AFC East: Von Miller

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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen saw something a little familiar in the game of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack when he flipped on the tape.

After he fell in love, that is.

A skill set similar to that of Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller.

Sure, Allen only had Miller for one season, his rookie campaign, but what a year it was. Miller was the NFL's defensive rookie of the year after racking up 11.5 sacks and forcing four fumbles with Allen as his defensive coordinator.

"Absolutely, I saw a lot of similarities between him and Von Miller," Allen said of Mack after the Raiders selected him with the No. 5 overall pick Thursday night.

[+] EnlargeKhalil Mack
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesKhalil Mack had 10.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss while with the University of Buffalo last season.
"And the thing that really was attractive about Khalil Mack was the fact that he understands how to rush the passer. And he understands how to rush the passer with power."

Mack, recruited by only two colleges out of high school, was the MAC's defensive player of the year last season after recording 10.5 sacks with 19 tackles for a loss. In fact, his 75 career tackles for a loss are the most in FBS since the statistic was tracked nationally in 2000.

Still, the furthest West he ever played in college was in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho, to end his college career. Before that, it was at Baylor.

"The conversation was crazy," Mack said of the call he received when the Raiders tabbed him. "I started on the phone with an assistant or a scout, and then I got on the phone with Reggie McKenzie, and then Dennis Allen told me how he wants to use me. It's a blessing to have this opportunity. I'm going to make the most of it."

Mack was not aware yet of the Miller comparison, but he was excited to join the likes of new Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck.

"Justin Tuck, man, how about that?" Mack said. "Playing with him is a blessing. Knowing how good he is and what he's done, it'll be good to learn from him. I can't tell you how excited I am."

Mack would appear to be a natural fit at weakside linebacker in the Raiders' 4-3 base defense, potentially making veteran Kevin Burnett expendable. But while Allen would not comment on a specific role for the rookie yet, McKenzie said Mack would have an immediate impact. Especially with the Raiders having an NFL-low 12 sacks with four or fewer pass-rushers last season, per data from ESPN Stats & Information.

"The guy has the size," McKenzie said. "He has the length. He's got speed. He's a playmaker. We'll find a way to put him on the field and get some production out of him."

Added Allen: "He'll have his hand on the ground some, too. I envision his role being very similar to what we did with Von Miller."

The Raiders are banking on similar results.

Patriots don't have time to lick wounds

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
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Call it a case of football déjà vu.

Four weeks ago, the New England Patriots found themselves with more questions than answers relating to a controversial penalty call in an overtime loss to the New York Jets, with a matchup against a divisional rival ahead of them.

Today, questions remain over a controversial non-call that proved costly for the Patriots in their 24-20 Monday night defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, and a high-powered passing attack now waits in the wings.

There’s nothing that can be done to atone for what looked like an obvious officiating error (the league stands by the call), and there’s no time for disappointment within the walls of Gillette Stadium.

That’s because the Patriots will welcome the Denver Broncos and their 39.8 points per game to Gillette this Sunday for one of the most highly anticipated games of the regular season.

As if the challenge of facing the Broncos on its own were not enough, the Patriots have a short week to do so, as they’re already a day behind after playing on Monday night. The players received their customary day off on Tuesday, meaning they’ll likely spend little -- if any -- time reviewing Monday night’s defeat, focusing instead on what lies ahead with Denver.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty ImagesDemaryius Thomas is one of three Broncos with at least nine touchdown receptions.
The Broncos, riding high at 9-1 and fresh off of a win over the Kansas City Chiefs, own the AFC’s best record (by virtue of a tiebreaker over the Chiefs) with an eye toward a top-two seed in the conference for a first-round playoff bye.

It won’t be hard for Bill Belichick and his staff to size up the challenge ahead, as the Broncos are on pace to score nearly 50 more points than the Patriots did during their record-setting 2007 regular season.

Peyton Manning is on pace to break Tom Brady’s record for touchdown passes in a season, and the Broncos have three players who already have at least nine touchdown receptions this season (there are just five such players in total).

Manning is the orchestrator of the offense that has endured the loss of its best lineman, left tackle Ryan Clady, and still has surpassed 40 points in five games this season. His cast of receivers is unrivaled, with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker dominating the perimeter, while old Patriot Wes Welker and upstart tight end Julius Thomas present a nightmarish duo in the middle of the field. Welker's status for Sunday's game is uncertain, however, as he suffered a concussion in the win over the Chiefs.

