AFC East: Tavon Austin

Geno Smith, EJ Manuel, Ryan TannehillAP PhotosGeno Smith, EJ Manual and Ryan Tannehill are part of a trio of young quarterbacks in the AFC East.

The first domino dropped one year ago.

Following the hiring of head coach Joe Philbin, the Miami Dolphins wanted a fresh start at quarterback and drafted Ryan Tannehill with No. 8 overall pick. Tannehill quickly developed, had a respectable rookie season and went 7-9 as a starter.

A year later, both the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets followed suit by drafting highly touted quarterbacks. The Bills took former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel with the No. 16 overall pick in the first round, and the Jets drafted Geno Smith of West Virginia with the seventh selection of the second round, No. 39 overall. The Dolphins, Bills and Jets are all chasing the New England Patriots and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady in the AFC East.

Will the quarterback youth movement work in the division? The AFC East blog talked to an NFL scout this week to get his perspective on each quarterback's strengths, weaknesses and long-term chances for success.

Geno Smith, Jets

NFL scout: "I met him at the combine and he had a real good demeanor. I don't know him under pressure, but he seems like the kind of guy teammates can buy into. He can get streaky. I've watched him in games where you feel no ball is going to hit the ground. Other games I've watched and he missed easy throws by two yards, and you’re like, ‘You’ve got to make that throw.’ The good NFL quarterbacks can get to their second and third options, and Geno has some learning to do with that. But that can come with experience. I think he has upside. But sometimes he came off as a system quarterback where he has predetermined throws. You can do that only to a certain extent in the NFL. If he comes out early and has success, teams will start taking away his strengths and make him play to a weakness. That's where he has to develop. But the ability is there. The accuracy issue he sometimes has is a concern, because some of those incompletions in college are picks in the NFL. He’s not going to play any D-II schools in the NFL. You’re playing the best of the best every week. Even teams that are 2-14 have [athletes] out there. In this league, he’s going to have to be conscientious every play. He needs to be mentally alert."

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Which young AFC East quarterback will have the best NFL career?

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Discuss (Total votes: 7,631)

Analysis: Several interesting things stand out about this scouting report on Smith. First, the scout liked Smith’s demeanor, which was a subject for debate for weeks leading up to the draft. Second, it’s obvious that Smith must shed his reputation as a system quarterback. Smith played in a unique system at West Virginia that included a lot of quick passes and easy reads, which is not the norm in the NFL. Smith also had quality weapons. His two starting receivers – Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey – were drafted in the first and third rounds, respectively, by the St. Louis Rams. You wonder if those players boosted Smith's stock or vice versa. In the eyes of this NFL scout, Smith has potential but needs to refine his game in several key areas.

EJ Manuel, Bills

NFL scout: "When you stand next to him, he's a big man. He’s a physically imposing figure for the quarterback position. He can make plays with his legs, but Manuel really is a passer first. While he made throws at all three levels, he would also miss throws he shouldn’t miss. That’s a concern with him. But the guy completed 68 percent of his passes – that’s pretty good. He’s just going to have some yips where you say ‘What was that?’ I compare him to Jason Campbell, but Manuel can do more as a runner. I think the kid can be an efficient passer and manage the game. He can do the read-option. He’s tough and played with pain. He’s not just a good character guy; he’s a sterling character guy. So I can’t say I’m surprised that Buffalo really likes him -- Manuel has some tools to work with. In the Florida game, he turned it over. That game he didn’t play well, but I don’t have concerns about him in big games. A lot of times he’s going to put your team in position to win. He can compete from Day 1, and I think he’s a possibility to be a Day 1 starter. I wouldn’t be surprised at all. But they got good competition in that way. So if he’s not ready, that’s fine. They’re in a good position where they can develop him. If you look at Buffalo, they’re making their team in the mold of the [Pittsburgh] Steelers. They have running backs, a 3-4 defense and now they have their big quarterback. I like what they’re building."

