AFC East: Scouts Inc.

The Buffalo Bills made a trade this week with the Seattle Seahawks to acquire quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Buffalo believes Jackson will be an upgrade over former backup Vince Young. As a result, the Bills also released Young.

We checked in with our resident scout, Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc., to get his thoughts on Buffalo acquiring Jackson.
"Jackson had a much better year than many realized. He played with a torn pectoral to finish the season and it showed. But he’s very tough with a big arm and great speed. But Jackson has poor accuracy and tough. He’s a real good backup for [Bills coach] Chan Gailey and an upgrade over Vince Young."

So there you have it. Williamson is on board with the Jackson signing and deemed him an upgrade over Young.

What are your thoughts?
Tim TebowAl Pereira/Getty ImagesTo say the spotlight will be on Tim Tebow this season is an understatement of great proportion.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. is not a Tim Tebow supporter. In fact, Williamson is one of Tebow's harshest critics.

But he has no doubt that Tebow will eventually supplant starting quarterback Mark Sanchez this season and take over the New York Jets.

“My prediction is he will see immediate time as a backup, maybe 15-20 snaps a game from the start,” Williamson explained. “Then, I think [coach] Rex Ryan will look at it more and more like Tebow gives the Jets the better chance to win. The Jets' defense is so strong and they’re pretty good on special teams that they could play Tebow more and more, because it gives them the best chance to have a winning record this year. That may not be the right answer long term, but I don’t think Rex cares about that. He’s probably feeling a little heat there with the Jets. I think Tebow becomes the starter before midseason.”

Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesIf Mark Sanchez struggles to start the season, it might not be long until Tim Tebow sees time at starting quarterback.
Williamson is not alone in his assessment. Many pundits believe it is inevitable that Tebow takes over in New York.

But does Tebow give the Jets the best chance to win? Let's examine.

The numbers prove that both quarterbacks are winners. Tebow and Sanchez had success at the collegiate level and in the NFL early in their careers.

Tebow has an 8-6 (57 percent) record as starter in two seasons, including a playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sanchez is 27-20 (57 percent) in three seasons and has four postseason wins. Tebow has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio (17-to-9), while Sanchez has a higher completion percentage (55.3 to 47.3). Both quarterbacks are mobile, but Tebow is a much stronger runner (6.8 yards per carry).

"I think Sanchez is the better player right now, just because he’s the better passer," said Williamson when comparing the two. "But if I had to win one game, four games, maybe one season, I’m taking Tebow because he’s harder to prepare for, his physicality and he's so unique. But if I were to say, ‘Who will have the better career?’ I would pick Sanchez."

A case also can be made that Tebow improved last year and Sanchez did not. That is why there’s a feeling of momentum favoring Tebow.

Tebow is coming off a season in which he went 7-4 replacing Kyle Orton in Denver and led the Broncos an AFC West title. Sanchez was 8-8, missed the playoffs and threw seven interceptions in his final three starts -- all losses. Sanchez must play well early to hold off Tebow.

The Jets also have the kind of team Tebow needs. New York has a top-five defense, a physical offensive line and a coach whose priority is running the football. Tebow's skills make it much easier for Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano to manage the game. It makes more sense to tell Tebow to throw 15 times per game than to tell Sanchez, a passing quarterback, to do the same.

Tebow also has more talent in New York than he had in Denver, including receivers Santonio Holmes and rookie Stephen Hill, tight end Dustin Keller and 1,000-yard rusher Shonn Greene.

“The best-case scenario is I think Tebow can take that team to 11-5 if he became the starter early in the season and win a lot of low-scoring type games,” Williamson said. “I think that’s the best he can do, but that’s really being optimistic.”

Keep an eye on New York’s early season schedule. This could mean a lot for Tebow and Sanchez. New York’s first five games are against the upstart Buffalo Bills, at the Pittsburgh Steelers, at the Miami Dolphins, then home against the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans. Three of those teams (Steelers, 49ers, Texans) made the playoffs last season, and the Bills have playoff expectations this year.

Sanchez will have a short leash, so if New York starts the season slowly against this tough schedule, Tebow's number will be called early.

Tebow says all the right things, but rest assured he will compete and wants to play. He is a former first-round pick entering his third year, which is big in the NFL. Tebow has been a winner at every stop. It also doesn’t hurt that Tebow has a huge following behind him. As a competitor, it has to be eating at Tebow inside to go from a playoff-winning quarterback to a backup and potential special teams player.