This offense would be a challenge for the Patriots to contain even if they were at full strength, but the defense is dealing with injuries to each of its top three cornerbacks. Aqib Talib (hip) was forced out late in Monday night’s game, Alfonzo Dennard (knee) sat it out entirely and Kyle Arrington (groin) had to leave the game temporarily for stretch and recuperation. Their status for Sunday is unknown, but it’s fair to assume the secondary won’t be at 100 percent. Add in the potential absence of starting safety Steve Gregory (thumb), and the Patriots will have their hands full while possibly leaning on reserve-level players.

It’s nothing new for the Patriots, as they’ve weathered a litany of injuries already in 2013, led by season-enders to nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo. Those have led to the ascension of little-known players such as Joe Vellano and Chris Jones in addition to the acquisition of veteran defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga.

The Broncos aren’t an imbalanced foe, however. The defense doesn’t draw the same attention as the offense, but for the second consecutive week the Patriots will have their hands full with a pair of talented edge rushers, Von Miller and Shaun Phillips. And though the numbers are slightly skewed because they are so often playing with a sizable lead, the Broncos also boast one of the stingier run defenses, surrendering just 92.7 yards per contest.

Simply put, getting things going against this defense is no small feat.

Following their last controversial finish, the Patriots started slowly against the Miami Dolphins, falling behind 14-0 early. The Patriots flexed their resolve in scoring 27 of the game’s final 30 points, catapulting them past their AFC East rival and putting to bed any lingering disappointment from the Jets game.

Falling behind against the Broncos is a recipe for trouble, something the Patriots are well aware of.

So that’s why, as difficult as it may be given the circumstances surrounding Monday night’s defeat, the Patriots have no time to feel bad for themselves.

With Peyton & Co. coming, the Patriots know it’s time to go to work.

Unlike the NFC, the AFC playoff bracket went according to form and has the top two seeds meeting in the conference title game Sunday. The New England Patriots (14-3) and Baltimore Ravens (13-4) have been the best two teams in the conference from start to finish.

But only one team can advance to Indianapolis to play in Super Bowl XLVI. That is where AFC East blogger James Walker and AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley come in to examine the matchups and pressing issues with the Patriots and Ravens.

James Walker: Let’s start with the quarterbacks, Jamison, because I think this is where the Patriots have the biggest advantage. Tom Brady is playing at an unbelievable level. He tied an NFL postseason record with six touchdown passes against a pretty good Denver Broncos defense. I’m not sure Baltimore -- or any defense -- has an answer for the Patriots’ passing game right now. Behind Brady, the Patriots are averaging 40.5 points in their past four games. New England’s offense is peaking at the right time. If New England scores early, that puts an enormous amount of pressure on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to respond. I doubt a Brady versus Flacco shootout is a game Baltimore wants to play.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Michael Ivins/US PresswireTom Brady was masterful in the Patriots' playoff rout of Denver.
Jamison Hensley: You’re definitely right about that, James. Flacco has thrown for fewer than 175 yards in his past three games. That’s like one half for Brady. Flacco gets a lot of criticism because he isn’t consistent -- and that’s true. He has flashes when he looks like he’s a top-10 quarterback, guiding a last-minute touchdown drive at Pittsburgh and leading the Ravens back from a 21-point deficit against Arizona. Then, there are times when he looks like he is among the league’s worst, like when he doesn’t complete a pass in two quarters against the Jets. But the Ravens have never had to rely on Flacco in the playoffs. That’s the time of the season when the Baltimore defense thrives. There’s a huge disparity between Brady and Flacco. But there is an even bigger one between the defenses of the Patriots and Ravens, who are ranked No. 3 in the NFL in fewest yards and points allowed.

James Walker: We’ve both watched Baltimore’s defense up close for years, and I’ve always marveled at its consistency. The biggest thing is you know what you’re going to get from Baltimore’s defense on Sunday. I really have no idea what to expect from the Patriots’ defense. I did see with my own eyes last week a group that is capable of playing well. The Patriots actually have the top-rated defense in the playoffs, although it’s just for one game. I won’t go overboard with the Patriots stopping Tim Tebow. Any playoff team not named the Pittsburgh Steelers could do that. (I had to jab your AFC North brethren.) But I’ve seen too many weeks in which New England looked awful defensively and gave up tons of yards. The Ravens’ offense should have the advantage as long as they stick with tailback Ray Rice, who has killed New England in the past. Speaking of the past, Jamison, how much stock do you put in Baltimore’s previous playoff victory against the Patriots in January 2010?

