2021 AFC East Team Needs and Prospect Fits

Hayden Winks
·11 min read

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As much as “don’t draft for need” gets mentioned with the NFL Draft, the truth is that teams do draft for need (and they should). That’s why I’m taking a top down approach in this column, spending far more time studying exact team needs than which prospects are actually good. I want to be specific about the exact position a team is looking for, so instead of listing “safety”, you’ll see “single-high free safety” or “two-high strong safety” when necessary. As for the mock draft part of the column, I’ll highlight each Round 1-3 pick in red and list their expected draft position (EDP) courtesy of Benjamin Robinson’s Grinding The Mocks. Consider everything here to be predictive rather than what I (a donkey) would do if I were calling the shots.

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Buffalo Bills Team Needs

1. Edge Rusher

The Bills were 23rd in pressure rate last season despite blitzing at the ninth-highest rate. The veteran duo of 33-year-old Jerry Hughes and 34-year-old Mario Addison has a very low ceiling, and 2020 second-rounder A.J. Epenesa is a total wild card after a rookie year consisting of just rotational snaps. More speed at the position would be welcomed.

1.30 Options: Azeez Ojulari (EDP: 26), Joseph Ossai (39), Jayson Oweh (40)

2.61 Options: Joe Tryon (EDP: 69), Quincy Roche (73), Hamilcar Rashed (75)

3.93 Options: Cameron McGrone (EDP: 84), Pete Werner (95), Chris Rumph (110)

2. Outside Corner

Tre’Davious White is a stud, but there’s little behind him. Former UDFA Levi Wallace only re-signed for one-year near the veteran minimum. Both Wallace and Josh Norman can be upgraded on the perimeter. Buffalo plays a lot of Cover 2 man. That won’t limit their options among outside corner options.

1.30 Options: Caleb Farley (EDP: NA), Greg Newsome (22), Tyson Campbell (43)

2.61 Options: Tyson Campbell (EDP: 43), Eric Stokes (52), Ifeatu Melifonwu (53)

3.93 Options: Paulson Adebo (EDP: 88), Israel Mukuamu (95), RoDarius Williams (104)

3. Slot Corner

2018 fourth-round slot CB Taron Johnson was a starter last year for the first time, but there’s room for an upgrade and the rest of the Bills’ roster looks pretty good. Buffalo was 12th in passing EPA in 2020.

1.30 Options: CB/SS Trevon Moehrig (EDP: 24), Asante Samuel (44)

2.61 Options: Asante Samuel (EDP: 44), Elijah Molden (53), Aaron Robinson (78)

3.93 Options: Aaron Robinson (EDP: 78), Tre Brown (106)

4. Tight End

Dawson Knox averaged just 6.2 yards per target last season, and Jacob Hollister left Seattle with a 5.6 yards per target average. It’s a low-ceiling depth chart, one that’s now missing their run-blocking specialist Lee Smith following his trade to Atlanta. The Bills can get away with having replacement-level starters at tight end, however, because they are one of just a handful of teams to experiment with four-receiver sets.

1.30 Options: Pat Freiermuth (EDP: 49)

2.61 Options: Brevin Jordan (EDP: 75)

3.93 Options: Hunter Long (105), Tommy Tremble (NA)

New England Patriots Team Needs

1. Quarterback

The Patriots’ aggressive free agency was made possible by having a cheap quarterback. Cam Newton will have a shot at starting in 2021, but his one-year, incentive-laden contract doesn’t prevent a rookie being in the mix. Whoever starts here at least has a chance through the air this year because of skill talent. That statement wasn’t true a season ago.

1.15 Options: Justin Fields (EDP: 5), Trey Lance (7), Mac Jones (17)

2.46 Options: Kyle Trask (EDP: 54)

3.96 Options: Kyle Trask (EDP: 54), Kellen Mond (NA), Davis Mills (NA), Jamie Newman (92)

2. Outside Corner

Stephon Gilmore is in the last year of his contract and has been in trade rumors for months. We’ve seen Belichick move on quickly, and the secondary as a whole needs to get younger. The Patriots play a lot of Cover 1 man and man-match coverage, which is typically reserved for SEC defenses only. Gilmore, Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, and Joejuan Williams are all SEC alums.