New York is a veteran team that needs to win now. Six key starters are over 30, including defensive tackle Sione Pouha, guard Brandon Moore, offensive tackle Wayne Hunter, safety Yeremiah Bell and linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott. Stars such as cornerback Darrelle Revis, center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson also are in their prime.

Sanchez deserves to start the year as the incumbent. But the Jets don’t have four years to wait on Sanchez to come around.

“What [Tebow] does, he does well. If he gets on the field, he can spark and team and help you win immediately,” Williamson said. “I don’t think his skills are going away, but I also don’t think they will change much. But he’s always going to be a good runner, he’s always going to be tough and make good decisions.”

Because the Jets have a stout defense and good coaching, Tebow may be enough for the Jets to have success in 2012.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. provided his offseason grades for the AFC on Monday. It turns out two teams made the grade and two didn't.

Here is a look at Williamson's offseason grades in the division:

Buffalo Bills: A-

It's hard to argue with Buffalo's stellar offseason. In case you didn't know, the Bills are my slee...just kidding. But many are on Buffalo's bandwagon, and Williamson gave the Bills the highest grade in the AFC. “Things are on the upswing in Buffalo,” Williamson said. The Bills look good on paper. But it’s been a while -- 13 years to be exact -- since Buffalo made the playoffs. It’s been a great offseason for the Bills, but they still have to prove themselves on the field.

New York Jets: C+

New York was strapped by the cap. The Jets made a few moves, but nothing spectacular this offseason. Williamson was harsh on the lack of upgrades on offense, and particularly the quarterbacks: Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. “Can the Jets win low-scoring games consistently in 2012? It's possible, but the offense has two of my least favorite quarterbacks with respect to throwing the football.” Ouch! Sanchez certainly has a lot to prove. The Jets tried to get a few pieces around him in second-round pick Stephen Hill and receiver Chaz Schilens. But I thought New York could have done more to help its quarterback. The defense has looked good this offseason.

New England Patriots: B+

Williamson was pretty clear in saying, “As it stands today, the Patriots are the best team in football.” That’s a strong statement, but the Patriots did have a strong offseason. They added free agents such as receiver Brandon Lloyd and went hard on defense in the draft, which includes first-rounders Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones. There’s not many weaknesses on this team. The reigning AFC champs look determined to get back to the Super Bowl.

Miami Dolphins C-

The Dolphins had a rough start to the offseason, then made it up with a solid draft. But Williamson doesn’t think that’s enough to turn Miami around. “It seems clear that the Dolphins are a worse team now than they were in February. However, if Miami ends up adding its franchise quarterback in [Ryan] Tannehill, the 2012 offseason will be a success.” Tannehill was Miami’s first-round pick and quarterback of the future. If he’s the long-term solution, Tannehill will be the jewel of the 2012 offseason. I’ve said numerous times I don’t see the Dolphins winning more than six games this season. This is a rebuilding year under a new coaching staff. It will take time.
Tom BradyJim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesHistory is against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots returning to the Super Bowl this season.
The reigning AFC champion New England Patriots have the talent, experience and depth to get back to the Super Bowl in February. Many football pundits agree the Patriots -- led by quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick -- are one of the safest picks to represent the AFC in New Orleans.

But history suggests New England is better off not showing up this season. The Patriots were runners-up in Super Bowl XLVI -- and historically that is an awful position to be in.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, it's been 39 years since a team bounced back from a Super Bowl loss to win a championship. The Miami Dolphins won Super Bowl VII in January 1973 after losing Super Bowl VI the previous year. In fact, it's only happened twice in the Super Bowl's 46-year history.

New England is trying to become just the third team to accomplish the feat -- and the first in nearly four decades. Thirty-eight consecutive teams have tried and failed. That is a ton of history against the Patriots as they chase their fourth Super Bowl title in the Belichick-Brady era.

Mathematically, only 4.3 percent of NFL teams have been able to accomplish what New England is trying to do this year. Those are long odds, indeed.

"The Patriots played more games than any other team but one last year and I think that takes a toll," Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson said of difficulty of getting back to the Super Bowl. "Those playoff games are really intense and you have to do more physical damage to your roster than teams that didn’t make it deep into the playoffs. So I think it’s a little more difficult to be fresh when your season comes around. Your offseasons aren't as long and you're more beat up."

To Williamson's point, the Patriots are still ailing from last year's playoff run.

Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins tore his ACL in the postseason and had surgery in February. He is questionable for Week 1 and could begin the year on the physically unable to perform list. Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski needed ankle surgery this offseason after getting injured in the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens. He continues to rehab and hopes to be back by training camp. Neither star was able to participate in offseason workouts.