Analysis: The Manuel pick at No. 16 received a lot of criticism in the media. But the pick was not as much of a surprise for this NFL scout, who was complimentary of Manuel. In fact, the scout said he personally graded Manuel as the highest-rated quarterback this year, followed by Smith and Mike Glennon of NC State. It turned out that was the order of quarterbacks taken off the board. Glennon went in the third round to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Campbell comparison is interesting. Campbell has lasted eight years (and counting) in the NFL after being drafted No. 25 overall in 2005, but he never developed into a franchise quarterback. Manuel has more athleticism and a higher ceiling. Character also is important in a quarterback, and Manuel checked out extremely well from this scout's perspective.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins

NFL scout: "The thing you like about him is he’s big, can make all the throws you want and he has mobility. The biggest thing for him is getting acclimated to the NFL game. As a rookie quarterback, I would say he was above average. Making the throws isn’t an issue for him. The major thing is improving the accuracy, and I think he will going forward. I think he can be a top-15 quarterback, I would say. But how much time is he willing to put into learning defenses and knowing what he sees when he gets under center? It’s all about work ethic at this point in his second season. With all that said, Tannehill can definitely be successful, no question. With Miami adding all these pieces, I don’t see anything stopping him from being successful except himself. The thing is he’s got to be accurate, and he has to make good decisions. That’s the two things I look for as a scout. When you look at his stats, it didn’t really reflect what I saw from him on Sundays. The guy can play, and his ability to be efficient within the scheme is there. I don’t see any impediments to his success. Mike Sherman had success with Brett Favre in Green Bay and Joe Philbin with Aaron Rodgers. These things are very important. Those two know how to make things comfortable for a quarterback. Everybody there is behind the quarterback to be successful, and I think he can."

Analysis: Of the three young quarterbacks, the scout said Tannehill has the most potential to be a franchise building block. But Tannehill has a one-year head start in the NFL and played well most weeks last season. That has a lot to do with it. I saw a lot of the same things with Tannehill last season. He has good arm strength, and he also possesses mobility as a former college receiver. The Dolphins added some read-option plays for Tannehill late in the season. The scout brought up a very good point about Tannehill being coached by Sherman and Philbin. Both have been around future Hall of Famers and know what a franchise quarterback looks like. Tannehill is in a fortunate spot to learn from both coaches. Miami also proved it is behind Tannehill 100 percent by boosting his supporting cast. The Dolphins were aggressive in free agency and signed receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller.

From this scout’s perspective, all three quarterbacks have potential for promising futures. That is good news if you're a fan of the AFC East. Brady is signed with the Patriots through the 2017 season. Therefore, the young upstarts in the division will compete against Brady for the foreseeable future.

Brady can't dominate the division forever. Several years down the line, one of these three players could take over as the top quarterback in the AFC East.
The NFL draft is finally here!

After months of projections and speculation, the NFL will take center stage in just a few hours for the first-round of the 2013 draft. The AFC East will be busy with five picks on Thursday night.

With that in mind, here is a final reminder of draft needs in the division:

Buffalo Bills, No. 8

Needs: QB, G, WR, CB

Analysis: The Bills can go in a lot of different directions at No. 8. Many feel the Bills will take former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib in the first round, but I think it’s risky to take any quarterback this year in the top 10. Nassib has strong ties to Buffalo because he played under Bills rookie head coach Doug Marrone in college. Buffalo also could fill a hole at guard left by Andy Levitre, who signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency. Receiver and cornerback are two additional needs.

New York Jets, No. 9 and No. 13

Needs: OLB, WR, G, TE, QB

Analysis: New York has one of the thinnest rosters in the NFL after free agency. This is a team in store for a major rebuild under first-year general manager John Idzik, and the Jets can take a major step Thursday by nailing their two first-round picks. New York has so many needs that it can afford to take the best available player. I took LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo and West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin in this week’s blogger mock draft. This pairing or something similar would be great for the Jets. New York won’t become a playoff team after this draft, but filling two needs in the first round would be a good start.

Miami Dolphins, No. 12

Needs: LT, CB, DE

Analysis: The Dolphins filled a lot of needs in free agency. That affords Miami the opportunity to zero in on a few spots in the draft. The Dolphins have five picks in the first three rounds, which provides a lot of flexibility to move up if needed. Miami desperately needs a left tackle. The top three left tackles at the position are all expected to be gone by No. 12, so the Dolphins most likely would have to move up to get a top left tackle. Miami’s pass defense also was shaky last season. There is speculation that former Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner could fall down the draft board because of injury concerns. Milliner, if healthy, would fill a big need at cornerback.