Jamison Hensley: Just like you can’t go overboard on one game for the New England defense, you can’t go overboard with that playoff game. Both teams are different from that game two years ago. The Patriots didn’t even have Wes Welker for that one. The biggest lingering effect is that the Ravens have confidence that they can win in New England. Few teams have ever beaten Brady on his home turf in the playoffs, and Ray Lewis and the gang know they can do it, because they did it before. Of course, that game turned on the first offensive play from scrimmage when Rice ran 83 yards for a touchdown. And that’s something that hasn’t changed for the Ravens. Rice is key to the Ravens winning. Baltimore is 9-0 when Rice carries the ball at least 20 times. He has to be on the mind of every New England defender.

James Walker: There’s no denying Rice is to Baltimore what Brady is to New England. The performance of both players will probably determine the outcome of this game. You astutely pointed out Welker’s absence from the January 2010 playoff game. Two additional players not in that game were tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who were drafted the following April. Two seasons later, the pair completely change the dynamics of New England’s offense. The Ravens’ defense is great. But I’m looking down their roster and I’m having a lot of trouble finding linebackers who are fast enough and defensive backs who are strong enough to stop New England’s star tight ends. The Ravens might opt to double one -- usually Gronkowski -- but I don’t think they have an answer for both. After watching the Ravens' defense all season, Jamison, what strategy do you think they will employ?

Jamison Hensley: The Ravens played mostly zone against Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, but they can’t do that against Brady. He would pick them apart. Baltimore has to go to man coverage to be successful. The defender to watch is linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. He’s known as the team’s special-teams ace, but he plays an important role in the nickel defense. The Ravens have contained some of the top tight ends they’ve gone against in San Diego’s Antonio Gates (two catches for 31 yards) and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis (four for 38 yards). The problem is, the Ravens haven’t faced a team with two quality tight ends like Gronkowski and Hernandez. Baltimore’s best bet is to get pressure on Brady. That starts with Terrell Suggs, who will test both of the Patriots’ offensive tackles.

James Walker: Suggs has been a monster this season. I also think Brady might be Suggs’ least-favorite quarterback, so there won’t be any lack of motivation there. But I noticed something important in both AFC divisional games that should be mentioned. Baltimore didn’t get a single sack against Yates and Houston, and New England held Denver without a sack, despite facing a defense with two of the league’s top pass-rushers in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Maybe that was more scheme last week on Baltimore’s part, because defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano usually gets after it. But New England legitimately stuffed Denver’s pass rush for four quarters with an up-tempo offense that used a lot of half-huddle/no-huddle and quick throws to Gronkowski, Hernandez and Welker. I think you’re going to see the Patriots speed up the tempo again against Baltimore, especially at home where the crowd is quiet and communication on offense is easier.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Suggs
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireKeeping Terrell Suggs away from QB Tom Brady will be a priority for New England on Sunday.
Jamison Hensley: As we’ve seen so far in the playoffs, home field has really been an advantage. Only one home team (Green Bay) has lost so far this postseason. The Ravens have had their trouble on the road this season, losing at Seattle and Jacksonville -- teams they should’ve beaten. But Baltimore has a great track record of winning on the road in the playoffs. The Ravens have won at Miami, Tennessee, Kansas City and, of course, New England under coach John Harbaugh in the postseason. How the Ravens handle the atmosphere on the road will be one of many keys in this matchup.

James Walker: The Patriots and Ravens played all season for this gigantic opportunity. New England just won one more game to force the road to Indianapolis to go through Gillette Stadium. But I think either club would represent the conference well and has a great chance to win the Super Bowl. Either way, Jamison, just make sure one of us brings that Lombardi Trophy back to the AFC side, where it belongs. I was kind of tired of that "Discount Double-check" thing NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert kept doing in front of us for the past year.

