NFL Draft Preview: AFC East

New England Patriots

By Matthew Frankle

After a disappointing 7-9 finish, Coach Bill Belichick opened his checkbook in free agency. On offense, they signed wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and tight ends Jonuu Smith and Hunter Henry. On defense, they signed pass rusher Matthew Judon, defensive tackle Davon Godchaux and cornerback Jalen Mills. They brought back familiar faces in tackle Trent Brown and linebacker Kyle Van Noy. However, their quarterback situation is still in flux with Cam Newton not impressing last season. With the Patriots currently picking at 15, they would most likely need to trade up to select either Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Alabama’s Mac Jones or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.

Of those three quarterbacks, Fields has the most physical talent. As a passer, he showed success both in the pocket and as a scrambler, and his 4.45 40-yard dash indicates he is a legitimate dual-threat quarterback. Fields’ biggest concerns are that he sometimes likes to hold on to the ball in the pocket, as he is used to being able to escape with his athleticism and his play style leaves himself to take hits, as he ended both of his seasons at Ohio State with nagging injuries that restricted some of his athleticism.

While Mac Jones lacks the athleticism and physical tools that Fields possesses, he can beat defenses with his processing speed and accuracy. Alabama’s offense was as potent as any with Jones under center. In leading Alabama to a National Championship, Jones led college football with 4500 passing yards, and his 77.4 completion percentage last season was the best mark in a season in college football history.

Trey Lance is the most unknown quarterback of the three, but might have the most potential. In one season at North Dakota State University (NDSU), he threw for 28 touchdowns while running for 14 more, while not throwing a single interception. In that 2019 season, he led the Bison to an undefeated FCS National Championship. Like former NDSU quarterback Carson Wentz, Lance has the tools to play in the NFL, but his interception-free season would hope to indicate that he can make better decisions as a passer than the turnover-prone Wentz.

Ultimately, I think it is likely that the Patriots will end up with one of these three quarterbacks, and under Belichick and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, whoever they end up with should be in a system well suited for their skills.

New York Jets

By Greta Ferdinand

Coming off of their fifth consecutive losing season, the New York Jets have been quick to recognize this off-season that some key replacements are in order … unless they want another 2-14 (or 2-15 now) regular season. In early January, they dumped head coach Adam Gase in exchange for former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

The Jets also traded quarterback (QB) Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for a 2021 sixth round draft pick, and two picks in 2022.

The Jets have ten total picks for the 2021 draft, five of which are in the first three rounds. 

With no suitable starting quarterback, it would be shocking if Gang Green did not use their number two overall pick to draft Brigham Young University QB Zach Wilson. Wilson is the second best in 2021’s quarterback class according to many scouts, and all signs have him linked to the Jets assuming Jacksonville takes Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence with their number one pick. Drafting what hopefully turns into a franchise quarterback with their number two is a no-brainer, but there is more ambiguity around how they use picks number 23 and 34.

Noteworthy offseason moves included filling some gaps in their defensive line by signing defensive end Carl Lawson and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, as well as providing hopefully an offensive weapon for their incoming quarterback by signing wide receiver (WR) Corey Davis. Coming off of the worst total offense in the league during the 2020 season, the New York Jets still need to address, well, pretty much everything.

Their number 23 and 34 picks serve as an opportunity to add more depth at wide receiver, strengthen their rush game, or give their incoming quarterback some solid protection. Potential options include Minnesota WR Rashod Batemen, LSU WR Terrace Marshall Jr., Clemson running back Travis Etienne, Oklahoma State offensive lineman Teven Jenkins and Georgia outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari.

Should New York use one of their top picks to bulk up their defense, they may look to pick up a cornerback. Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II and Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr. both appear to be suitable picks.

Overall, the New York Jets have a lot of adjustments to make if they want to make a playoff appearance any time soon. Luckily, their ten draft picks and drastic offseason moves are setting them up nicely for what could be a winning 2021 season.

Buffalo Bills

By Zach Schiller

Buffalo’s back, baby! Thanks in large part to the emergence of quarterback Josh Allen in his third season, the Bills won the AFC East for the first time since 1995 before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. The Bills were one of the most complete rosters in football last season, and will return 20 of their 22 starters on offense and defense heading into next season. However, Bills General Manager Brandon Beane is certainly not done making improvements to this roster, and will look to the draft to make the team even better entering the 2021 season.

While the Bills offense lit the league on fire last season, their defense was not as dominant as it has been in recent seasons. Look for Buffalo to address that side of the ball early in the draft. One area that the Bills could look to target on their defense is an edge rusher. Their top defensive end Jerry Hughes isn’t getting younger at age thirty-two, which could lead the team to draft either Miami’s Gregory Rousseau, Texas’ Joseph Ossai or Penn State’s Jayson Oweh at pick no. 30

The Bills could also opt to take a cornerback opposite All-Pro Tre’Davious White, giving the Bills another weapon in the secondary alongside safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Look for the Bills to target Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley, if he falls to them, or Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II.

Miami Dolphins

By Hunter Firment

The Miami Dolphins are coming off of a 10-6 season under up-and-coming Head Coach Brian Flores and will look to add weapons with their plethora of early-round picks in this year’s NFL Draft. The Dolphins have five selections in the first three rounds, and their first will now be at the number six spot after General Manager Chris Grier traded the third pick to the San Francisco 49ers and then traded back up in a trade with Philadelphia. The two deals moved them back three spots and brought in two future picks. Trading down is not going to bother the execs in Miami because they aren’t in the quarterback market, which will be the first four or five picks most likely. The Dolphins already have a promising young signal caller in Tua Tagovailoa and will look to build around him and provide him with the weapons necessary to succeed. 

At the number six spot, the Dolphins will most likely have first or second dibs at any of the following: Alabama wide receiver and Heisman-winner Devonta Smith, Louisiana State University wide receiver Jamar Chase and Florida do-it-all tight end Kyle Pitts. These are the three guys that really jump off the board with the body of work they put together in college. Look for Grier and Flores to eye an elite pass catcher at the six spot. 

The Dolphins also have the 18th pick in the first round. Now, this is where Miami’s draft gets interesting. Look for the Dolphins to get a high-end edge rusher at this selection, but if the right running back is there (Clemson’s Travis Ettiene or Alabama’s Najee Harris), don’t be surprised if Miami adds another weapon to their offense.