New England Patriots, No. 29

Needs: WR, CB, DE

Analysis: New England is coming off another appearance in the AFC title game. The Patriots had some turnover in free agency. However, this is still a good team. New England must address its need at receiver. The passing game is too important for the Patriots to have a questionable group of receivers, which includes Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones and Julian Edelman. New England needs another playmaker on the outside, especially with injury concerns with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. New England also could use another cover cornerback, and someone to get to the quarterback. Both would improve the Patriots’ 29th-ranked pass defense.

The AFC East blog will be live at Dolphins headquarters for the first round on Thursday night. Be sure to check back for all the latest draft news and analysis for the Dolphins, Bills, Patriots and Jets.

The New York Jets are the biggest players in the first round of Thursday night’s NFL draft. New York has the No. 9 and No. 13 pick, which is a lot of draft capital to fill needs or move around the draft board. The Jets gained their second first-round pick last week after trading star cornerback Darrelle Revis.

However, none of this matters unless Jets first-year general manager John Idzik can make the right picks. There is a lot of pressure on Idzik, as he faces a long and tedious rebuild.

Idzik can go in a lot of different directions with his first two picks. Here are some possibilities via ESPN draft experts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. This week during the blogger mock draft, I projected LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo and West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin for New York.

The homework is done. Now, it's time to see if Idzik can produce.
The plot thickens on draft day, and so does the smokescreen being released by NFL teams.

Here is the latest example: Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin is the No. 1 player on the Buffalo Bills' draft board. That's right: Austin isn't the eighth best player or the fifth best player -- he's No. 1, if you believe the information coming out of Bills' camp.

Austin is one of the hottest prospects in this draft. But after months of scouting, it's hard to believe Buffalo would take the undersized Austin if it had the No. 1 overall pick. This smells like a blatant smokescreen by the Bills to drum up interest in the No. 8 pick. Buffalo is a team looking to trade back for additional selections. But the Bills are sending a message that other teams do business with them to get Austin. The New York Jets are one team interested in Austin, and as Buffalo and New York continue to play mind games this week. The Jets on Wednesday said they are interested in drafting Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who is a strong target for Buffalo.

I warned AFC East readers to believe only a fraction of what you hear from teams this time of year. Teams are not truly divulging who is at the top of their draft board. There's no reason to let everyone know that information. The Bills surely have several players rated ahead of Austin, who is a top-10 or top-15 prospect.

Last week, reports surfaced that the Bills want Nassib in the first round. On Wednesday, the Bills were “seriously targeting” USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Now, just hours before the draft, Austin is their No. 1 player.

Credit Buffalo for doing a good job with misdirections. The Bills are one of the toughest teams to predict in the first round.
After months of reports, analysis and speculation, it is finally time for the NFL draft.

We are just several hours away from one of the biggest days of the league year, and ESPN draft experts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. offer their final first-round predictions.

Here is how both analysts see the first round playing out for the AFC East:

Buffalo Bills, No. 8

McShay: QB Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

Kiper: G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

Thoughts: The projections for the Bills continue to be all over the place. Most experts agree with McShay that Nassib is their guy. The natural fit with Bills coach Doug Marrone makes sense, although I think taking any quarterback in the top 10 of this draft is a mistake. I would prefer Alabama's Chance Warmack over Cooper in this spot, but both guards are very good. The Bills will be one of the most unpredictable teams in the first round.

New York Jets, No. 9 and No. 13

McShay: TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame; G Chance Warmack, Alabama

Kiper: DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU; WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Thoughts: These are interesting pairs from McShay and Kiper -- and both are realistic. Jets general manager John Idzik is in a good spot with two high picks. I like the combination of Mingo and Austin a little better, because I think both can be impact players early for the Jets. They need pass-rushers and offensive playmakers, and the first round could plug those two holes. Taking Eifert at No. 9 feels a little high, but Warmack would be a solid (but not spectacular) pick for New York at No. 13.

Miami Dolphins, No. 12

McShay: LT D.J. Fluker, Alabama

Kiper: G Chance Warmack, Alabama

Thoughts: I totally disagree with McShay’s pick on this one. Fluker is a natural right tackle, and it’s questionable if he can play on the left side at the next level. The Dolphins already have a right tackle in Jonathan Martin. If Miami can’t find a natural left tackle at No. 12, the team should draft another position. Kiper’s pick of Warmack isn’t bad. He’s one of the best guard prospects to come out in the past several years. However, I think Miami should avoid the offensive line tonight unless a stud left tackle is available.