The numbers are a little more in New England's favor in terms of getting back to the big game. Seven Super Bowl runners-up have repeated as conference champions in 46 years, which is 15.2 percent. Most recently, the Buffalo Bills bounced back from three Super Bowl losses to return to the title game in the 1990-93 seasons. The Denver Broncos also lost Super Bowl XXI in the 1986 season and made it back to Super Bowl XXII the following year. But 17 consecutive Super Bowl runners-up have not returned to the big game. The Patriots will try to end the drought this season.

History is not on New England's side, but there are reasons to believe the Patriots can shake the runners-up curse.

For starters, New England is stacked this year. There is depth at nearly every position, and the defense should be much improved from the 31st-ranked unit we saw a year ago. Second, New England has the easiest strength of schedule in the NFL. The Patriots play just four teams with winning records in 2011. A 12- or 13-win season appears very attainable for the Patriots.

Finally, New England's offense is a juggernaut. Brady is playing some of the best football of his career and he has a supremely talented supporting cast that includes Gronkowski, Brandon Lloyd, Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker, dynamic tight end Aaron Hernandez, veteran receiver Jabar Gaffney and a young, exciting group of running backs.

"They would be No. 1 on my power rankings. I'm not saying they will win the Super Bowl, but if I had to pick one team, they would be my pick," Williamson said. "The key to me is you can't outscore them. The Patriots were one of the two or three best offenses last year and they had some flaws. They had nothing outside the numbers and no deep-ball capabilities, and they went out and changed that with Brandon Lloyd. That's a big step forward on offense, and now you're going to have to score 40 to beat them."

The AFC appears to be the weaker conference, which also plays into New England's favor. There are only a handful of serious contenders. Besides New England, the list includes the Ravens, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers and maybe the Broncos if future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning can return to full strength.

But the first step for the Patriots is conquering the AFC East. New England has won the division nine of the past 11 years under Brady and Belichick. Williamson does not see any reason the Patriots cannot win their 10th AFC East title in 12 years.

"I think the Jets are declining and the Bills are rising, but I don't think either one is close to the Patriots’ level," Williamson said. "I don't think the rest of the division is that good. The Bills have come a long way -- for the Bills. But I still think they're an 8-8 or 9-7 team if everything goes well. No one in the division has a quarterback close to Brady. No one has the big-game experience, and none of them have a coach on Belichick’s level."

Barring significant injuries, the Patriots are a safe bet to make the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. But when it comes to getting to the very top of the NFL mountain, history suggests New England's 2012 journey will fall short.
The AFC East blog continues its look at top prospects with potential to land in the division.

This week, we examined Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Alabama safety Mark Barron. Today, we take an in-depth look at Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff.

The Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills all have a need at tackle. Reiff says he can help any team looking for a versatile offensive lineman who can play both tackle spots and guard.

"I'll go wherever a team wants [me] to go," Reiff said at the NFL combine. "I played some right tackle in college. I'd be happy to move over and play wherever the team needs me to play."

Here are a few takeaways from Scouts Inc.'s in-depth report on Reiff Insider:
  • Pass protection (above average): "Above average balance for size and can mirror defenders. Resets feet and absorbs bigger bull-rushers. Long and quick enough to protect the edge when footwork is sound, and appeared to make strides in this area last year. However, concerned about ability to protect blind side at the next level at this point."
  • Run blocking (above average): "Can get under defenders and drive them off the ball when keeps pads down, though needs to be more consistent in this area. Takes adequate angles to second level, and can cut off backside linebacker."
  • Toughness (above average): "Developed more of a mean streak as the season progressed last year, and has the potential to improve score if he continues to progress in this area. Flashed ability to drive defenders eight yards downfield and then put them on their back. Covers downfield and gets under defender's skin."

Scouts Inc. graded Reiff a 94, which is No. 10 among NFL prospects. Should the Bills, Jets or Dolphins show interest?

Scouting S Mark Barron

March, 8, 2012
The AFC East blog continues its look at top draft prospects who are potential targets for the division.

[+] EnlargeMark Barron
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMISafety Mark Barron rates above average in ball skills and run support, according to Scouts Inc.
On Wednesday we took a look at Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Thursday, with the help of Scouts Inc., we will look in-depth at Alabama safety Mark Barron. The New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots all have needs at safety.

"I like making plays, period," Barron said at the NFL combine. "I would say the interception (is best) because that's more of a game-changer. That affects the game more. I like hitting and making interceptions."