Jamison Hensley: I hear you. We’ll just have to wait until Sunday to see whether Bill Belichick’s hoodie or Flacco’s Fu Manchu mustache will be advancing. History says this will be a close game. Three of the past four meetings between the Ravens and Patriots have been decided by six points or fewer. For coverage leading up to the AFC Championship Game, everyone can check back to the AFC East and AFC North blogs all week. And, James, it will be just a little colder in New England than Miami, so remember to pack a jacket.

About Tom Brady's quick kick

January, 15, 2012
1/15/12
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The New England Patriots played a near-perfect game in Saturday's 45-10 divisional-round win over the Denver Broncos. But what was up with quarterback Tom Brady's punt on third-and-10 late in the fourth quarter?

Up 35 points, the Patriots kept their starting offense in the game and had some success moving the ball. But New England lined up in a shotgun formation and Brady surprised everyone by punting the ball 48 yards to Denver's 10-yard line.

It came off as New England showing up the Broncos by doing something zany instead of simply running out the clock. The Patriots were practicing something very rare at Denver's expense in a nationally televised postseason game.

"It's funny, that’s the kind of play you work on forever and you never know when it's going to come," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "Actually, we talked about doing it when we were backed up there on the 2-yard line."

Brady backed his head coach and didn't mind the call.

"We've been practicing it for seven years; a situation came up," Brady explained. "I was trying to get it inside the 5 but I needed a penalty to do that. I was happy about the call."

A skirmish ensued after Brady's punt when Broncos linebacker Von Miller lost his cool and delivered a late hit. Pride set in as Denver's defense was getting embarrassed. This quick kick by Brady certainly didn't help matters.

Belichick is always thinking about situational football, but punting on third down near midfield seemed unnecessary. Next time the Patriots should leave these things for the preseason, not the postseason.

Final Word: Broncos at Patriots

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
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» Divisional Final Word: Saints-49ers | Broncos-Patriots | Texans-Ravens | Giants-Packers

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Broncos-Patriots divisional-round game:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Elsa/Getty ImagesNew England QB Tom Brady is seeking his first playoff victory in four years.
Brady's playoff pressure: Perhaps no player has more pressure to win Saturday's game than Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The future Hall of Famer hasn't won a playoff game in four years and his window for another championship is closing. Brady was 14-2 in his first 16 career playoff games. That run led to three Super Bowls early in his career. But lately Brady is 0-3 in the playoffs, including two one-and-done years in 2009 and 2010. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brady is trying to avoid becoming the fifth quarterback in NFL history to lose four consecutive playoff games. If Brady beats Denver, his 15 playoff victories would be No. 2 all-time behind Joe Montana (16).

Gronk or Hernandez? New England tight end Aaron Hernandez had it right. This week he told reporters that the Broncos have to "pick your poison" on which tight end to defend. In Week 15, the Broncos chose to pay a lot of attention to Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Hernandez had a big game. Hernandez torched Denver for nine catches, 129 yards and a touchdown in a 41-23 victory. Gronkowski saw a lot of double coverage and caught just four passes for 53 yards, one of his lowest outputs of the season. The question is, will Denver adjust or keep the same strategy? Hernandez and Gronkowski are both capable of big games, and the pair needs to stay ready.

O-line at full strength: The Patriots are coming off a bye week and are as healthy as they've been in months. Two key offensive linemen are expected to return for the playoffs. Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins (knee) and starting offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (knee) both practiced this week. Protecting Brady will be key. New England throws the ball a lot, and the line has to protect him from Denver pass-rushing specialists Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.
Fourth-year veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis leads the New England Patriots in rushing with 667 yards. Rookie tailback Stevan Ridley has the hot hand and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry in his past three games. Danny Woodhead also is waiting for his chance to produce.

So which running back will step up in the playoffs?

A lot of attention this week is on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He will throw the ball a lot and is the biggest key for New England's success.

But Brady still needs some type of running game in the postseason. That is where New England's trio of Green-Ellis, Ridley and Woodhead come in. Each tailback has been successful at different times this season.

New England doesn't need any of these players to rush for 100 yards. But it's ball security and yards per carry that are most important to keeping Denver's defense honest. The Broncos are at their best defensively when they can pressure the quarterback with outside linebackers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.

"The defense is solid. They've been doing good things for them and that's what they really don't talk about that much," Ridley told reporters. "It's a lot about [quarterback Tim] Tebow, but not so much about their defense. But they're playing sound football all the way around and all three phases."