New England Patriots, No. 29

McShay: CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State

Kiper: CB Desmond Trufant, Washington

Thoughts: The Patriots would be happy with either player in this scenario. Rhodes or Trufant would fill a need at cornerback and present solid value at the end of the first round. My initial thought is New England should trade down to acquire more picks. The Patriots lost three selections this year due to prior trades involving Chad Johnson, Albert Haynesworth and Aqib Talib. But if value picks like this fall in New England’s lap this late in the first round at need positions like cornerback or receiver, the Patriots should use the pick.

AFC East mock draft analysis

April, 23, 2013
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With five picks in the first round, it was a busy time for the AFC East in the 2013 blogger mock draft. Our annual projection of the NFL draft took place again this week with some surprise picks. Our division made a draft board and did our best to stick to it.

Here is how things went for the AFC East:

No. 3: Miami Dolphins

Pick: LT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan

Analysis: Surprise! Yes, the Dolphins were extremely aggressive in the blogger mock draft, which falls in line with general manager Jeff Ireland's mindset this offseason in free agency. Miami has 11 draft picks total and can afford to make a major move up to get an elite left tackle. I didn't expect Oklahoma's Lane Johnson to fall in my lap at No. 12 overall. So I kept in touch with AFC West blogger Bill Williamson with the Oakland Raiders at No. 3 and NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert with the Detroit Lions at No. 5. I decided to go big with Fisher, who I really wanted. I traded Miami’s first-round pick, second-round pick and two third-rounders to move up to No. 3 for Fisher. It's a steep price, but Miami takes protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill seriously. The Dolphins also keep one of their second-round picks to fill another hole at cornerback or defensive end in the next round.

No. 8: Buffalo Bills

Pick: WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee

Analysis: I was looking to trade down with Buffalo but didn’t receive any interest. All three left tackles (Luke Joeckel, Fisher and Johnson) were gone. So all I heard was crickets. On top of that, Alabama guard Chance Warmack was taken one pick higher at No. 7 to the Arizona Cardinals. Having to make the pick, I trusted our final board and went with Patterson. He has a lot of upside and could fit in well next to 1,000-yard receiver Steve Johnson. There has been a lot of speculation about the Bills taking quarterback Ryan Nassib at No. 8 overall, but that thought never crossed my mind. If Buffalo wants to risk taking a second-round prospect No. 8 overall, that's on the Bills. It turns out no quarterback was taken in the first round of our blogger mock draft. That sets up pretty well for the Bills to take a quarterback at the top of the second round. That's the better route for the Bills to take on Thursday.

No. 9 and No. 13: New York Jets

Picks: DE Barkevious Mingo and WR Tavon Austin

Analysis: I view this pair as a success. The Jets have two picks in the top 13 and drafted two players from our final board who can make an immediate impact. Mingo and Austin are two of my favorite players in this draft and provide a solid foundation to rebuild the Jets. Mingo can provide an important pass rush and Austin is a playmaker who can boost New York's anemic offense. The Jets gained the second first-round pick from the Darrelle Revis trade. This pair could make Jets fans start to move on.

No. 29: New England Patriots

Picks: USC WR Robert Woods

Analysis: This was a tricky pick as I waited for nearly the entire first round to develop. I even got an offer from NFC East blogger Dan Graziano, whose Philadelphia Eagles were interested in West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. New England needs picks, and the Eagles offered their second- and fifth-round pick for No. 29. The value just wasn’t good enough, so the Patriots balked and filled a major need at receiver with Woods. I liked two receivers in this spot for New England: Woods and Justin Hunter of Tennessee. Hunter was taken by the St. Louis Rams at No. 22. Woods does a lot of things well and looks NFL ready. The Patriots need receivers on the outside who could fill in for Brandon Lloyd, who was cut this offseason.

Overall, it was another successful blogger mock draft for the AFC East. I landed an elite left tackle for Miami, a receiver with plenty of upside for Buffalo, a pass-rusher and dynamic offensive playmaker for New York and a possible starting receiver for the Patriots.

Do you agree or disagree with the picks? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay provided his latest mock draft just days before the real thing takes place in New York City on Thursday. A blockbuster trade also took place involving New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis in exchange for the No. 13 overall pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With that in mind, here is McShay’s latest projection for the AFC East:

Buffalo Bills, No. 8

McShay’s pick: Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib

Analysis: I don’t know about this one. I debated Nassib at No. 8 to the Bills on Twitter Monday, and it seems some Bills fans are fine with this move. Nassib is projected by most to be a second-rounder. But there is enough smoke out there to believe the Bills are considering Nassib at No. 8 overall, which could make him the first quarterback off the board. Nassib played for Bills rookie head coach Doug Marrone at Syracuse and Buffalo has scouted him heavily. Taking Nassib at No. 8 would put a ton of pressure on him and the Bills. McShay thinks it will happen on Thursday.

