The AFC East is a conference that needs major changes as a whole in order to be more successful. The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets both struggled to make their mark this past season, and the Buffalo Bills failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs. This conference is one that we should expect to use their draft picks wisely, and not let them go to waste.
Let’s take a look at the first place, always dominant New England Patriots. This team went 13-2 in the regular season this year, despite losing their season opener to the Kansas City Chiefs. They had a defense that ended up finishing 5th overall in points allowed, despite sitting in 29th place in yards. Offensively, Tom Brady threw for a record 505 passing yards in the Super Bowl, but his team was unable to put enough points on the board to defeat the very strong Philadelphia Eagles’ offense.
In the draft this year, the Patriots need to focus on their defensive line. After losing Dont’a Hightower to a muscle tear back in October, the defense struggled immensely. He should be back, but in the meantime, a consistent playmaker that does not typically fluctuate day to day would really help this organization to potentially head to the Super Bowl for the third season in a row. It would also not hurt to try to acquire young talent on the defensive end of the squad. Left tackle, Nate Solder, was traded to the Giants in free agency, so a new quality player to fill this position is needed, especially since Brady is getting older. Finally, a strong backup quarterback is necessary after losing Jimmy Garappolo to the San Francisco 49ers. The Patriots have numbers 23 and 31 overall in the first round of the draft, so we will see how they use them.
The Buffalo Bills had a surprisingly successful season this year for the first time in a long time. They went 9-7 overall and managed to grab a wildcard playoff spot. This put an end to the team’s 17-year postseason drought, the longest in NFL history. However, the Bills were unable to advance past the first round of the playoffs, as they were defeated 10-3 in the wildcard game by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Finding a long-term quarterback is the biggest priority for the Bills going into the draft. After trading Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns, in exchange for a third-round pick, acquiring a steady player to fill that position became much more crucial. They did sign AJ McCarron to a two-year deal, but they need someone that is more permanent. Wide receiver is another position that needs work for the Bills, as not one of theirs caught more than 27 passes last season. They also might consider looking for a left tackle after trading former starter Cordy Glenn to Cincinnati. Buffalo could also use a new linebacker, as Preston Brown recently left the team to free agency. The Bills have pick number 12 and 22 overall in the first round of the playoffs. If they focus on these weaker areas, they could be very dangerous next season.
The Miami Dolphins finished in 3rd place in the AFC East this past season. They went 6-10 on the season in what proved to be a challenging one for them. They started off strong, with a 4-2 record, but then went on a five-game losing streak late October through November. This losing streak eliminated the possibility of them making the playoffs this year. From October, up through the offseason, the team made major roster adjustments, including trading running back Jay Ajayi and wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
In terms of the draft, the biggest need for the Dolphins at the moment is to acquire a more talented cornerback. Miami allowed an opponent passer rating of 94.8, which ranked 28th in the NFL. After releasing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the team should be looking for a replacement to anchor the defensive line. Offensively, the team could use a tight end because of the release of Julius Thomas. With Ryan Tannehill coming back from a torn ACL, a quarterback and wide receiver are two other positions that could use improvement. It will be interesting to see how newly acquired Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson will fare in this lineup. The Dolphins have the 11th pick overall in the first round of the playoffs, so we will see if they use that pick wisely.
Finally, we have the New York Jets. This team has had their share of struggles for awhile, as they finished their season in 4th place in the AFC East. Their record was 5-11, for the second season in a row. Even though their record was not great, it was impressive considering the roster issues that they faced. The offense struggled to put points on the board, and the defense gave up too many touchdowns through the air. This team really needs adjustments in order to be a successful team next year.
Acquiring a quarterback is the biggest need for the Jets in this draft. Josh McCown was re-signed to the team, and 2014 first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater was added to the lineup in free agency, but this draft should really be focused on finding a consistent and reliable quarterback. The middle of the defensive line appears to be in good shape as of now, but a new defensive end is needed to help Leonard Williams. The offensive line should also be addressed during the draft, as the squad could use improvements on that end as a whole, but particularly at tackle. The linebacking group also needs to find a replacement for Demario Davis, who left the team in free agency. The Jets have the 3rd overall pick in the draft, leaving numerous possible players for them to choose from. The question is whether or not they will use that 3rd pick wisely.
All four of these AFC East teams have different needs going into the draft, and if they can acquire players to fill the positions that they need the most, then this conference has the potential to be the most dominant one in the NFL. Catch the NFL draft live in a few weeks!