AFC East draft needs: What hidden gem will the Patriots find?
2013 record: 6-10
Key player departures: QB Kevin Kolb, S Jairus Byrd, LB Arthur Moats
Free-agent acquisitions: G Chris Williams, CB Corey Graham, LB Keith Rivers, TE Scott Chandler, LB Brandon Spikes, RB Anthony Dixon, DE Jarius Wynn
Positions of need: Safety, Tight End, Wide Receiver, Guard
Analysis: When healthy, Buffalo has one of the best, young punishing front sevens in all of football. In Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, free-agent pickup Brandon Spikes and 2013 breakout star Kiko Alonso, they’re strong up front on defense. But they lost arguably the best player on the entire 2013 roster when Jairus Byrd left for New Orleans. The Bills traded out of the eight spot in the first round last year, moving back to 16 and scooping up quarterback EJ Manuel in the process. With the ninth overall pick this year, I’d look for Buffalo to pick up another offensive weapon for Manuel to grow old with. Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins should be off the board, but Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans could be there when they’re on the clock. An athletic tight end like North Carolina’s Eric Ebron could be a possibility, too, but I wouldn’t count out another young pass rusher if local prospect Khalil Mack out of Buffalo somehow falls to them at the end of the Top 10. The ‘safe’ pick could be Alabama safety ‘Ha Ha’ Clinton-Dix.
2013 record: 8-8
Key player departures: CB Nolan Carroll, FS Chris Clemons, G John Jerry, CB Chris Owens, CB Dmitri Patterson, DT Paul Soliai, G Richie Incognito, T Jonathan Martin
Free-agent acquisitions: OT Branden Albert, S Louis Delmas, CB Cortland Finnegan, CB Brent Grimes, DT Earl Mitchell, RB Knowshon Moreno, G Shelley Smith, DT Randy Starks
Positions of need: Offensive Tackle, Guard, Defensive Tackle, Tight End
Analysis: The Dolphins went through a turbulent 2013 season, battling negative press and a national media firestorm, but still controlled their own playoff destiny heading into Week 16. Alas, they lost their final two games — to Thad Lewis and the Bills and Geno Smith and the Jets — and missed the postseason for the fifth straight year. Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin are now both gone and Jake Long’s not walking through those locker room doors anytime soon. Though Miami brought in left tackle Branden Albert in free agency, I still believe they’ve got to address an offensive line that struggled even before the Martin-Incognito mess. Names to watch with the 19th pick include Michigan OT Taylor Lewan, UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, and Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan.
New England Patriots
2013 record: 12-4
Key player departures: RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Dane Fletcher, LN Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib
Free-agent acquisitions: CB Brandon Browner, S Patrick Chung, LS Charles Hughlett, WR Brandon LaFell, CB Darrelle Revis
Positions of need: Defensive Tackle, Offensive Tackle, Tight End
Analysis: The Patriots rarely go by the "experts" boards, selecting players like Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, and Jamie Collins well before many of us pundits had them going in recent drafts. There’s been a lot made of the Patriots using team visits up on rookie quarterback prospects, but I wouldn’t look too much into that for the first round. With its pick, New England could look to beef up the offensive line with a guy like Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, give Vince Wilfork a promising complement in Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald, or go with a game-changing wideout in Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks.
New York Jets
2013 record: 8-8
Key player departures: CB Antonio Cromartie, G Vladimir Ducasse, OT Austin Howard, CB Isaiah Trufant, WR Santonio Holmes, WR Josh Cribbs, QB Mark Sanchez, S Ed Reed
Free-agent acquisitions: WR Eric Decker, OT Breno Giacomini, QB Michael Vick
Positions of need: Wide Receiver, Tight End, Offensive Tackle, Guard, Cornerback
Analysis: A lot has been made of Jets GM John Idzik’s patient approach to the free-agent signing period, but not enough has been made of the fact New York has a dozen draft picks. Instead of breaking the bank on a group of aging veterans, look for Idzik to build the roster a lot like he, Pete Carroll, and John Schneider did in Seattle — with value picks and culture fits. The Jets have needs across the board and can take the best player available with the 18th pick. The Jets struck gold in the first round with defensive end Sheldon Richardson last year and cornerback Dee Milliner started to pick it up over the second half of the season, as well. This year, New York could scoop up Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin, or USC wideout Marqise Lee. I also wouldn’t be shocked if New York went gang-busters and traded into a top-three spot to snag a guy like Jadeveon Clowney if he were to get past Houston.