The AFC East brought a relatively light influx of new skill position players into the division in this year’s NFL Draft. Not one first rounder was chosen, and only two players were selected on the second day.
The defending Super Bowl champs opted to trade their selections away for proven, veteran talent, while the Miami Dolphins focused their draft on the defensive side of the ball and waited to take a stab on offense until the seventh round. Alternatively, the New York Jets attempted to inject some talent into their offense in consecutive rounds between the third and sixth, while the Bills spent the earliest pick in the division on wide receiver Zay Jones in the early second.
Let’s dive into each of the selections. Offensive line additions are noted in italics.
New England Patriots
Antonio Garcia, OT Troy – Round 3, Pick 21 (No. 85)
Conor McDermott, OT UCLA – Round 6, Pick 28 (No. 211)
Isaac Asiata, OG Utah – Round 5, Pick 20 (No. 164)
Isaiah Ford, WR Virginia Tech – Round 7, Pick 19 (No. 237)
Zay Jones, WR East Carolina – Round 2, Pick 5 (No. 37)
Dion Dawkins, OG Temple – Round 2, Pick 31 (No. 63)
Nathan Peterman, QB Pittsburgh – Round 5, Pick 28 (No. 171)
New York Jets
ArDarius Stewart, WR Alabama – Round 3, Pick 15 (No. 79)
Chad Hansen, WR California – Round 4, Pick 35 (No. 141)
Jordan Leggett, TE Clemson – Round 5, Pick 6 (No. 150)
Elijah McGuire, RB Louisiana-Lafayette – Round 6, Pick 4 (No. 188)
Very little of New England’s offensive personnel left town after winning the Super Bowl. LeGarrette Blount – who caught just seven passes last season – and Martellus Bennett are the only two notable departures. Replacing them are Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dwayne Allen, Brandin Cooks, and the return of a healthy Rob Gronkowski.
In returning the best tight end in the game healthy while adding one of the NFL’s best deep threats and two highly efficient runners from the 2016 season, Brady seems poised to lead a pass-happy charge in what should be another high-powered season.
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Patriots Running Backs
I briefly touched on this above, but adding Gillislee and Burkhead pre-draft allowed Bill Belichick to forego spending capital on the position during the draft. It’s unclear who will win the “Blount role”, but Gillislee appears to currently have the leg up. Recently, Belichick notably opined that one of his goals this off-season was to add versatility at the running back position in order to reduce predictability in play calling.
Ajayi is poised to carry a massive workload for the Dolphins after the only skill position player Miami added was seventh rounder Isaiah Ford. Kenyan Drake should handle change of pace duties, but Ajayi is locked in as the feature back in Miami’s offense that is set to flow through him.
After spending most of the off-season wavering on Taylor’s future with the franchise, the Bills chose to forego the opportunity to draft Tyrod’s replacement on the first two days of the draft, waiting until the fifth round to add a quarterback (Peterman). They also added another weapon for him in wide receiver Zay Jones – the NCAA’s all-time receptions leader – and additional protection for Taylor on the offensive line with the selection of interior lineman Dion Dawkins late in the second round. The return of a healthy Sammy Watkins should provide a boon for Taylor’s fantasy value as well.
Williams became the logical successor to the valuable backup role in the Buffalo backfield after the Bills refused to match New England’s offer sheet on Mike Gillislee. LeSean McCoy has been more durable than many realize over the past few seasons, but he’s now 29 years old and has played a decreasing snap share over each of the past two years.
McCoy’s backups have had standalone fantasy value for two years straight in a run-first offense, but stand to benefit largely from any time Shady may miss. After the Bills opted against adding a running back in the draft, Williams seems locked into this role.
It seems like some are dismissing Matt Forte too easily, but after skipping out on drafting a power back, the only addition at the running back position was sixth-rounder Elijah McGuire. It appears as if Jets brass may finally allow Powell his opportunity to lead the committee.
The addition of Brandin Cooks should not disqualify Edelman from WR2 consideration, but picking which games Edelman will explode will be even more challenging now than ever before. Distributing targets between Cooks, Edelman, Gronkowski, and the secondary options will likely be gameplan-dependent, eliminating some of the consistency Edelman has customarily provided most lineups with.
Jets Wide Receivers
On the bright side, the wide receiver depth chart is completely unsettled and there’s room for any of the wideouts on the roster to entrench themselves as starters. Rookies Stewart and Hansen could realistically push Robby Anderson and Charone Peake, but it’s Quincy Enunwa that figures to lead the Jets in targets.
The problem with this situation is the quality of the targets. The Jets opted against drafting a quarterback, meaning that the triumvirate of Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, and Christian Hackenberg will all likely make starts this season, and that isn’t a situation to target.
There aren’t any big losers in the AFC East. The lack of major additions at the skill positions through the draft for these teams mean that there are few negative ripple effects impacting the fantasy players in the division. On the flip side, this lack of major additions provides the incumbent players a boost.
Thoughts? Share them in the comments!
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