New York Jets, No. 9 and No. 13

McShay’s picks: LSU DE Barkevious Mingo and West Virginia WR Tavon Austin

Analysis: This would be a good first round for the Jets and a nice way to start their long rebuild. The Jets have two first-round picks thanks to the Revis trade. Mingo and Austin are two players who can contribute immediately. They can also provide a new foundation for the Jets as their fans start to move on from Revis Island.

Miami Dolphins, No. 12

McShay’s pick: Alabama G Chance Warmack

Analysis: The Dolphins need a left tackle more than a guard. But left tackles Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson were all off the board in the top four picks. Therefore, McShay sees Miami taking Warmack, who is viewed as one of the best guard prospects in the past several years. Warmack can start right away for Miami. But the team could have filled some other holes here, preferably on defense.

New England Patriots, No. 29

McShay’s pick: UCLA DE Datone Jones

Analysis: I would prefer for New England to take a wide receiver here. For example, USC’s Robert Woods was still on the board here. But McShay sees the Patriots taking Jones at defensive end. The Patriots also took defensive end Chandler Jones in the first round last year and need depth at the position. Regardless, New England should be able to get a quality player this late in the first round due to a deep draft.

Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC East:
  • After the New York Jets traded away star cornerback Darrelle Revis, is Rex Ryan now a lame-duck coach?
Morning take: If this is a must-win year, Ryan's prospects do not look promising. The Jets are not a playoff team and have one of the weakest rosters in the NFL. Ryan would have to do the best coaching job of his career to make New York a contender.
  • Will the Buffalo Bills draft Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib or USC's Matt Barkley later this week?
Morning take: Preferably one of these players falls to the second round. The addition of Kevin Kolb provides flexibility so the Bills won't have to reach for a quarterback at No. 8 overall.
  • The Miami Dolphins could consider West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin or Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round.
Morning take: Miami did a lot to deepen its receiver position, so I don't expect the team to add another one in the first round. Eifert would be a good fit if the team is ready to quit on 2012 draft pick Michael Egnew.
Morning take: The Patriots don’t need Hernandez now. But this is the time to build chemistry. Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski need to focus on getting back to 100 percent for the fall.
Next week ESPN.com will hold its annual blogger mock draft. The AFC East blog once again opened up a forum for our community to put together a joint draft board.

After counting the ballots for the New York Jets and New England Patriots, here is our final mock draft board next week for those two teams:

Analysis: I was surprised how many Jets fans wanted Warmack. The Alabama alum is one of the top guard prospects of the past 10 years and earned the top spot on our final board. Mingo is a prospect I really like and the Jets really like drafting defensive ends who can rush the passer. It’s a natural fit for New York. The Jets also desperately need offensive skill players. I like Patterson more for New York than Austin, since the Jets have a similar smallish slot receiver in Jeremy Kerley. But both made the final board.

Analysis: The Patriots are difficult to predict at the end of the first round. But one obvious need is wide receiver, which is why three receivers made both my draft board and the community board. Hunter of Tennessee was the unanimous choice for New England. Trufant also is a cornerback who plays hard and would fit well in New England’s secondary. The biggest difference is I like Woods of USC better than Hopkins of Clemson for New England. However, Hopkins was the second-highest choice from Patriots fans and made the cut.

To see the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins final mock draft board, click here.

AFC East offseason Stock Watch

April, 17, 2013
4/17/13
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Let's take a look at whose stock is rising and falling this offseason in the AFC East.

Falling

[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaNew England tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski can't seem to stay healthy.
1. New England Patriots tight ends: It was no secret that New England Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski was on the mend after three surgeries on his broken left arm. But this week's report of recent shoulder surgery for fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez was surprising. Hernandez did not miss any time with a shoulder injury during the season. However, this surgery is expected to keep Hernandez out until training camp. New England has the best tight-end duo in the NFL, but both are injury-prone players. Patriots backup Jake Ballard better be ready, because history shows Gronkowski or Hernandez cannot stay healthy for all 16 games.

