The AFC East was a most interesting display of differentiated thinking relative to the importance of the Draft in building/maintaining your team in the NFL. So let’s compare how these four teams chose to address their needs in the 2021 Draft.
PATRIOTS The team, and especially ROBERT KRAFT’s checkbook, did the heavy lifting this Spring, but most of it was done in Veteran Free Agency and trades prior to the Draft. I counted 15 vets added to the team in advance of the Draft. Not to mention an amazing amount of guaranteed dollars committed to these players. The team had a plethora of needs, as evidenced in their 7-9 record and no Play-Off berth for BELICHICK and his boys. The team had double digit Picks as the Draft began, but by the 2nd Round BELICHICK was dispatching multiple Picks to move up in Round 2 to pick CHRISTIAN BARMORE/DL/Alabama. Many folks had him pegged as a Round 1 prospect, especially in a fairly limited group of Interior DL. Some think he has the potential to stack up favorably to a guy named SEYMOUR that used to excel earlier in the BRADY-years. We shall see. RHAMONDRE STEVENSON was a fave of mine in this Draft Class. He’s a big Back whose listed weight is currently 227 lbs., but he played at about 240, at times, at Oklahoma. RONNIE PERKINS, also from Oklahoma, will likely be used most often at LB, but the key to his success will be how well he does as an Edge-Rusher, which was also a big empty space in Foxboro last season, much of the time. It may take a while, but I also like the potential of ILB CAMERON McGRONE, who was a tackling machine and heat seeking missile at Michigan. However, the most fun of this Draft to my eyes was watching BELICHICK sit and wait for the Draft to come to him, which it did, while MAC JONES slipped down to him at Pick 15, while other teams handed out Picks like candy to move up to Draft LANCE and FIELDS ahead of JONES. Time will tell, but JONES looks like a very nice fit for the PATRIOTS under BELICHICK and JOSH McDANIELS. Everyone they drafted should have a solid chance to make the team. Combine them with all those VFA signings, and half the PATS opening 53-man roster could be new to the team this season.
BILLS BUFFALO was the team sitting in the catbird’s seat heading into this Draft, as QB JOSH ALLEN continues to grow by leaps and bounds as an NFL QB under GM BRANDON BEANE and HC SEAN McDERMOTT. The team already had almost a dozen VFA’s added to their roster by Draft time, so they were able to make their Picks with certain needs in mind. They started out with back-to-back DE selections in Rounds 1 & 2. And both GREGORY ROUSSEAU & CARLOS BASHAM specialize in rushing the passer. Barring injuries, they should both see selected spot action as Rookies as they are groomed to likely take over for DE/ER JERRY HUGHES in 2022. HUGHES is a high priced vet and will also be 33-years old in 2022. With back-to-back Picks in Rounds 3 & 5, they then doubled down again with two OT prospects in SPENCER BROWN and TOMMY DOYLE, respectively. They are two well thought of players that may come in handy for 2022, when they may be reshuffling vets along that solid OL. MARQUEZ STEVENSON should add depth to their receiving group, and also provide them with another option in Return work. They also doubled-down in DB Picks in the late Rounds with CB/RACHAD WILDGOOSE and S/ DAMAR HAMLIN. Both of them are more athletic than the current back-ups in their secondary group. This is a nice solid group of Picks, with long range planning in mind.
DOLPHINS This may have been the most interesting of all teams in this division with the juggling of personnel, both before and during the Draft. A handful of previously acquired, and expensive, vets were let go after VFA took place. Guys like KYLE VAN NOY and TED KARRAS, that signed last season, were allowed to return to NEW ENGLAND as Free Agents. SHAQ LAWSON was traded to HOUSTON for BERNARDRICK McKINNEY and RB MATT BREIDA was lost to BUFFALO, and then some. By the time the Draft started, the DOLPHINS were left with only 7 Picks. But, and it’s a big “but”, 4 of them were in the first 42 Picks and another was at 81. They didn’t pick again until Round 7. But it looks like what the team has done is acquired 5 guys that all may be full or part-time starters this year, or next. JAYLEN WADDLE is reunited with former teammate, QB TUA. JAELAN PHILLIPS is the pass rusher they thought LAWSON would be, but wasn’t, last year. JEVON HOLLAND is likely to get the job of vet BOBBY McCAIN, who was almost immediately released. At Pick 42 in Round 2, the team drafted LIAM EICHENBERG/Notre Dame, who will get a shot out at OT with ROBERT HUNT perhaps moving inside. LIAM is likely to start somewhere. In Round 3, the team took TE/HUNTER LONG, who may be groomed for big work in 2022, when both GESICKI and SMYTHE will become VFA’s. These moves all cry out as moves by a team that feels ready to fight for an AFC Title with the BILLS, and perhaps the rebuilt PATRIOTS. I would also endorse URFA JEROME JOHNSON/DT/Indiana as a possible contributor to their 2021 Defense.
JETS Which brings us to the JETS, who decided to go into full rebuild mold with Rookie QB ZACH WILSON being the new man in charge, while SAM DARNOLD starts over in CAROLINA. The team has loaded up with VFA’s, a dozen of whom should fight for starting jobs. IMO, the team also got WILSON a great new weapon, in Round 2 Pick ELIJAH MOORE of Ole Miss. He may fill in the slot job, and is a game breaker with speed and quickness. RB MICHAEL CARTER, to open Round 4, should combine with VFA TEVIN COLEMAN and 2nd-year man LA’MICAL PERINE. CARTER is a speedster, with great hands as a receiver out of the backfield. He turned out to be one of 2 Michael Carters the JETS drafted. 47 Picks after the UNC RB, the team selected CB MICHAEL CARTER from Duke. They are not related, but the former ACC rivals are now teammates.The best news for WILSON may be fellow First Rounder ALIJAH VERA-TUCKER, who may get looks at OT and OG. He will start somewhere. The team selected two very interesting hybrid-LB/S types on Day 3, in JAMIEN SHERWOOD/Auburn and HAMSAH NASIRILDEEN/FSU. Both should help on Special Teams and one should capture a passing-down LB slot, at the very least. Most of the rest of their Draft Class looks like a bunch of reaches. However, they have 2 URFA’s that I think can help this team. KENNY YEBOAH/TE was a Temple transfer to Ole Miss, where he flourished in 2020. Most Draftniks I know had him as Day 3 draftable. He can catch, and blocks when called upon. On Defense, I like the athleticism and 2019 game tape on HAMILCAR RASHED of Oregon State. He had a big year as an Edge-Rusher in 2019. He could make a solid replacement for VFA loss JORDAN JENKINS for them. If WILSON blossoms, and they protect him enough, a big Draft is 2022 could put this team with a legit chance for a .500 record. However, if WILSON struggles, or they didn’t get him enough help, this season could be really ugly.
Good work overall from all 4 teams, each one using a somewhat different formula and game plan for their Draft efforts.