Here are a few takeaways from Scouts Inc.'s report on Barron:

  • Instincts/recognition (average): "More decisive in early-season tape we studied than he was late in the season. But overall recognition skills are good. Another coach-on-the-field type. Diagnoses routes quickly in coverage."
  • Ball skills (above average): "Knows when to play the ball and when to play the body. Has good instincts and takes quality angles to the ball. Hands are good for the position. Production matches what we see on tape."
  • Run support (above average): "Plays under control. Diagnoses run quickly and fills hard in support. Shows adequate pop at the point of attack. Overall tackling skills are good but not great. The more space he's in the less effective he becomes in run support. Top-end speed is decent at best."

Scouts Inc. graded Barron a 94, which 12th among all college prospect. I think Barron's skills are a good fit for the AFC East. Agree or disagree?

Scouting QB Ryan Tannehill

March, 7, 2012
How good is Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill? And why is he one of the fastest-rising prospects in this year’s NFL draft?

These are questions many are asking leading up to April's NFL draft. Tannehill, once thought to be a second-round or late first-round prospect, is now projected to be in the top 20. There is speculation the Miami Dolphins could be interested in Tannehill, considering his connection with former Aggies coach and new Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
Troy Taormina/US PresswireTexas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill could be a first-round possibility for Miami in the draft this year.
"Coach Sherman runs a West Coast offense, kind of drop-back passing, and well as moving the pocket," Tannehill said at the NFL combine. "I think that’s a couple of things I do well is move and throw on the run. He likes to move the pocket -- bootlegs, nakeds, whatever it may be. Get outside the pocket and make throws downfield. I like what he did, and we’ll see what happens."

Here is how Scouts Inc. graded Tannehill Insider:

Accuracy (average): "Flashes good anticipation and ability to deliver the ball to a spot before the receiver makes his break. A bit unpolished with mechanics though, especially with footwork. Does not always step to target or throw in balance, which can lead to him missing the mark. Also has room for improvement with ball placement, and will force receivers to adjust on routine throws. Much more accurate with short-to-intermediate throws than as a deep thrower at this point."

Release, arm strength (average): "Possesses a three-quarter sidearm release where he almost pushes the ball. However, gets it out quickly and can release the ball accurately from a variety of launch points if need be. Low release point brings up some slight concerns about batted balls at the NFL level. Arm strength is adequate-to-good, and can make all the NFL throws. Does not have elite ability to stretch the field vertically though."

Scouts Inc.'s profile isn't too flattering for a top 20 pick, but it did grade Tannehill a 93, which is tied for 13th among all prospects. Does Tannehill have potential to be a franchise quarterback?
Who is the best player in Super Bowl XLVI? According to Scouts Inc., New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be the best player on the field on Feb. 5.

No. 2 on that list was New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. There will be a lot of debate this week about which quarterback is better heading into the big game. Manning beat Brady in the regular season, as well as their previous Super Bowl meeting four years ago.

Scouts Inc. ranked every player in Sunday's Super Bowl. We don't want to give it all away. But here are the Patriots in the top five:
Agree so far? You can check out the full rankings on ESPN Insider.

How much longer for Tom Brady?

January, 21, 2012
Tom BradyElsa/Getty ImagesDoes Tom Brady have what it takes to be an NFL starting quarterback until he's 40?
Here is scary news for the rest of the NFL: Tom Brady wants to play quarterback for the New England Patriots until he's 40 years old.

That means, theoretically, Brady and coach Bill Belichick plan to dominate the AFC East and keep New England in title contention until 2017. Brady will turn 35 in August.

But five more years? That is an eternity in the NFL in which the average career span is approximately 3-4 seasons. Does Brady have enough in the tank to play 17 years at such a demanding position?

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only four quarterbacks in NFL history have started on opening day at 40 or older. Warren Moon (41) was the oldest, followed by Brett Favre (40), Vinny Testaverde (40) and Johnny Unitas (40). Brady wants to become the fifth player to accomplish that feat.

Former quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer played 14 seasons in the NFL and believes Brady will reach that goal. According to Dilfer, the key to quarterback durability is the lower body, not the upper body.

"What goes first with quarterbacks is their legs. Once you lose your legs, you kind of lose everything else," Dilfer explained. "I remember Kurt Warner talking about that late in his career, and obviously I experienced it. Every quarterback experiences it. I think Tom works hard enough to maintain the leg strength he needs to be as precise as he is, and I think he's a competitor that if he puts something in his mind that he's going to do something, he's a guy that goes out and does it.

"There's very few people in sports like that, talk about the Kobe Bryants and the greats in all sports. I think Tom is right up there. When he puts his mind to something, he's going to do it. So I fully expect him to be playing at 40 if he says he's going to."

