AFC East 2020 Draft synopsis

April 29, 2020

The expectation is that we will finally see some shuffling and serious competition in this division. The biggest reason is the divorce between TOM BRADY and BILL BELICHICK. This leaves the Patriots in uncharted waters in this millennium. They have to find their next championship level QB. Good luck on that one.

BUFFALO BILLS       The Bills have been improving ever since hiring a new management team in GM BRANDON BEANE and Head Coach SEAN McDERMOTT. And QB JOSH ALLEN seems to be improving each season, and could be ready to make a large leap in 2020. That would be due in part to the trading away of their first round Draft Pick (and a few others) to bring STEFON DIGGS from the Vikings. This gives the team an established Receiver-1 to go along with some nice young pieces they already had in place. But just to be sure they have enough targets for ALLEN, they drafted 2 more wideouts. GABRIEL DAVIS of UCF was their 4th Round prize. And although he lacks elite speed (which the BILLS have enough of), he is a big strong target who can find the end zone (12 TD’s in ’19), and is sure handed. They also brought in ISAIAH HODGINS, who had a breakout 2019 season with 86 receptions. He has even greater size at 6’4/210. With the departure of FRANK GORE from the backfield, it seemed logical the team would look for help for their RB group. Sure enough, in Round 3 they selected ZACK MOSS, a powerful, do it all Back that should be a nice compliment to SINGLETARY and YELDON. He’s short but powerful. He averaged 6.0 ypc last season and scored 15 rushing TD’s. I like the pick of JAKE FROMM in Round 5. He may never become a full-time starter, but with his playing experience in college, and his high FBI, he might be a solid back-up that they have no fear putting in the game if ALLEN gets hurt. His numbers slumped a bit last season for the Bulldogs, but he was working with an almost completely revamped receiver group. Given the style of play and the loss of SHAQ LAWSON to VFA, I really like the 2nd Round Pick of A.J. EPENESA for their defensive scheme. EPENESA is not an Edge-Rusher, IMO. He’s a good, old-fashioned DE who can fit no matter how many DL are in their formation at any given time. He’s a long, naturally strong player who wears down defenses. I watched him absolutely dominate the 4th Quarter of several Iowa games last season. He should do the same as a pro. He’s just not going to be a double-digit sack man in the NFL. The team may have quietly added a very useful Nickel-CB in DANE JACKSON of Pitt with their final pick. Given the new contract that they gave to STEVEN HAUSCHKA, I don’t get drafting K/TYLER BASS. Bass has a very strong leg, but perhaps they gave HAUSCHKA too much money in his new contract to keep him around. This team added some nice pieces and would be my front runner to take the AFC title away from the boys in Foxboro.

MIMAI DOLPHINS    This is the season that the Dolphins hope to have a reversal of fortune and move themselves into Playoff contention. Unless vet QB RYAN FITZPATRICK has a miracle season, I don’t see it yet. However, the team has already signed a solid group of VFA’s and added 11 Draftees last weekend. Without tanking, and without trading up, they still got their QB in TUA. Now the question is how much, if at all, TUA plays this season. There is still talk about Redshirting him, though not by the Dolphins themselves. Whether it is this year or next, the team used 3 of their Picks to take OL prospects. AUSTIN JACKSON was first with Pick 18, but he is very young, and may not be ready to start at LT from Day One. ROBERT HUNT was their selection in round 2 and he will get chances to play at both OT or OG. He is a big, tough hombre with 4 years of starting for the Rajin’ Cajuns under his belt. Huge young man SOLOMON KINDLEY from Georgia is the least likely to start right away, but he’s a big strong guy from that Georgia pro-style Offense that excels in run blocking. To me, the biggest surprise in their 11 Picks was the lack of a speedy RB for their backfield. I guess VFA JORDAN HOWARD from the Eagles will have to tow the mail for now. A fascinating weapon was Navy’s MALCOLM PERRY, who will move from QB to WR/RS if he makes the team. He reminds many of KEENAN REYNOLDS, another versatile ex-QB from Navy. NFLN analyst Daniel Jeremiah insists that PERRY has more “juice” than Reynolds. Last season, the team decided to move on from LS JOHN DENNEY, who was with them since 2005, but they must have been disappointed in the results because they drafted LSU LS BLAKE FERGUSON in Round 6, who is the younger brother of LS REID FERGUSON of the Buffalo Bills. The remaining 5 Picks went for defenders. Up front, they added RAEKWON DAVIS of ‘Bama, who may play at DT for them. JASON STROWBRIDGE came in Round 5, after a breakout season in 2019 under the new MACK BROWN coaching staff at UNC. Right after STROWBRIDGE, the team selected pure pass-rusher CURTIS WEAVER of Boise State. He’ll likely float between OLB and DE, but primarily in long-yardage situations. He’s more talented than most Round 5 Picks, but talent evaluators worry about his motor belong rushing on the edge. No LB’s were drafted, but they still have some sorting out to do in a crowded and fairly young LB corps. CB NOAH IGBINOGHENE and S BRANDON JONES were slated to add competition in their secondary. NOAH is very athletic, but still has a lot to learn about coverage. JONES is the opposite. He’s a savvy vet that can make plays, but after 3-years starting for Texas, many feel that his upside is vey limited. He will likely do his best work on Special Teams units. The team is likely to sign even more VFA players to supplement this group. I like the talent, but the team needs so much that it will take another stellar Draft next year, and TUA must be ready to go in full bore in 2021!

