What is McDaniels' role during the playoffs with New England? Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been vague.

McDaniels' title is "offensive assistant." But this week, because of the opponent, McDaniels could serve as more a scout on both sides of the football.

McDaniels, who was head coach of the Broncos from 2009 to 2010, has great intel on many of their key players. He drafted Denver's building blocks on offense -- Tebow and receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. McDaniels also coached defensive stars Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil. This is priceless inside info that the Patriots could not get from simply studying tape.

McDaniels also should fit in seamlessly with New England's coaching staff. He spent eight seasons with the Patriots as an assistant and position coach, and three additional seasons as offensive coordinator. The system and terminology is virtually the same. This is a great way to ease McDaniels back into the fold to eventually take over for offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien when O'Brien leaves for Penn State after the playoffs.

"[McDaniels] is a person that I spent a lot of time with in a lot of different situations," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "I have a lot of confidence in him, he's smart, he's got great experience and background, and he knows our system. I’ve enjoyed our conversations the past couple days as we’ve gotten caught up on some things and moved forward into the playoffs here. I think that he'll be a good asset to our team for the remainder of the season."

McDaniels is reviled by Broncos fans. He was expected to be the next prodigy at head coach. Instead, he went 11-17 and didn't complete his second season. Joining New England's staff this week in an effort to end the Broncos' season certainly doesn't help his reputation in Denver.

Still, no one can deny first-year head coach John Fox is advancing through the playoffs with a roster McDaniels helped build. Starters Tebow, Thomas, Decker and offensive linemen Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton were all from McDaniels' final draft class in 2010. McDaniels' 2009 draft picks Robert Ayers, who had two sacks in last week's playoff win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and safety David Bruton, also are contributors on defense.

But Tebow and Thomas are McDaniels' greatest parting gifts to the Broncos. The quarterback-receiver tandem connected for one of the greatest plays in Broncos' history last week.

Denver's playoff run probably will end this weekend in New England. The Broncos are nearly two-touchdown underdogs. The matchup is perfect for the Patriots, who won the regular-season meeting in Denver by 18 points.

But if the Broncos pull a monumental upset, players like Tebow, Thomas, Decker (if healthy) and Ayers will have a huge role. For that, McDaniels would still deserve a lot of credit.

Sometimes the stars align.

McDaniels simply can't lose this week.

Another AFC East mockwave

April, 23, 2009
4/23/09
10:20
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Unless there's trade activity or a bombshell revelation over the next couple days, no additional work can be done to a mock draft at this stage.

We know all the team needs. Prospect evaluations have been completed.

So this very well could be the final edition of the AFC East mock report.

In this rundown, you'll find the latest from ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, Sports Illustrated's Don Banks, NFL.com's Pat Kirwan, Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin, CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco and Clark Judge and NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang and Chad Reuter.

You'll notice a few regulars have been omitted from this edition. Some mocks have not been updated to show the Bills drafting at No. 28.

I'm also listing the cumulative results of SportsNation's interactive NFL Mock Draft Machine. Those projections are as of Thursday morning and may change.

No. 11 Buffalo Bills

  • Kiper's pick: Robert Ayers, Tennessee defensive end
  • McShay's pick: Brian Orakpo, Texas defensive end
  • Kirwan's pick: Michael Oher, Mississippi tackle
  • Banks' pick: Robert Ayers, Tennessee defensive end
  • Gosselin's pick: Tyson Jackson, Louisiana State defensive end
  • Prisco's pick: Aaron Maybin, Penn State defensive end/linebacker
  • Judge's pick: Everette Brown, Florida State defensive end
  • Rang's pick: Brian Cushing, Southern California linebacker
  • Reuter's pick: Brian Orakpo, Texas defensive end
  • SportsNation's pick: Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State tight end

No. 17 New York Jets

  • Kiper's pick: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland receiver
  • McShay's pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
  • Kirwan's pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
  • Banks' pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
  • Gosselin's pick: Percy Harvin, Florida receiver
  • Prisco's pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
  • Judge's pick: Knowshon Moreno, Georgia running back
  • Rang's pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
  • Reuter's pick: Jeremy Maclin, Missouri receiver
  • SportsNation's pick: Percy Harvin, Florida receiver

No. 23 New England Patriots

  • Kiper's pick: Donald Brown, Connecticut running back
  • McShay's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
  • Kirwan's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
  • Banks' pick: Darius Butler, Connecticut cornerback
  • Gosselin's pick: Rey Maualuga, Southern California linebacker
  • Prisco's pick: Brian Cushing, Southern California linebacker
  • Judge's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
  • Rang's pick: Darius Butler, Connecticut cornerback
  • Reuter's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
  • SportsNation's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker

No. 25 Miami Dolphins

  • Kiper's pick: Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State cornerback
  • McShay's pick: Vontae Davis, Illinois cornerback
  • Kirwan's pick: Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina receiver
  • Banks' pick: Kenny Britt, Rutgers receiver
  • Gosselin's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
  • Prisco's pick: Larry English, Northern Illinois defensive end
  • Judge's pick: Vontae Davis, Illinois cornerback
  • Rang's pick: Aaron Maybin, Penn State defensive end/linebacker
  • Reuter's pick: Robert Ayers, Tennessee defensive end
  • SportsNation's pick: Brian Cushing, Southern California linebacker

No. 28 Buffalo Bills (from Philadelph
ia Eagles
)

  • Kiper's pick: Eben Britton, Arizona tackle
  • McShay's pick: Eben Britton, Arizona tackle
  • Kirwan's pick: Larry English, Northern Illinois defensive end
  • Banks' pick: Eben Britton, Arizona tackle
  • Gosselin's pick: Eben Britton, Arizona tackle
  • Prisco's pick: William Beatty, Connecticut tackle
  • Judge's pick: Chris Wells, Ohio State running back
  • Rang's pick: Everette Brown, Florida State defensive end
  • Reuter's pick: Eben Britton, Arizona tackle
  • SportsNation's pick: Eben Britton, Arizona tackle

Hickory dickory mock: AFC East on the clock

April, 4, 2009
4/04/09
10:05
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

This week's edition of the AFC East mock roundup is a little thinner than usual because I've decided to go with only simulations updated since the Jay Cutler trade.

In this installment you will find the latest from Todd McShay, Sports Illustrated's Don Banks, NFL.com's Steve Wyche and NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang and Chad Reuter.

No. 11 Buffalo Bills

  • McShay's pick: Everette Brown, Florida State defensive end
  • Wyche's pick: Everette Brown, Florida State defensive end
  • Banks' pick: Aaron Maybin, Penn State defensive end/linebacker
  • Rang's pick: Everette Brown, Florida State defensive end
  • Reuter's pick: Robert Ayers, Tennessee defensive end

No. 17 New York Jets

  • McShay's pick: Percy Harvin, Florida receiver
  • Wyche's pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
  • Banks' pick: Percy Harvin, Florida receiver
  • Rang's pick: Jeremy Maclin, Missouri receiver
  • Reuter's pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback

No. 23 New England Patriots

  • McShay's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
  • Wyche's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
  • Banks' pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
  • Rang's pick: Connor Barwin, Cincinnati outside linebacker
  • Reuter's pick: Aaron Maybin, Penn State defensive end/linebacker

No. 25 Miami Dolphins

  • McShay's pick: Vontae Davis, Illinois cornerback
  • Wyche's pick: Kenny Britt, Rutgers receiver
  • Banks' pick: Kenny Britt, Rutgers receiver
  • Rang's pick: Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina receiver
  • Reuter's pick: Vontae Davis, Illinois cornerback

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