It's hard to say when that window will close for Brady, who will lead the Patriots (14-3) in Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens (13-4). He's proved over the past dozen years that as long as he's healthy, he's an elite player. Brady is an MVP candidate this season and by far the best remaining quarterback in the playoffs.

A case can made that Brady's three best statistical seasons occurred after 30 -- in 2007, 2010 and 2011. He also is coming off a record-tying, six-touchdown performance in a 45-10 playoff victory over the Denver Broncos. It was one of his top single-game performances.

Brady projects to be an elite player for at least the next two or three seasons. Injuries are probably the only thing that can derail him at this stage of his career.

Brady had reconstructive knee surgery and missed 15 games in 2008. Otherwise, he has had a clean bill of health. Outside of 2008, he has missed just one start since taking over the job in 2001.

"If anybody can pull it off, it's Brady, but like we saw with Peyton Manning, he could break down easier [with age] too," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "Manning may never be the same. He may never play at that same high level. Who knows? If Brady hits one stumbling block like Peyton did, all of a sudden 40 is a long way away for him. But nobody is playing better than Brady right now."

Brady has been fortunate with pass protection throughout his career. He has been sacked 26 times or fewer in six of the past seven seasons.

Former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi was a longtime teammate of Brady's and knows firsthand the importance of protecting the veteran quarterback. Brady is a classic pocket passer who moves well in the pocket. But he doesn't have the ability to run away from defenders.

"As players progress up into the years, the more shots you take, the shorter the second half of your career will be," Bruschi said. "And I think Tom Brady will play as well as his offensive line, his protection, allows him. I think he's shown over the course of the last few years that there are the usual [ailments], they're becoming normal now. Late in the season, where he had a rib or a shoulder or various injuries like that over the course of a season.

"You end up accumulating some damage, especially as a quarterback, because you're the most sought-after hit in terms of the defensive perspective. So if he can be protected, I think that goal is possible. He can play as long as he wants to."

Brady currently is playing with a left shoulder (non-throwing) injury that has to be managed during the playoffs. This week Brady sat out of Wednesday's practice to rehab and watched extra film of Baltimore's defense.

An under-the-radar aspect of Brady's longevity could be the development of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Both have been tremendous weapons and security blankets for Brady in their second season together.

Throwing in the middle of the field is the quickest and easiest completion for quarterbacks. It also keeps the pass rush at bay.

"They're obviously a huge part of what we do," Brady said of his tight ends this week. "They are on the field quite a bit and they’ve been healthy so it’s been good to have them both out there. ... They're pretty good with the ball in their hands and break a lot of tackles so that’s definitely a plus for us also. We have a lot of yards after catch this year, and those two guys certainly do a great job with the ball in their hands."

Patriots owner Robert Kraft still remembers when the late-round draft pick came to Foxborough as a long shot in 2000. Kraft shared a great story about his first encounter with Brady this week.

"I still have the image of Tom Brady coming down the old Foxboro Stadium steps with that pizza box under his arm, the skinny beanpole," Kraft said. "When he introduced himself to me and he said, ‘Hi, Mr. Kraft,’ and he was about to say who he was and [I said], ‘I know who you are, you’re Tom Brady, you’re our sixth-round draft choice.’ He looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.' It looks like he could be right, although hiring Bill Belichick, I think, also has been a pretty good decision."

Brady's Hall of Fame legacy is secure. If he retired today, Brady already would be among the top quarterbacks ever to play the position. He has three Super Bowl rings and could tie his childhood hero -- Joe Montana -- for the most playoff victories (16) with a win over Baltimore Sunday.

But the difference between being a top-five quarterback and the greatest ever could come down to these next five years. Brady can tie Montana (four) and Terry Bradshaw (four) for the most titles in these playoffs. But if Brady plays through age 40, he has a legitimate shot at being the winningest quarterback in NFL history.

"I'm really happy that we have him as our quarterback," Kraft said. "I hope we have the best quarterback and coach in the history of the game. I guess to prove that, we have a little more execution that we have to do over the next few years. I certainly hope we do it."

Scouts Inc. on Devin McCourty

December, 15, 2011
No player in the AFC East is suffering from a sophomore slump more than New England Patriots second-year cornerback Devin McCourty.

Last year, the 2010 first-round pick recorded seven interceptions and made his first Pro Bowl as a rookie. This year McCourty has zero interceptions and often gets beat in coverage, which includes last week's touchdown catch by Washington Redskins receiver Jabar Gaffney.

