September 4, 2016 by Ell and Mike Sports
Ell’s AFC East Divisional Rankings
The Patriots will have to battle without star QB Tom Brady the first four games, but 3rd year QB Jimmy Garappolo shouldn’t fold too much under the pressure to recover with most of the same pieces in place; this is also a chance for them to see what he can do. The RB core remains intact with the return of RB Dion Lewis and another year of LeGarrette Blount pounding the ball, while RBs James White and Brandon Bolden provide depth. The TE position should see a lot more production with TE Martellus Bennett opposite Gronk giving them two big targets who know how to get open. The WR core has good competition with WR Chris Hogan looking to get involved in the passing game playing inside and outside and rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell looking to get some snaps. The offensive line is still trying to find the right pieces to go inside, but they do have talent there making it not too much of a concern. The defense remains mostly intact, but they will miss the pass rushing skills of OLB Chandler Jones who they chose to replace by committee. Rookie CB Cyrus Jones is looking to take over the nickel CB job and has received some good reviews so far. The Patriots should continue to lead the division as the offense could be even better even if the defense takes a slight step back, but the other teams are playing catch up, as Brady continues to get older.
The Jets finally got their QB in Ryan Fitzpatrick back in the fold, but it’s still not enough to win the division. Fitzpatrick joins a crowded QB room where Geno Smith wants to be the starter, but still hasn’t shown the skills and two young projects in Petty and the rookie Hackenberg. The WR core remains intact led by veterans Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, but it is fairly then behind them as a slot WR needs to emerge. The O-line is mostly intact except the retirement of veteran D’Brickashaw Ferguson who will be replaced by former Broncos star LT Ryan Clady, if he can finally stay healthy. RB Matt Forte will now take over the run game and his ability in the passing game should help this team a lot. The team is hoping to get production out of the TE position with Jace Amaro finally healthy and Kellen Davis. On defense, the Jets have one of the best defensive lines after locking up DT/DE Muhammad Wilkerson with a long term deal and the return of Leonard Williams in his 2nd year and Sheldon Richardson. Rookie OLB Darron Lee hopes to add some speed and pass rushing ability to the LB core. In the secondary, someone needs to emerge behind star CB Darrelle Revis and Buster Skrine, while former 1st rounder Dee Milliner hopes to claim the job. The Jets have a solid group of veterans to win close games this year and the addition of Forte helps, but they need more depth and youth to take the next step.
*The team cut Milliner and Amaro.
The Dolphins have added QB guru Adam Gase as HC and that should work wonders for QB Ryan Tannehill who is in a season where he needs to show drastic improvement which should happen with everything in place. The WR core is deep with WR Jarvis Landry leading the way, Devante Parker finally healthy, slot WR Kenny Stills and rookie WR Leonte Carroo. The RB core was in question with dual threat Jay Ajayi set to lead the way, but the late pick up of now healthy vet RB Arian Foster should provide consistency and leadership. The O-line should be improved with continued continuity and the selection of LT Laremy Tunsil who could have went #1 overall in the draft; he may have the chance to play Guard and be brought along slowly. On defense, the D-line is experienced, if not improved with the addition of DE Mario Williams alongside DE Cameron Wake and DT Ndamukong Suh which should provide consistent pressure with solid depth behind them. The LB core is intact along with the addition of MLB Kiko Alonso who should be able to be more of a playmaker behind an active D-line. The CB position is a weak spot of the defense that the front 7 may not be able to mask led by CB Byron Maxwell also brought in via trade with Alonso, but he must prove that he can be a #1 CB; the depth also has good size, but must play to their potential. The safety position is led by playmaking FS Reshad Jones and SS Isa Abdul-Quddus will get a chance to show that he can be a full time starter. The Dolphins should be much improved on offense, while the front 7 will have to keep the defense in games until the CB position can find the right pieces.
The Bills seemed to be headed in the right direction after a good offseason, but injuries and suspensions have not been so kind which has eaten away at the depth on both sides of the ball. The QB position will be led by Tyrod Taylor again, as he is now locked into a long term contract, as he proved that he is at least starter material in this league, but he needs to take the next step. The RB core was once deep led by versatile speed back LeSean McCoy, but the loss of Karlos Williams takes away their 1-2 punch; they have added Reggie Bush who must prove he can stay healthy and change of pace back Mike Gillislee has impressed. The WR position is led by speedster Sammy Watkins who needs to take the next step along with Robert Woods, but there isn’t much depth behind them or a clear cut slot WR. The offensive line should continue to be even better with continuity and Jordan Mills as the start at RT. Versatile FB Glenn Gronkowski takes over the position allowing more passes out of the backfield. On the defensive side of the ball, the D-line which was once strength has been weakened by DE/DT Kyle Williams recovering from injuries and the suspension of star DT Marcell Dareus. The LB core is undergoing change with ILB Zach Brown and OLB Lorenzo Alexander after injuries to rookies DE/OLB Shaq Lawson and ILB Reggie Ragland which really ruined the long term defensive plans. The CB position is the strongest group with solid man to man coverage CBs Stephen Gilmore and Ronald Darby, as well as, rookie Kevon Seymour who has impressed. Safeties Aaron Williams and Corey Graham continue to cover the back end with both playing decent coverage and good tacklers. The Bills were looking like a team ready to progress, but injuries and suspensions will be too much to overcome in a tough division despite a good foundation.