Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Draft Watch: AFC East
By Tim Graham
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.
The Bills had craters to fill on both sides of scrimmage before new coach Chan Gailey came aboard and decided to switch to a 3-4 defense. That has created more positional needs. Critical to pulling off that defensive transformation is identifying a classic, run-stopping, multiple-blocker-occupying nose tackle. One doesn't exist on their roster.
But where the Bills really need to upgrade is at offensive tackle and quarterback for an offense that has rated 30th, 25th, 30th, 30th, 28th, 25th and 30th the past seven seasons. They neglected left tackle after trading Pro Bowler Jason Peters before last year's draft. They passed on budding star Michael Oher. Without that piece, can the Bills afford to draft a quarterback ninth overall, pay him the type of money he would command and expect him to develop behind a feeble line?
For the third offseason in a row, receiver is Miami's sexiest offseason need. Dolfans have been begging for downfield help, and the necessity has been augmented now that Chad Henne is the quarterback. The Dolphins got by with a collection of possession receivers because of Chad Pennington's pinpoint, midrange arm. A reliable deep threat would benefit Henne.
The Dolphins have a decision to make at nose tackle. Incumbent Jason Ferguson is coming off a season-ending leg injury and will turn 36 next season. If the Dolphins look elsewhere, then that's a big hole.
No matter what, they must improve at inside linebacker and free safety, the positions most responsible for surrendering big play after big play throughout the season. Last year's free safety, Gibril Wilson, was paid well and gave up costly plays. Inside linebackers Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele simply aren't playmakers. They combined last year for one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and two recoveries.
New England Patriots
Crucial to the Patriots' offseason is finding pass-rushers, either through free agency or the draft. They're rice-paper thin at outside linebacker, where unrestricted free agents Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess were first (9.5) and tied for second (five) on the team in sacks. It's hard to imagine Adalius Thomas remaining on the roster. Defensive end is another area of concern. Bill Belichick dealt Richard Seymour in training camp. Jarvis Green is unrestricted.
On offense, it would sound laughable to say this a year ago, but the Patriots need receiver help. They never located a legitimate third option last season. Randy Moss showed his volatile side for the first time as a Patriot. Wes Welker has a long recovery from knee surgery ahead. Tight end is another unsettled spot. Benjamin Watson is unrestricted, and even if he comes back, the Patriots never seem comfortable there.
New York Jets
A year ago, the Jets embarked on what appeared to be massive renovations. Now they're tweaking. On offense, receiver is an area to concentrate on. Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery are a nice start, but the Jets couldn't find trustworthy help beyond that. Whether they add a wideout or a slot target, Mark Sanchez could use help as the Jets develop into a more balanced offense.
Offensive line and defensive end are places where the Jets are getting older. The Jets are not compelled to find starters in either area, but they're in desperate need of depth players they can groom for the future. General manager Mike Tannenbaum isn't afraid to barter draft picks, and the result has been just 13 selections over the past three Aprils, including three last year. When you're constantly filling out the back end of your roster with undrafted rookies and castoffs, depth can suffer a long time.