NFL Draft Review: AFC East Winners and Losers

Jeff Haverlack


This article is part of our ongoing series where we provide team-by-team analysis and veteran divisional winners and losers from the NFL Draft. You can read the entire series here.

The AFC East sports the polarizing rivalry between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets.  It seems regardless of the strength of these two teams, the emotional aspects of the rivalry take center stage and the games are hotly contested.  Bill Belichick is spying on the Jets.  Belichick was given a defensive playbook of the Jets.  Belichick secretly installed microphones in the Jets’ helmets when last they visited Foxborough.  Okay, well … maybe two out of three.  You get the picture.  When was the last time you heard a juicy rumor about the Patriots and the Bills?  Let’s move on.

The Patriots remain the class of the division while the three remaining teams (the Jets, Bills and Dolphins) seem to annually wage war on a .500 winning percentage.  But change appears to be in the air.  To be sure, Belichick and the Patriots should remain the top team in the East, but there does appear to be fire beneath the smoke of those teams trying to play catch-up.  Whether due to the Patriots’ lack of desire to land big-name free agents or the other teams finally starting to put the pieces together, the gap does appear to be narrowing, if only a bit in 2014.

Let’s turn our attention to the winners and losers in this, the AFC East.


E.J. Manuel, QB BUF

Manuel was hot and cold in an injury-riddled 2013, but mostly cold.  He never broke the 300-yard passing mark or threw three touchdowns in a game, but he did show signs of progress.  Heading into 2014, it was obvious the Bills were on a mission to add play-makers to the offense to take the pressure off the NFL’s second ranked rushing attack.  You heard that correctly.  The Bills finished second in the league in rushing, but 28th in passing yardage.  The path is clear.  To wit, the Bills brought in enigmatic receiver Mike Williams from Tampa Bay.  Williams has WR1 ability at times but always seems to toe the line of an NFL or team-based suspension.  His maturity and work ethic have been questioned, but he does have the size and speed to be a difference maker.  With the fourth pick of the NFL Draft, the Bills tabbed Sammy Watkins, eliciting groans of dismay from the fantasy community. Pair these two receivers with young receiver Robert Woods and a productive rushing attack and the Bills have the makings of a much more young and balanced offense.  It will be up to Manuel to now build chemistry across his offense and prove it on the field.  He’ll likely only get a year to show what he’s able to accomplish before the drums are beating again..

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Geno Smith, QB NYJ

Labeling Smith a “winner” in this case is a painful exercise, but he is.  Michael Vick shouldn’t pose a significant hurdle to overcome to win the starting gig once again.  Whether he has the talent to hold onto it is another hurdle altogether.  To be fair, it’s not as if the Jets had surrounded Smith with weapons to speed his journey toward success.  Even  still, the Jets still finished 8-8 on the year and Smith tossed 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.  But give Rex Ryan credit, he went receiver-heavy in the draft following the acquisition of free agent, Eric Decker from Denver.  Decker has posted WR1 statisitics over his past two seasons, but will not get the same amount of credit for doing so.  It will now be seen whether Decker can be a true WR1 when not lining up across from Demaryius Thomas and receiving his targets from Peyton Manning.  Either way, his presence in the offense, when combined with the newly acquired, motivated and speedy Chris Johnson is sure to pay dividends for the Jets.  Note, too, that rookie tight end Jace Amaro should have a well defined roll in the offense as a rookie.

C.J. Spiller, RB BUF

There’s no questioning Spiller’s heart or running ability.  There’s plenty questioning his workload, injury history and offense.  But 2014 appears to be the year when Buffalo’s brass finally decided that it was time to add weapons in the passing game to take pressure off the productive running game.  Only time will tell whether or not Spiller can shoulder the increased workload with  Fred Jackson now 33 years of age. However, a young trio of receivers and a mobile quarterback in E.J. Manuel will provide the balance needed to keep the safety from creeping up into the box.  We should finally see what Spiller is capable of.