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS      As most of us expected, I think, the team did NOT go out of its way to Draft a QB. According to BELICHICK, it was not intentional avoidance, but they felt no need to reach. That means they are optimistic that STIDHAM has starter potential, and/or the VFA QB market may be a better option, at least for the time being. After stumbling around last season trying to patch together a TE group that could “hold the fort”, so to speak, the team went whole hog in Round 3 to fix the GRONK-less position for the foreseeable future with 2 Draftees; DEVIN ASIASI/UCLA, DALTON KEENE/VA Tech. Both of these guys were risers in the last month leading up to the Draft. Though neither is a GRONK, they both have good size, can block, and can supplement the WR group in providing targets for their QB, whoever that might be. The team also went in deep to bolster their OL depth with 3 Picks, though not til Rounds 6 & 7. MIKE ONWENU/OG is one of the widest bodies you will ever see. In a short area, he can move surprisingly well. And for pure power, he is elite. He will dominate on the Interior like TRENT BROWN did out at OT. His pass-pro is mediocre right now, but if the new QB is more mobile than BRADY, then they might get by with him. JUSTIN HERRON, Wake Forest, isn’t as stout or long as you might like, but he showed effort and athleticism at the Senior Bowl in January. His long term value might be as a versatile backup that only starts because of injury. Their last Pick of DUSTIN WOODARD surprised me. I had heard of him, but at the bottom of most folks OC list, and not in my Top 400. Large sized Kicker JUSTIN ROHRWASSER from Marshall was snatched in Round 5. His FG percentage beyond 40-yards leaves a lot to be desired. On Defense, Little BILL went for versatile guys, even including S KYLE DUGGER from Lenoir-Rhyne. DUGGER was not a surprise Pick to Draftniks and NFL personnel people. He’s an exceptional athlete with nice size (6’1/217) and speed (4.47/40). He is like a slightly taller version of JABRILL PEPPERS of the Giants. His personal mentor is scheduled to be vet DEVIN McCOURTY. JOSH UCHE of Michigan is a man whose position in an NFL Defense is yet to be clearly defined, but he can rush the passer from almost anywhere. ANFERNEE JENNINGS from Alabama is a similar type play-making athlete who had 83 tackles for the Crimson Tide in 2019. In those 83, he had 8 sacks and 8 QBH’s, as well as 5 PBU’s and 1 INT. Expect the latter two to provide NINKOVICH versatility and disruptive ability. Expect this Draft group to get multiple chances to contribute to a team decimated of vets by Salary Cap issues that look to have finally caught up with them. If the PATS patch together a team that wins the AFC East this coming season, then BELICHICK will have cemented his legacy as the GOAT of NFL Head Coaches.

NEW YORK JETS    If this Draft is an indication of what the team and its fans can expect from GM JOE DOUGLAS, then the future looks brighter than it has in quite a while for the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets! This is the first Draft as a GM for DOUGLAS, and it looks really solid. He started by taking man-mountain MEKHI BECTON to play OT  in front of SAM DARNOLD. Expect him to start right away. He’s not a polished player, but he’s so damn big that his size makes up for some of his shortcomings. DOUGLAS went for more OL help in Round 4 with the selection of CAMERON CLARK from Charlotte. He was a 3-year starter and 2-time team Captain that played OT, but is likely to be converted to OG. Hopefully, he accepts the change and some coaching up and gets some playing time late in the season. He has long term starter potential. The team needed to replace the VFA loss of Robby Anderson, and chose DENZEL MIMS of Baylor to do so. MIMS has 4.37/40 speed and is 6’3/207. He will provide a deep threat to stretch secondaries and loosen up underneath coverage for DARNOLD. The team also took La’Mical PERINE from Florida to provide a true back-up for Le’VEON BELL. PERINE is a hard, tough runner that can also catch the ball out of the backfield. PERINE ran for 6 TD’s and caught passes for 5 more. The team may also have gotten a true back-up for DARNOLD in JAMES MORGAN from FIU. MORGAN is a big fella at 6’4/230 with a nice arm and high FBI. He’s a pocket passer with the mobility to move within the pocket, but not a runner. The team tried to bolster its secondary with S/ASHTYN DAVIS in Round 4 and CB/BRYCE HALL in Round 5. HALL is best in one coverage, but has excellent ball skills. Injured in 2019, he recorded 22 PBU’s in 2018. The Jets, like most teams, are a bit shy of numbers when it comes to pure edge-rushers. They got themselves a serious weapon in JABARI ZUNIGA of Florida in Round 3. ZUNIGA struggled in 2019 trying to play thru a high ankle sprain. When healthy, he’s an explosive player off the snap and once he learns better use of his hands to shed blockers, he could be a perennial double-digit Sack-man. He ‘s also strong enough to set the edge against the run. Many personnel people think his upside is huge! Just for good measure, DOUGLAS decided to draft arguably the best Punter in college football in Texas A&M’s BRADEN MANN. MANN averaged 48.9 ypp on 109 career punts for the Aggies. He also placed 46 of those inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. MANN will also likely take over kick-off duties.

This division could be quite the horse race with the Patriots coming back to the pack sans BRADY. In a talent laden prospect group this year, I think all four teams took care of some major needs with solid Draft classes.