What's happened to McCourty this season? We check in with our resident scout -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. -- to get his take.
"I thought McCourty was great last year, and I don't know what his issue is this year. I thought he was going to be a star in this league when the season ended last year. If it wasn't for [Detroit Lions defensive tackle] Ndamukong Suh, McCourty was right in line for Defensive Rookie of the Year. But McCourty is just a step behind now. It's not like I can say 'He's doing this wrong or he's doing that wrong.' But he’s clearly not the same player he was a year ago, and the Patriots were counting on him. McCourty was going to be the foundation of their defense."

New England's defense is ranked last in the NFL, allowing 424.4 yards per game. The Patriots are also last against the pass, in large part because McCourty hasn't developed into the shutdown corner New England expected in his second season.

More Scouts Inc. on Mark Sanchez

December, 1, 2011
On Wednesday we wrote about the important tie between New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan and starting quarterback Mark Sanchez. Both have to be successful for the Jets to reach their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl.

We also interviewed Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc., a constant contributor to the AFC East blog, to get his thoughts on Sanchez's third season. Here was part of our interview that didn't make the story.
"I think Sanchez has average physical tools, below average recognition skills, below average accuracy. He isn't comfortable throwing outside the numbers. He looks to the middle often. He's just too erratic. ...Not only is his ball placement not that great, he will flat out miss guys. I feel for Santonio Holmes. He's open a lot, and Sanchez will sail one high and throw uncatchable passes. I actually think he's gone backwards this year. I'm not sure the exact reason why. I think his supporting cast is worse than it's been."

Williamson admits he's been down on Sanchez since entering the NFL. Do you agree with his assessment of New York's starting quarterback? Or is it too harsh?

Rex Ryan needs Mark Sanchez

November, 30, 2011
Sanchez/RyanAP Photo/Charles KrupMark Sanchez and Rex Ryan need to be on the same page for the Jets to compete for a playoff berth.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. Sean Payton and Drew Brees.

Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez?

The tie between the head coach and his quarterback is paramount in the NFL. The Ryan-Sanchez tandem needs to grow together now if the New York Jets want to win a Super Bowl anytime soon.

Ryan and Sanchez are the two most important people in the Jets' organization. If one is failing, both will fail.

Ryan is doing his part. In his first two years as head coach, he's led the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games despite inconsistent play from his starting quarterback.

This was expected to be the year Sanchez, in his third season, made the necessary strides to take the pressure off his head coach and other areas of the team. Instead, Sanchez has been inconsistent, and the Jets are 6-5 with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread.

"I think until he wins the whole thing, he's going to be criticized just like I'm going to be criticized until we win it," Ryan said this week. "That's fine. It comes with the territory."

Ryan needs Sanchez. Sanchez needs Ryan. There's no way around it.

The Jets and Ryan hedged their bets on Sanchez in 2009 when New York traded up to the No. 5 overall pick and made Sanchez its franchise quarterback. Ryan, also in his first season, started Sanchez right away. Including playoffs, Sanchez has made 48 starts and the pair is 29-19 (.604 percentage) together. Sanchez missed one game in his rookie season.

By comparison, Belichick and Brady are 32-13 (.711), McCarthy and Rodgers are 36-11 (.766) and Payton and Brees are 35-11 (.761). The numbers don't seem too far off. But consider that Brady, Rodgers and Brees are the most valuable players for their respective teams. Sanchez, for the most part, has been along for the ride while experiencing growing pains.

Ryan and the Jets will have a hard time winning a Super Bowl unless Sanchez becomes capable of carrying the team.

"I just don't think he's close to being good enough," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "Every step of the way, the Jets had to do things in spite of their quarterback. It shows up all the time.

"But I think the best thing he does is play his best football when it matters most. That's shown in the playoffs, it's shown against the Patriots at times and it shows in the red zone. I think he has those qualities where he steps up and that's tremendous."

Jets fans are getting impatient. It was evident by their constant booing of Sanchez in last week's 28-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium.

Sanchez started last week's game by completing just 8 of 20 passes for 66 yards in the first half. But he woke up later in the game with a clutch, fourth-quarter touchdown drive that potentially saved New York's season. Sanchez was 7-for-9 for 65 yards and a touchdown on New York's final drive.

Ryan gushed about Sanchez after the game, calling him "The Sanchise" and "a stud." He saw a glimpse of what Sanchez could be if he were more consistent.

But, as Williamson mentioned, erratic play and inconsistency are hurting Sanchez the most. He is ranked 30th in Total Quarterback Rating (38.6), which is an indication of the type of season Sanchez is having.