Danny Amendola, WR NE

[inlinead] It was widely believed the Patriots would be moving on from Amendola, who wasted no time proving he’s a paper tiger.  Instead, he returns for one more year.  To be sure, Amendola, when healthy, can pile up the receptions and yardage and had fantasy coaches (myself included) drooling at the possibility with Wes Welker departing for Mile High.  Even with only appearing in 12 games and taking a back-seat role to Julian Edelman, Amendola still managed 54 receptions for 633 yards to go with two touchdowns – still a major disappointment, but it shows he can be productive.  The Patriots did add Brandon LaFell, but Amendola still projects to see the field often in 2014. His value will not be higher than it will be on the other end of Tom Brady’s passes.  He gets one more year to show us more than ‘potential.’


Chris Ivory, RB NYJ

Ivory’s tune is a familiar one across the NFL, if you can’t stay healthy, you will be replaced.  He’s always teased with his ability and has a career 4.9 yards per carry average.  And, in fact, he did play in 15 games in 2013.  But in the end, coaches just don’t have the confidence he’ll be in the lineup week after week.  Enter Chris Johnson.  Johnson himself, while extremely durable, has a lost a step and seems to be a shadow of what he once was, but make no mistake – he was brought aboard to add a speed dynamic to an offense needing it in the backfield.  Ivory will continue to receive touches when tough yards are needed, but Johnson should easily command at least two-thirds of the touches in 2014.  Ivory had his best year in 2013, but may need to wait until 2015 to get one more chance to show he can carry the load and stay on the field.

Eric Decker, WR NYJ

Geno Smith’s gain is Eric Decker’s loss.  There’s simply no way to go from Peyton Manning to Geno Smith and gain in value, even when your new status is as a true WR1.  Decker has pulled down more than 170 receptions and 2,300+ yards to go with 24 touchdowns over his previous two seasons with the elder Manning at the helm – numbers he likely won’t sniff in New York over his next two seasons.  The Jets are in dire need for reliable receiving threats and kudos go to them for not hesitating in paying-up for a 6’3″ receiver.  He has the size, speed and hands to be Smith’s go-to receiver and he should get plenty of opportunities, but an offense without Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas won’t offer the same coverage exploits seen under Manning.  Even if it did, Smith is light years away from being the quarterback to exploit them.

Knowshon Moreno, RB MIA

Moreno suffers the same fate as does his 2013 Denver teammate Eric Decker.   Knowshon did grind out a starter’s share of carries in 2013 with 241 attempts.  Better still was his 4.3 yards per carry average and ten touchdowns.  But once again, this production comes under the offensive leadership of Peyton Manning who had a trove of receiving weapons to spread out the defense.  The seams and lanes were much wider than they will be in Moreno’s new home.  Furthermore, current Dolphin starter Lamar Miller did average four yards per carry and is capable out of the backfield in the passing game.  His toughness has been questioned and he’s not the blocker that Moreno is, but he can stay on the field and he should be better in his third year.  Moreno was brought in for his football IQ, ability to pass protect and recent production, but he’s yet to put in much time on the field in training camp, is scheduled for arthroscopic knee surgery and Miller has been said to be looking sharp.  Moreno’s fall in value will continue.

Tom Brady, QB NE

It’s hard to ever label Brady a “loser” in any sense.  But the fact is, the Patriots’ continual M.O. of not paying for big-name receivers has to be frustrating Tom Terrific.  Danny Amendola was signed to replace the departed Wes Welker in 2013 and the exercise failed as Amendola couldn’t stay on the field.  Julian Edelman, another diminutive receiver, had a good year with 105 receptions but is primarily a speed-possession receiver.  Rob Gronkowski is racking up more time on the training table and at parties than time on the field.  Brady’s production fell by nearly 500 yards passing and nine touchdowns in 2013.  The Patriots did sign receiver Brandon LaFell and Aaron Dobson could provide the large target needed on the outside, but he can’t seem to stay healthy.  Hakeem Nicks or Eric Decker would have looked great in the Red, White and Blue. Instead, Brady will simply have to hope his lesser names can put up greater numbers in 2014.

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jeff haverlack