1.15 Options: Jaycee Horn (EDP: 16), Greg Newsome (22), Caleb Farley (NA)

2.46 Options: Tyson Campbell (EDP: 43), Asante Samuel (44), Eric Stokes (52)

3.96 Options: Paulson Adebo (EDP: 88), Israel Mukuamu (95), RoDarius Williams (104)

3. Off-Ball Linebacker

2020 opt out LB Dont’a Hightower is expected to return but is 31 years old and enters the final season under contract. A long-term solution is needed, particularly if the year off hurts Hightower’s game. Finding someone with his intellect will be tough to find. Last year, rookie SS Kyle Dugger played 57% of his snaps in the box because of the linebacker depth chart.

1.15 Options: Micah Parsons (EDP: 17), Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (26)

2.46 Options: Zaven Collins (EDP: 29), Nick Bolton (36), Jabril Cox (62)

3.96 Options: Baron Browning (EDP: 93), Jamin Davis (101), Derrick Barnes (113)

4. Outside Receiver

Additions were made, but the receiver depth chart is filled with quantity, not quality. A true No. 1 receiver is still on the to-do list even if Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, and Julian Edelman can hold down the fort in the short-term. All of these receivers have slot experience and New England will be playing with two tight ends, so an outside receiver is the particular need here.

1.15 Options: DeVonta Smith (EDP: 10), Rashod Bateman (21)

2.46 Options: Terrace Marshall (EDP: 45)

3.96 Options: D’Wayne Eskridge (EDP: 73), Tylan Wallace (73), Dyami Brown (94)

New York Jets Team Needs

1. Quarterback

In the NFL, you either have a great quarterback or you’re on the look for one. It’s too early to completely write off Sam Darnold, but he hasn’t shown enough to prevent the Jets from looking for an upgrade. His -0.05 EPA per dropback ranks 39th out of 41 qualifying quarterbacks since 2019, even behind the Jets’ own Joe Flacco. After Zach Wilson’s Pro Day, it will be a total shock if he’s not the No. 2 overall pick. Perhaps Darnold gets flipped for a Day 2 pick on draft night.

1.02 Options: Zach Wilson (EDP: 2), Justin Fields (EDP: 5), Trey Lance (EDP 7)

1.23 Options: Mac Jones (EDP: 17)

2.34 Options: NA

3.66 Options: Kyle Trask (EDP: 54), Jamie Newman (92), Kellen Mond (120)

3.86 Options: Jamie Newman (EDP: 92), Kellen Mond (120), Davis Mills (NA)

2. Outside Corner

It’s arguably the worst cornerback depth chart in the NFL going into the draft. Last year, New York ranked 29th in passing EPA defense, and they’ve lost pieces this offseason. Coach Robert Salah will be specifically looking for Cover 3 zone corners, potentially with more size than the average prospect. Multiple additions are needed.

1.02 Options: NA

1.23 Options: Jaycee Horn (EDP: 16), Greg Newsome (22), Caleb Farley (NA)

2.34 Options: Greg Newsome (EDP: 22), Tyson Campbell (43), Asante Samuel (44)

3.66 Options: Eric Stokes (EDP: 52), Ifeatu Melifonwu (53), Paulson Adebo (88)

3.86 Options: Paulson Adebo (EDP: 88), Israel Mukuamu (95), RoDarius Williams (104)

3. Edge Rusher

The Jets signed Carl Lawson to a three-year contract this offseason, but more bodies are needed behind him. New York was 20th in adjusted sack rate last year, and they lost Tarell Basham and Henry Anderson this offseason. 33-year-old DE Vinny Curry was signed to a one-year contract.

1.02 Options: NA

1.23 Options: Gregory Rousseau (EDP: 22), Kwity Paye (22), Azeez Ojulari (26)

2.34 Options: Jaelan Phillips (EDP: 31), Joseph Ossai (39), Jayson Oweh (40)

3.66 Options: Joe Tryon (EDP: 69), Quincy Roche (73), Hamilcar Rashed (75)

3.86 Options: Cameron McGrone (84), Rashad Weaver (89), Pete Werner (95)

4. Running Back

A Kyle Shanahan disciple, OC Mike LaFleur will be bringing an outside zone rushing scheme, meaning the No. 1 trait at running back is speed. A one-cut rusher with the ability to work in the screen game will be the pick, and that sounds like Etienne the most among the consensus top three.

