Last article I analyzed the NFC East’s haul in the Draft, this week we look at the division of the reigning and defending Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World. Okay, so I watched WWE Raw tonight, but the Patriots are in the similar circumstance of being the hunted. New England has survived the attrition of an offseason after winning the Super Bowl, and will look to win this division yet again. The Bills and Dolphins were their most credible threats a year ago, but I expect the Jets to also be improved and make a serious run at the crown. We’ll start this article like the last, with last year’s last place team in the AFC East.
New York Jets
Impact Rookie: Leonard Williams, DL USC
The “slide” that Williams endured to #6 wasn’t necessarily surprising, but it was a bit of a surprise that a team that’s biggest strength was Defensive Line drafted him. Williams went from being a luxury pick to being an immediate starter after Sheldon Richardson failed a drug test and is now suspended for the first 4 games of this season. Williams was arguably the most talented player in this draft, and while this pick may seem like a bit of a cop out, Williams is undoubtedly the difference maker of the group, and should be a stud from Day 1.
Delayed Impact: Devin Smith, WR Ohio State
While I liked this pick a great deal, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Smith struggles to immediately have success in the NFL. Mostly a deep threat in Urban Meyer’s offense, Smith certainly possesses the physical skill set to succeed. He can take the top off of any defense, but currently Smith projects to be, at best, the 4th Wide Receiver for the Jets, not the immediate position to contribute you expect a 2nd rounder to have. With the arrival of Brandon Marshall, while it’ll be valuable learning time, Smith might not be a huge hit right away.
Diamond in the Rough: Jarvis Harrison, OG Texas A&M
A mammoth human being, Harrison has the talent to be an upper level starter in the NFL. He’s a passable pass protector, but an absolute road grader in the run game. At 6’4″ 337, Harrison is a surprisingly spry athlete and should have no trouble playing on the left side. However, despite having all of the athletic gifts he needs to be a good player, he’s never quite been able to put it together. He was flashy, yet inconsistent in College Station and if he doesn’t put it together, he could be out of the league in a couple years.
Impact Rookie: Jay Ajayi, RB Boise State
Every year it happens, but inexplicably an injury is revealed late in the process, and teams bail from the player’s bandwagon. Ajayi went from a potential fringe 1st round pick, to falling to the 5th round to the Phins. Ajayi should push Lamar Miller for the starting job, as I don’t expect his previous knee concerns, which haven’t surfaced since his time in Frisco, TX at Liberty HS to be an issue. Ajayi could be looked back upon as one of the steals of the draft if he performs like he’s capable.
Delayed Impact: Jordan Phillips, DL Oklahoma
It would be easy to use DeVante Parker in this slot. The rookie had foot surgery already this offseason, and is expected to miss quite bit of time. But I’m picking Jordan Phillips instead, the talented yet injury plagued Defensive Lineman from Oklahoma. Phillips is an impressive athlete for a Nose Tackle, as it’s been reported that he can land a standing backflip. Not bad for a 6’5″ 329 pounder. However, as big as his upside is, his chronic back issues keep him off of the field. Sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if his back keeps him from putting Quarterbacks on theirs.
Diamond in the Rough: Cedric Thompson, S Minnesota
As a Badger fan, I’m usually hyper vigilant for NFL talent that plays against them. When watching the Minnesota game this year, the Gopher that stood out the most to me was Thompson, who coupled some solid coverage ability with some jarring hits on Melvin Gordon. Upon further study, Thompson is really an impressive athlete, who should contribute immediately on Special Teams, and could eventually crack the starting lineup.
Impact Rookie: Ronald Darby, CB Florida State
The Bills didn’t have much ammunition in this year’s draft, still rewarding the Browns for trading with them for Sammy Watkins. However, if there’s one thing that new Head Coach Rex Ryan likes, it’s long, athletic press Corners. See: Ronald Darby. At 5’11” and 193 pounds, Darby runs a 4.33 40 yard dash and can be an excellent cover Corner. He also plays with an attitude, which Ryan prefers. Ryan’s blitz happy, probably an understatement, philosophy will put Darby in man-to-man sitiuations, where he thrives.
Delayed Impact: John Miller, OL Louisville
Miller was a bit of a surprise pick in the 3rd round. And while he fits Ryan’s preferred power-run offense, Buffalo’s Offensive Line although a bit thin, depth wise, definitely not physically, was one of the team’s strengths. I figured Buffalo would further address their QB’s supporting cast. Miller isn’t lacking as a talent, I just don’t know how soon he becomes more than a backup behind this Line.
Diamond in the Rough: Karlos Williams, RB Florida State
One of the three Seminoles selected by the Bills this year, Williams is one of my favorite prospects in this year’s class. Williams, a former Safety and Linebacker, is a freak athlete, who plays with a violence and physicality rarely seen from backs nowadays. His running style reminds me of Earl Campbell, as he seeks out contact. Don’t confuse this with me saying that Williams is Earl Campbell, but both ran the ball with a defender’s discretion. Williams should be a nice rotational runner once Fred Jackson moves on from the Bills.
New England Patriots
Impact Rookie: Tre Jackson, OG Florida State, Trey Flowers, DE Arkansas
I hate to cheat and put two here, but after a widely considered “meh” first two days of the Draft for the Pats, they hit two Home Runs at the beginning of the 4th round. Jackson somehow fell to the third day of the Draft, after a less than spectacular, but still good 2014. Flowers most likely fell due to less than impressive athletic numbers, but Flowers plays the game with a very high acumen and makes the most of his physical talents. I’d be surprised to not see both either make big pushes for, or receive major playing time this upcoming season.
Delayed Impact: Geneo Grissom, DL Oklahoma
A bit of a surprising pick at the end of the 3rd round, Grissom likely appealed to Belichick due to his versatility and size. Grissom is in the mold of Rob Ninkovich, Willie McGinest, and Roosevelt Colvin, guys that could play both Linebacker and Defensive End. Grissom made splash plays in Norman, but never completely put it together, which is why I was a bit shocked to see him go in Day 2. Especially at a position with a bit of depth, I’d be surprised to see Grissom contribute on more than Special Teams this year.
Diamond in the Rough: AJ Derby, TE Arkansas
Derby is an interesting prospect. A former Quarterback at the University of Iowa, Derby traveled south and made his mark for the Razorbacks. He has great size at 6’4″ 255, and it’s never a bad idea for the Pats to add depth behind the oft injured Rob Gronkowski. Derby was mostly a blocker in Bret Bielema’s run first offense, but he presents exciting athletic potential, and could be a steal if he develops into a more consistent receiver.
The AFC East is always one of the tighter division races in the NFL, and this year should be tighter than normal. 2015 is shaping up to be a good one!