2. New York Jets offseason program: The Jets put up the circus tent once again with the arrival of cornerback Darrelle Revis and popular backup quarterback Tim Tebow for offseason workouts. Neither player is expected to be on the team next season, but the Jets have not found a way to trade Revis and release Tebow. Revis is unhappy after being put on the trading block, and Tebow already is eying his next move. The Jets would’ve been wise to get rid of both players before this point. The sooner the better.

3. Jeff Demps, Patriots tailback: Demps NFL future with New England doesn’t appear promising. First, Demps said he was willing to miss the start of football season to focus more on track this year. That probably upset the Patriots’ brass, which led to the Boston Herald’s recent report of New England having trade talks with Demps. The Patriots are a staunch football culture that doesn’t like distracted players. Demps’ heart doesn’t appear to be all the way into football. I would be surprised if Demps lasts very long in New England.

Rising

1. Tavon Austin, West Virginia receiver: Is any prospect in the NFL draft hotter right now than Austin? Just a few months ago he was considered a late first-round pick due to his size. Now, teams like the Buffalo Bills and Jets are considered possible targets for Austin in the top 10. I’m skeptical whether the Bills or Jets would really grab Austin that high. But whichever team gets him, it will get an electric playmaker. Austin’s playmaking ability would be a good fit for any team in the AFC East.

2. Miami Dolphins’ draft capital: The Dolphins head into next week’s NFL draft with 11 total draft picks, which is tied for third most in the NFL. This is a good year to have a bevy of picks. This year’s draft is considered very deep at a lot of positions but not top-heavy. Miami should be able to snag some solid prospects with five picks in the first three rounds. This is due to recent trades involving former receiver Brandon Marshall and former cornerback Vontae Davis. Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland needs to cash in on this opportunity to improve Miami’s chances of taking the next step this upcoming season.

3. NFL schedule release: The league will announce its much-anticipated 2013 schedule on Thursday. We will find out when marquee matchups will take place in the AFC East and which teams will get primetime games. New England certainly will get national games. But will the up-and-coming Dolphins? We will find out on Thursday.
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC East:
  • The New York Jets got a visit from West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin.
Morning take: Austin is one of my favorite players in this draft. However, I would not take him at No. 9 overall. The Jets have a decent slot receiver in Jeremy Kerley and need to fill weaknesses.
Morning take: Every so often a Spygate story appears. Fair or not, New England's success from that era will be scrutinized. The best the current Patriots can do is win a Super Bowl to silence the critics.
Morning take: This draft lacks star power. But with 11 picks, Miami should land some solid prospects who can boost the roster.
Morning take: The Bills need another receiver to pair with Steve Johnson. Patterson is a raw prospect with tons of upside. But would Buffalo take him with the No. 8 overall pick?
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC East:
  • The Buffalo Bills lose free-agent tight end Fred Davis to the Washington Redskins, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports. Davis accepted a one-year offer with Washington.
Morning take: The Bills really wanted Davis in Buffalo. Bills starter Scott Chandler injured his knee last December and will miss most of the offseason. But Davis stayed where he was most comfortable and has the best chance to win in 2013.
Morning take: New England loves slot receivers, but I doubt Austin will be available at No. 29. The Patriots are more likely to get an outside receiver early in the draft.
  • It turns out the Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks were among the teams chasing receiver Mike Wallace in free agency before he signed with the Miami Dolphins.
Morning take: But Wallace told the Miami Herald he felt most at home with the Dolphins. Wallace was able to go south, get a big extension and play with an up-and-coming team in Miami.
Morning take: Yes, the Jets have a lot of holes and few playmakers. New York has a lot of work to do to field a contending team in what amounts to a must-win year for head coach Rex Ryan.
The New England Patriots are the final team to draft in the AFC East. New England holds the No. 29 overall pick in April’s NFL draft.

Who should the Patriots take this year near the end of the first round? New England will be looking for value picks and talented players who fell down the draft board.

SportsNation

Who should the Patriots take with the No. 29 overall pick?

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Discuss (Total votes: 4,673)

Is West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin a possibility? Austin is an explosive slot receiver in the mold of Percy Harvin. The Patriots are trying to re-sign free agent receiver Wes Welker. But Austin could add depth or be a potential replacement if Welker’s negotiations don’t go well.

California receiver Keenan Allen also could be available. Both Austin and Allen are rated behind Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson and expected to go late in the first round.