Ridley may have the best chance to shine in the playoffs. The 2011 third-round pick has fresh legs and is coming on strong late in the season. Ridley led the Patriots in rushing the past three games, which includes 65 yards on 11 carries (5.9-yard average) against Denver in Week 15.

But despite Ridley's production, can the Patriots fully trust a rookie running back in the playoffs? Ridley said the key will be keeping his composure in his postseason debut.

"It's going to be a playoff atmosphere," Ridley said. "It's going to be a big-time game and we're going to go out there and just play football and stay calm and go out there and try to play a sound game."
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday morning in the AFC East:
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wants to keep the Bills in Buffalo.
Morning take: Renovating Ralph Wilson Stadium is going to be costly, and that's a key element. That will cost the state about $100 million. But it beats building an entirely new stadium.
  • Should the Miami Dolphins consider Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to be their next head coach?
Morning take: That would certainly be interesting. Schottenheimer may be on the list to interview. But he's not a splashy enough name to be Miami's next head coach. Some Jets fans probably wouldn't mind.
  • Sunday will see a good rookie battle between New England Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder against Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller.
Morning take: Both Solder and Miller have been two of the best first-year players at their position. Disrupting Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be key in this game.
  • The New York Jets signed safety Gerald Alexander to the 53-man roster.
Morning take: Alexander replaces the roster spot starting safety Jim Leonhard (knee) left open. Brodney Pool is the big name in this equation. He has to step up in the starting lineup for the rest of the season.

AFC East draft analysis

April, 30, 2011
4/30/11
6:31
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» NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

The 2011 draft was short on sensationalism for the AFC East.

Even the sexiest pick was easy to rationalize. The New England Patriots took Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, but the decision didn't seem out of whack in the third round.

Clubs went by the book. They bolstered need positions, concentrating on the trenches early. Very few red flags were raised.

But that doesn't mean the draft was dull.

Here are some draft highlights from the AFC East:

BEST MOVE

The AFC East's best decision of the draft was for the worst team to not get cute.

The Buffalo Bills didn't have to think when they filled out their draft card and sent it up to the commissioner. After the Denver Broncos selected Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller, the Bills rejected any thoughts about targeting a quarterback and pounced on Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, perhaps the safest pick in the entire draft.

Dareus immediately improves Buffalo's pitiful run defense and will help their anemic pass rush, too.

In fact, all four AFC East teams made prudent first-round decisions by reinforcing the lines.

The Miami Dolphins also eschewed quarterbacks, tabbing Florida center Mike Pouncey. The Patriots went with Colorado tackle Nate Solder. The New York Jets added Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.

RISKIEST MOVE

Had Mallett been taken in the first round or by a team that needed him to play right away, he would've gone down as the riskiest decision. But in the middle of the third round, no expectations to play and a solid infrastructure mitigate the hazards.

The Jets waited a long time between their first and next picks. When they were back on the clock at No. 94, they took Hampton defensive lineman Kenrick Ellis, a player the Jets rated as one of the top two nose tackles in this year's class.

But Ellis was suspended at South Carolina and kicked off the team, reportedly for drug use. Ellis also is facing felony assault charges -- he allegedly broke a man's jaw and nose last April on Hampton's campus. He's scheduled to stand trial in July and could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

[+] EnlargeRas-I Dowling
Lee Coleman/Icon SMINew England took cornerback Ras-I Dowling instead of drafting pass-rush help.
Again, some people would say Mallett was a surprise. I didn't think so in the third round. That's the kind of value selection the Patriots are prone to make -- similar to Texas Christian offensive lineman Marcus Cannon, who tumbled into the fifth round after a recent cancer diagnosis.

The biggest surprise to me was New England's decision not to address its need for pass rush help with the 33rd overall pick. With Pittsburgh's Jabaal Sheard and Arizona's Brooks Reed on the board, Bill Belichick took Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling instead.

The Patriots then drafted running backs with back-to-back picks. They went into the draft with backfield needs. They were old last year and had only two backs -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead -- under contract.

They drafted California's Shane Vereen in the second round and then Louisiana State's Stevan Ridley 17 picks later in the third round.

It's hard to imagine either Green-Ellis (the AFC East's only 1,000-yard rusher last year) or Woodhead (electrifying fan favorite) being on the outs. So how do the Patriots figure they'll use all these guys?

