AFC East: The champs will be active

AFC East: The champs will be active
by Cris Carter, Yahoo Sports
April 14, 2004

Cris Carter
Yahoo Sports
Cris Carter's draft analysis:
Overview | AFC: East - North - South - West | NFC: East - North - South - West

Craig James' draft analysis:
Overview - QBs - WRs - More offense - Defense

Editor's note: As part of Yahoo! Sports' coverage of the NFL draft, Cris Carter will break down the needs of each NFL team leading up to draft day.

New England Patriots
The defending Super Bowl champions should be active later this month in the NFL draft. Even after a 14-2 season and their second title in three years, they hold seven picks in the first four rounds and are looking to the future.

The Patriots' front office is one of the best in the NFL. It drafts very smart players – guys who are not only football smart but also who have done well scholastically. They have more college graduates than anyone in the NFL on their roster.

So when coach Bill Belichick and newly named top NFL executive Scott Pioli start looking at players, they are seeking those who are smart and fit their system well.

But in order for the Patriots to repeat, they need to fill some holes.

Their first priority was to add a top-flight running back. After releasing Antowain Smith, New England needed an impact running back. The Patriots took care of this hole prior to the draft with their acquisition of Corey Dillon.

The Patriots need a nose tackle to replace Ted Washington and help clog the middle of the defense. They also could use help on the offensive line. Mike Compton and Damien Woody left as free agents, and Tom Brady needs some help in front of him.

Also, don't be surprised if the Patriots look to cornerback in the draft. Given the recent dispute with Ty Law, New England has questions about his future and that of its secondary.

Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins finished last season with a 10-6 record and are picking No. 20 in the first round. The big news is that they don't have a second round pick, meaning they have only one pick in the first 85 of this year's draft.

With this in mind and after its offseason, Miami is thinking defense in the draft. Through the first wave of free agency, Miami acquired David Boston from San Diego. Boston really fills a void for Miami and gives the Dolphins and new quarterback A.J. Feeley a legitimate No. 2 receiver.

The Dolphins also used free agency to fill a need at safety after losing Brock Marion to free agency. Once thought to be scouting safeties in the draft, the Dolphins recently signed Antuan Edwards from Green Bay to replace Marion.

Nowadays free agency is a great complement to the draft. Teams can use the period leading up to the draft to acquire existing talent rather than needing to fill all of their holes will college players.

But now that the Dolphins only have one pick (No. 20) in the first 85 picks of the draft, they really need to get the most for their money.

Rick Spielman in his first year as the general manager and decision maker in Miami, and with that first pick at No. 20 he has to get a good offensive lineman. It can be either a tackle or a guard. But that must be his concentration.

Buffalo Bills
After another disappointing season and a 6-10 record, the Bills are sitting at No. 13 in the first round of the draft.

With an aging team, Buffalo has to start thinking of getting impact players on offense. If you look at their new head coach Mike Mularkey and what he did in Pittsburgh, you know offense is where the Steelers are headed.

Much of Mularkey's success as the offensive coordinator with Steelers was achieved through the air. He developed an outstanding receiving corps that included Hines Ward who has developed into a marquee and Pro Bowl player.

He will be looking for that same type of player in Buffalo to complement wide receiver Eric Moulds on the other side.

If the Bills don't go with a wide receiver, they eventually will have to look for a quarterback of the future. Drew Bledsoe only has so many years left in him, and I wouldn't be surprised if general manager Tom Donahoe looked at the quarterbacks in the draft. On top of it all, Buffalo really needs a premier rusher.

You may ask how can you go into the draft and get all three things. One thing is clear – it is a very important draft year for the Bills because they need all three things to move up in the division.

New York Jets
The Jets went from the playoffs two years ago to a 6-10 season in 2003. They pick No. 12 in the first round.

The Jets do have plenty of needs come draft day, but they have made some good moves in free agency. They acquired former Tennessee Titans wide receiver Justin McCareins, who fills a big need and lets the front office turn its attention to other holes.

First, the Jets desperately need more speed on defense and need to get younger at linebacker. Their linebacker corps is the oldest in the NFL, and the Jets have to get more speed in order to play the type of defense that Herman Edwards would like.

Also, the Jets could use another cornerback. They cut Aaron Beasley and need someone to fill in his shoes.

Lastly, even with the addition of McCareins, New York could look at another wide receiver. Chad Pennington and his young arm never can have too many downfield threats.

Cris Carter is Yahoo! Sports' NFL analyst. Send Cris a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Wednesday, Apr 14, 2004 8:28 pm, EDT

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