The only starting quarterbacks with a lower QBR are Tim Tebow (34.6), Kevin Kolb (33.1), Sam Bradford (29.5), Curtis Painter (23.4) and Blaine Gabbert (20.2). Players like Tarvaris Jackson (39.0), Colt McCoy (44.4) and Rex Grossman (44.8) are all having better seasons than Sanchez, according to Total QBR.

Sanchez recently admitted he's not playing his best. Sanchez also knows the Jets are a veteran team built to win now and needs him to produce.

"I feel good, physically and mentally," Sanchez told ESPN Radio 1050 in New York on Tuesday. "I'm just so focused [because] I want this to go right, because I don't want to miss an opportunity like this, with this kind of talent and this kind of coaching.

"I'm usually -- 'bubbly' is not the word -- but I smile a lot more. We're short on time here, and there's no time to mess around or smile or even laugh, in my opinion."

Is Sanchez getting too much of the blame? To his credit, Sanchez has already set a career high in touchdowns (18) and is on pace to set new career highs in yards (2,513) and passer rating (80.9). Other areas of the team are failing, particularly on offense.

With the exception of last week, the offensive line has been terrible with run blocking and pass protection. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer probably is having his worst year calling plays. And Jets running backs Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson have disappeared for long stretches.

Leaks are springing up everywhere, but this is where franchise quarterbacks lift their teams. Brady, Rodgers and Brees all have kept their clubs in title contention despite injuries and weaknesses in other areas. At least Sanchez has New York's eighth-ranked defense on his sideline. That is a luxury Brady, Rodgers and Brees could only dream of.

"To say he's not going to be Aaron Rodgers is not to say he can't be successful," Williamson said. "But Sanchez has to be a complementary option, where they have the fantastic running game and the defense. He has to be Matt Cassel or Kyle Orton, and to me that’s not good enough for him, especially with the draft pick the Jets used."

Sanchez still has five games remaining to write his story of the 2011 season. The Jets are in must-win mode. If Sanchez gets them into the playoffs and makes another run, most will forget his uneven regular season. Ryan, more than anyone, hopes that is the case.

Is Fitzpatrick the next Schaub or Kolb?

November, 16, 2011
What is up with Ryan Fitzpatrick?

The Buffalo Bills' quarterback began the year hot and was an early MVP candidate after the team's 3-0 start. But lately Fitzpatrick has faltered, throwing just two touchdowns and five interceptions the past two weeks. The Bills (5-4) have followed suit, losing four of their last six games.

This week we check in with our resident scout -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. -- to get his take on Fitzpatrick's struggles and his prospects for the future.

Matt, what's gone wrong with Fitzpatrick these last couple of games?

Williamson: This is just how he is. He takes a lot of chances and he throws a lot of passes compared to other throwing quarterbacks of his talent level. It's different if you're Aaron Rodgers and you throw a ton of passes, or Tom Brady or an elite player. But Fitzpatrick is not all that physically gifted. And if you put the ball in the air that much and risk tough throws, you're going to pay for it sometimes. It seems like when Firzpatrick does, it comes in bunches. It must get in his head, because it's been like that since he's been a Bill. He will put four or five great games together and then three bad ones. It's not like he's streaky series to series. It's in stretches of games.

Have teams defended Fitzpatrick and the Bills' offense differently?

Williamson: Sort of. I think the Cowboys and Jets are two really good defenses, first of all. Then, they're able to play a lot of man coverage. Looking at the Bills' receivers, I don't think they're all that dynamic. They're not helping Fitzpatrick's cause at all. Terence Newman, Darrelle Revis, all those guys are very good man corners who are playing well. Steve Johnson got away from Revis on a play or two, but still he was more or less a non-factor in that game. I think it's just a talent situation. The Bills are getting to the point where their talent level is starting to show itself. There's a lot of tape on these guys. They were scheming people up early in the season and you can't get away with that as much.

The Bills recently made Fitzpatrick the face of the franchise and gave him a $59 million contract extension. It's early. But what is your gut feeling: Is Fitzpatrick more Matt Schaub or Kevin Kolb?

Williamson: I would lean more towards Kolb. And I'm not totally ready to flush Kolb down the toilet, either. But I understand why the Bills would sign Fitzpatrick. Things are going well. You don't want to completely kill all the momentum of the franchise. He's not a bad player. He's really smart. But in the end, I don't think Fitzpatrick is going to get the Bills where they want to be. He's going to have strings of bad games, and I don't think he can elevate those around him like a big-time quarterback. It still might work out. I think you can keep Fitzpatrick signed and eventually use a second-round pick on a guy with more physical ability. You can bring the draft pick along slowly while you still have Fitzpatrick in the fold.