FILE IT AWAY

The two AFC East teams unsettled at quarterback didn't draft one. The Bills and Dolphins avoided that position.

Each of the two AFC East teams with clear-cut quarterback situations drafted another. The Patriots added Mallett, and the Jets took Alabama's Greg McElroy in the seventh round.

The Jets aren't starting a quarterback controversy. Mark Sanchez is the unquestioned starter, and veteran backup Mark Brunell has another year left on his contract.

But here's an interesting fact: McElroy wore No. 17 his first two college seasons. He switched to No. 12 because it was worn at Alabama by his father's hero, Joe Namath.

Buffalo thrilled Denver passed on Dareus

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills were thrilled to have Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus on the board with the third overall draft choice Thursday night.

Dareus
Dareus
Bills general manager Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey just met with reporters here at One Bills Drive to discuss their new player.

Nix said if Dareus wasn't on the board, the Bills "very likely" would have considered taking Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert rather than another defensive player such as Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller.

Up until the past couple days, Nix thought the Denver Broncos would take Dareus with the second pick. The Broncos took Miller instead.

"It's like Christmas, opening presents," Nix said. "We really didn't think he'd be there, but we're excited about having him."

Nix said Dareus "is about as close as it gets" to a safe draft pick in the NFL.

Dareus is remarkably versatile and could fit any scheme. Gailey envisions Dareus as a defensive end in their 3-4 alignment, but added, "I can see him lining up in a lot of different spots for us as times goes on."

In addition to solidifying Buffalo's feeble run defense, he will help their anemic pass-rush, too. The Bills allowed a league-worst 169.6 rushing yards a game. Only three teams recorded fewer than the Bills' 27.

"Sometimes people have not given him enough credit as a pass-rusher," Gailey said. "He can get on the edge of a guard. That's where he had most of his success as a pass-rusher, between the tackles. But he's a good guy coming off the outside edge as well.

"He'll have an impact. If nothing else, with him hanging around the middle in there, it doesn't allow anybody [on the offense] to go out and chip and help outside. It makes them stay inside."

Added Nix: "He can finish plays. When he gets to the quarterback, we'll have to let him know they do fine you in this league."

One more reminder that it's all guesswork

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With the Buffalo Bills drafting first in the AFC East (again), I'll be reporting Thursday night from their facility.

Who do you think they'll select third overall?

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

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

Mock plus: Houston to Pats, Ponder to Bills

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
9:47
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AFC East reader mock overtime has concluded.

Houston
Houston
After six weeks, we made it through our first round Tuesday morning. Iconic ESPN analyst Mel Kiper was kind enough to give his opinion on it.

But because the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills own the first two selections of the second round, voters suggested we extend our mock draft to include those predictions.

Readers tacked on Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston for the Patriots and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder for the Bills.

Ponder
Ponder
Based on the comments, readers mostly predicted the Patriots would trade No. 33. Other teams hot for a certain player still on the board -- especially a quarterback -- will be motivated to move into that spot and have several hours to get a deal done.

But for mock purposes, Houston was the overwhelming selection ahead of Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward.

Buffalo's list of nominations at No. 34 was interesting.

Of the nine players mentioned, five of them were quarterbacks, including the top three vote-getters: Ponder, Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett.

That response is tied in with Buffalo's mock domino at No. 3, choosing Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller there instead of a quarterback.

Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph was the most popular non-QB with a grand total of three votes.

The end.

Next, we get to break down how well we did.

Kiper evaluates our AFC East reader mock

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
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Mel KiperHoward Smith/US PresswireMel Kiper largely agreed with AFC East readers and the blog's mock draft.
U.S. Department of Labor analysts have confirmed Mel Kiper is the second-busiest man in the country this week and would have been first had the president not felt compelled to hold a weird news conference Wednesday.

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

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

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

Here are Kiper's thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
6:50
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With the NFL draft one day away, Scouts Inc. analysts Kevin Weidl and Steve Muench tap into the latest buzz.

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

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

Patriots, Bills on clock together in our mock

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
9:57
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With the 32nd pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the Green Bay Packers select ... Akeem Ayers, outside linebacker, UCLA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pack up the reader mock? Think again ...

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
9:16
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With the 31st pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select ... Aaron Williams, cornerback, Texas.

Slim pickings, for this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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