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As competitive as the AFC East was last year, what happened this weekend at the draft could make the difference in deciding the playoffs.
Eleven victories last year weren't enough to get the New England Patriots into the postseason. With quarterback Tom Brady coming back from his knee injury and with some new blood on board, the Patriots are the favorites to win the AFC East.
The New York Jets, desperate to get over the hump, made two splashy trades to acquire two potential offensive stars.
The Buffalo Bills -- stuck on 7-9 for three straight seasons -- made some head-scratching picks, ignoring tackle and loading up on defensive backs, a position that was relatively healthy.
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| Trading up to draft Mark Sanchez was a bold move for the Jets. |
They parted with two substantial draft picks and three players who might not have started in 2009 to get the franchise-caliber quarterback they believe in.
For that alone, regardless of how Mark Sanchez pans out, the Jets deserve credit for pulling off the deal.
Sanchez gives the Jets the best leading-man candidate in decades. He's their earliest-drafted quarterback since they selected Joe Namath first overall in the 1965 AFL draft.
The Jets began the process of drifting away from Chad Pennington in 2007, when they drafted Kellen Clemens in the second round.
They obviously haven't been satisfied with Clemens as an option. They wanted him to seize the job last summer, but Pennington outplayed him. The Jets, eager for a solution, boldly traded for Brett Favre and cut Pennington. Favre lasted one season before arm problems forced him to retire again, putting Clemens back atop the depth chart.
In eight months, we'll have a better idea of what Sanchez can do for the Jets, but we probably won't know how great the pick was for three years.
But the Jets gave themselves their best opportunity in generations to find a star quarterback. For that alone, they've made the best move of the draft.
The Buffalo Bills traded Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters a week before the draft and didn't select a tackle.
You can look at this three ways: 1) the Bills are confident veteran Langston Walker and second-year project Demetrius Bell can handle the tackle positions; 2) they might be working on a trade for someone like Levi Jones after the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Andre Smith; or 3) Buffalo's front office doesn't know what it's doing.
Buffalo went with Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin, Louisville center Eric Wood, Oregon defensive back Jairus Byrd, Oregon State guard Andy Levitre, Southern Miss tight end Shawn Nelson, Oklahoma linebacker/safety Nic Harris, Southern California cornerback Cary Harris and West Virginia cornerback Ellis Lankster.
Maybin and Wood can easily be justified as first-round choices. But the Bills are adding a variable to Wood's future by moving him to guard after he started 49 straight games as Louisville's center.
What's with all the defensive backs?
The Bills seemed to have their secondary penciled out heading into the draft: Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin or Drayton Florence at cornerback and Donte Whitner, Bryan Scott and George Wilson at safety.
McKelvin was the 11th player chosen overall last year. He is
expected to step in for Jabari Greer, a free agent who went to the New Orleans Saints. The Bills brought in Florence for help. Ashton Youboty and Reggie Corner also are on the roster.
Whitner was the eighth overall pick in 2006.
Within the next nine picks after the Bills selected Levitre, three tackles went off the board. The Minnesota Vikings took Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt. The New England Patriots drafted Houston's Sebastian Vollmer. The New York Giants chose Connecticut's Will Beatty.
Most surprising move
Patriots overlord Bill Belichick passed on a variety of striking defensive prospects when he moved totally out of the first round to gather more draft picks.
Southern California linebackers Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga, Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis and Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis were around, but the Patriots weren't interested.
None of these decisions seemed like a surprise when it happened, but if someone were to tell you before the draft that the Patriots would have at least one crack at those prospects -- in some cases, two or three cracks -- you would've bet your last penny they'd draft one. Each would look natural in Patriots' gear.
It's not like we misread the Patriots' needs either. The Patriots were going after those positions. They drafted defensive backs Patrick Chung and Darius Butler in the second round and linebacker Tyrone McKenzie in the third round.
You can't argue with Belichick's judgment when it comes to player evaluations, especially on the defensive side.
Still, to think none of those players landed in Foxborough, Mass. seems strange.
File it away
In what could go down as a classic example that Bill Parcells and his acolytes know more than everybody else, the Dolphins drafted Patrick Turner from Southern California in the third round. He was the 13th receiver off the board, and that might have been a reach.
Scouts Inc. rated him the 38th best receiver in the draft. Pro Football Weekly's draft guide ranked Turner 30th, saying he "has no upside" and that he benefited from facing single coverage because the Trojans' offense was so loaded. Lindy's Pro Football ranked him 18th.
But Turner is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 223 pounds, and the Dolphins don't have much size at receiver. They made a boo-boo when they signed free agent Ernest Wilford to provide a big target, but he played so small he usually wore street clothes on game day.
Turner caught 49 passes for 741 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
"I feel I bring a red-zone threat," Turner said. "I feel I bring a lot of mismatches. I feel like I'm a possession receiver.
"I feel that in the fringe area, to be a bigger guy, I feel I run pretty good routes, and I feel sure-handed, like I can contribute."
If Turner works out, he'll make Parcells look like an even bigger genius.