AFC East in Scouts Inc.'s Top 50

November, 9, 2011
Scouts Inc. updated its Top 50 NFL players Insider at the midpoint of the season. Every AFC East team was represented.

Here is Scouts Inc.'s list for the division:
Do you agree or disagree with these rankings?

Were any players too high? Too low? Did Scouts Inc. leave someone off in the AFC East that deserves to be among the top-50 players?

We'd like to hear your thoughts.

Aaron Maybin 2.0 returns to Buffalo

November, 3, 2011
Aaron MaybinUS Presswire/Getty ImagesAfter struggling with Buffalo, Aaron Maybin has found a home with the New York Jets.
The last time Buffalo Bills fans saw Aaron Maybin at Ralph Wilson Stadium, he was a struggling first-round pick failing to find his niche in the NFL. Maybin, the No. 11 overall pick in 2009, never produced anything close to what his draft status suggested. He was cut by the Bills this summer, ending the two-year experiment.

But the New York Jets' version of Maybin is a different player this season. He is getting to the quarterback and is tied for the team lead with three sacks. Maybin also leads the Jets with three forced fumbles. He is finally living up to the "Mayhem" nickname he earned at Penn State.

A rejuvenated Maybin 2.0 returns to Buffalo on Sunday in a Jets uniform. He credits a change of scenery and New York's coaching staff for his newfound success.

"To me, it's not much of a difference other than the fact it's a different team," Maybin said in a telephone interview with the AFC East blog. "There's nothing different about me physically, from a preparation standpoint, or anything else from how I've been my entire career.

"The difference is I'm here. I'm with an organization and with a coaching staff that is putting me in the position to help the team win. Those opportunities put in my lap and faith being put in me have allowed me to go out there and be able to have a little bit of success this year."

Maybin' transformation was instantaneous in New York. He had a great preseason in Rex Ryan's scheme and recorded 2.5 sacks this summer in limited playing time.

Maybin began training camp as a long shot but initially made New York's 53-man roster. He was cut soon after to make room for several roster moves. But the Jets re-signed Maybin for good in Week 4.

Since then, Maybin has made his mark as a situational rusher in New York. He's recorded a sack in three of his four games. He had his best performance against the Miami Dolphins in Week 6 on "Monday Night Football," when he recorded a sack and forced two fumbles.

Playing in the New York City market rarely provides less pressure. But that has been the case for Maybin. He no longer has the "draft bust" label that he carried every day in Buffalo. He's simply a role player with the Jets.

"Whatever he gives the Jets is gravy -- it's total opposite expectations," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "Oh, by the way, Ryan, Bart Scott, Darrelle Revis, they're not going to let you sit around and be a slacker. They're going to grab you behind the scenes and say 'Hey, this is how we do it around here.' There's a lot more leadership on that side of the ball."

Maybin acknowledges he's "pumped" for his return to Buffalo. It's his first chance to show the Bills the level of play he couldn't deliver in his first two NFL seasons.

In Buffalo, Maybin played for three head coaches in two years -- Chan Gailey, Dick Jauron and interim coach Perry Fewell. Maybin speaks very highly of Ryan, his fourth NFL head coach.

"Coach Ryan is a player's coach. He's the kind of coach that every player wants to play for and every coach wants to coach for," Maybin said. "He keeps the locker room excited every day. Sometimes it's even surprising to me how he's able to do that. He will come into a room that has no energy and the whole room will be energized within five minutes of him talking.

"He is passionate and coaches with his heart on his sleeve, just like most guys in this locker room play with their hearts on their sleeve. He's an awesome leader and a guy this whole locker room stands behind."

Not only is this a big game for Maybin, it's also a big game for the Jets.

Buffalo leads the AFC East with a 5-2 record. New York (4-3) is just one game behind Buffalo and the New England Patriots (5-2). That is surprising, considering New York's three-game losing streak last month nearly crippled its season. The Jets responded by winning two straight games to keep their playoff hopes alive.

"That was the first thing coach Ryan emphasized -- that us as a team and a locker room stay together," Maybin said. "We didn't let anybody come in and start to divide us and start to convince us that we weren't the team we thought that we were. That's what we did. We never lost sight of our focus and we never lost faith in each other. Now, we're starting to come out of it."

The same can be said about Maybin. The Jets saw something in him that Buffalo did not. Now, Maybin is repaying the Jets' confidence in him with his productive play on the field.