New England also needs help in the secondary. The Patriots were 29th in pass defense last season. That could make players such as Florida safety Matt Elam and Mississippi State corner Johnthan Banks options at the end of the first round.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on New England’s first-round pick. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.

AFC East offseason Stock Watch

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
11:00
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Let's take a look at whose stock is up and whose stock is down in the AFC East.

Rising

1. New England Patriots’ salary cap: Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady showed why he is a franchise player. Just weeks before free agency, Brady agreed to a below market, three-year contract extension that added millions to New England's salary cap. The Patriots are now expected to be players in free agency. They have in-house players like receiver Wes Welker and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer the Patriots want to retain. The Patriots also have the ability to go after free agents like future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed. Brady reduced his cap number to make sure the Patriots have the best chance to compete.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergTavon Austin impressed at the NFL combine, running a 4.34 40-yard dash.
2. Tavon Austin, West Virginia receiver: Few players helped their stock more at the combine than Austin. The diminutive receiver erased a lot of questions by posting a lightning-fast 4.34 in the 40-yard dash and catching the football well. Austin often gets compared as a hybrid between Wes Welker and Percy Harvin. That’s a makeup of a pretty good football player, and Austin’s stock continues to rise in the first round.

3. Miami Dolphins’ draft capital: Miami is in a very good spot with nine draft picks. It’s becoming more and more evident that this is a deep -- but not top-heavy -- draft. The Dolphins should be able to get a good player with the No. 12 pick in the first round without the pressure of a top-10 pick. Miami also will be busy with five quality picks in the first three rounds. The Dolphins have a chance to have one of the strongest drafts this year. There’s also a chance that Miami could pick up additional compensatory picks to take its total to double digits.

Falling

1. Quarterback market for Bills, Jets: The already-thin quarterback market appears to be getting thinner each week. Reports now indicate that the San Francisco 49ers’ Alex Smith, the top quarterback available this offseason, may have a trade in place with a mystery team. Most believe that team is Kansas City. If the reports are accurate, who is left for the Bills and Jets? Will they stick with Ryan Fitzpatrick or Mark Sanchez? Or would Buffalo and New York go the rookie route with Geno Smith, Mike Glennon or Ryan Nassib? Perhaps Matt Flynn is a possibility for the Jets. However, none of these options appears to get Buffalo or New York any closer to the Patriots in the AFC East.

2. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots tight end: The early start to the “Summer of Gronk” was recently derailed. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Gronkowski had a third surgery on his arm to clean out an infection. It was discovered early, which means his timeline to return remains the same. But Gronkowski’s offseason is already off to a poor start. It began when Gronkowski’s idea of a good time involved wrestling with a friend in Vegas and dangerously landing on his twice-broken arm. In addition, Gronkowski’s had his third arm surgery in several months. Gronkowski’s focus the rest of the offseason should be on getting healthy.

3. Manti Te'o to AFC East: It’s looking more and more like former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o is not coming to the AFC East. The Bills and Jets both need linebacker help, but Te’o didn’t help his stock at the NFL combine. Te’o ran a slow 40 time of 4.82, which likely drops him out of the top 15. Scouts were already leery after a poor performance in the National Championship Game and his off-the-field “catfish” controversy. Don’t expect the Bills, Jets or Dolphins to take a flier on Te’o in the top 12.
With both slot receivers Wes Welker and Julian Edelman pending free agents, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin was a natural fit for the New England Patriots at No. 29 overall.

The miniature Austin is the type of slot receiver New England likes in its offense. He could either learn under Welker for a couple years, or join the less-expensive Edelman to make a dynamic pair in the slot if Welker doesn't re-sign.

But Austin's performance this weekend at the NFL combine may have raised his stock and made Austin too rich for New England's liking. Austin ran a lightning-fast 4.34 in the 40-yard dash. He also caught the football well in group workouts.

The combine isn't everything, but there is now more potential for teams ahead of New England to get enamored with Austin. He has strong game tape and was one of the top workout players at this year's combine. That's a strong combination.

Austin often gets comparisons as a hybrid between Welker and Percy Harvin of the Minnesota Vikings. Austin has the precision and quick first step of Welker and the deep speed and explosiveness of Harvin.

New England likes value players and Austin would certainly count as value at No. 29. But Austin’s stock most likely is on the rise after a dynamic combine, and he could be off the board by the time the Patriots pick.

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