1.02 Options: NA

1.23 Options: Najee Harris (EDP: 26), Travis Etienne (30), Javonte Williams (66)

2.34 Options: Najee Harris (EDP: 26), Travis Etienne (30), Javonte Williams (66)

3.66 Options: Javonte Williams (EDP: 66), Kenneth Gainwell (74), Michael Carter (82)

3.86 Options: Kenneth Gainwell (EDP: 74), Michael Carter (82), Trey Sermon (84)

5. Slot Corner

Last year’s starter Brian Poole is a free agent, and he doesn’t have ties to the new coaching staff. A quality starter, Poole would be a welcomed re-signing, but slot corner isn’t an overly important position because of the nature of the Jets’ scheme. The nickel corner in Cover 3 is basically playing linebacker in the curl/flat zone.

1.02 Options: NA

1.23 Options: CB/SS Trevon Moehrig (EDP: 24)

2.34 Options: Asante Samuel (EDP: 44)

3.66 Options: Asante Samuel (EDP: 44), Elijah Molden (53), Aaron Robinson (78)

3.86 Options: Aaron Robinson (EDP: 78), Tre Brown (106)

Miami Dolphins Team Needs

1. Offensive Tackle

Miami’s last draft included first-round LT Austin Jackson and second-round RT Robert Hunt, but the latter can easily be moved to guard if a higher-ceiling player becomes available. The top-graded right tackles are Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins and Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield.

1.06 Options: Penei Sewell (EDP: 5), Rashawn Slater (11)

1.18 Options: Rashawn Slater (EDP: 11), Christian Darrisaw (14), Samuel Cosmi (23)

2.36 Options: Teven Jenkins (EDP: 29), Jalen Mayfield (35), Alex Leatherwood (40)

2.50 Options: Alex Leatherwood (EDP: 40), Liam Eichenberg (47), Dillon Radunz (60)

3.81 Options: Jackson Carman (EDP: 60), Walker Little (74), Spencer Brown (88)

2. Offensive Guard

The Dolphins found their starting center (Matt Skura) in free agency on a one-year deal, but the interior offensive line still needs a lot of love. Pro Football Focus ranked their run blocking as 30th in the NFL, which closely aligns with my model’s No. 32 ranking in PPR Points Over Expected Per Carry. The Dolphins can address right guard where UDFA journeyman Jesse Davis or 2020 fourth-rounder Solomon Kindley will start assuming Robert Hunt stays at tight tackle.

1.06 Options: NA

1.18 Options: Alijah Vera-Tucker (EDP: 20)

2.36 Options: Wyatt Davis (EDP: 37)

2.50 Options: Trey Smith (EDP: 60), Quinn Meinerz (61)

3.81 Options: Deonte Brown (EDP: 105), Aaron Banks (110)

3. Off-Ball Linebacker

A trade for Benardrick McKinney solidifies the inside linebacker spot, but outside linebacker is on the bucket list following Kyle Van Noy’s release. A unique role, this position requires an edge and pass-rushing presence. Penn State’s Micah Parsons has the tools to fill this perfectly if the front office and coaching staff are okay with his off-field concerns.

1.06 Options: NA

1.18 Options: Micah Parsons (EDP: 17), Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (26)

2.36 Options: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (EDP: 26), Zaven Collins (29), Nick Bolton (36)

2.50 Options: Jabril Cox (EDP: 62), Dylan Moses (63), Chazz Surratt (75)

3.81 Options: Chazz Surratt (EDP: 75), Baron Browning (93), Jamin Davis (101)

4. Running Back

Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown, and a few other UDFA types make up the Dolphins’ running back depth chart. They are as likely as anyone to find a Day 1 or Day 2 rusher after finishing 25th in rushing EPA last year. A physical, between-the-tackles rusher would complement the other backs on the roster.

1.06 Options: NA

1.18 Options: Najee Harris (EDP: 26), Travis Etienne (30)

2.36 Options: Najee Harris (EDP: 26), Travis Etienne (30), Javonte Williams (66)

2.50 Options: Travis Etienne (EDP: 30), Javonte Williams (66)

3.81 Options: Kenneth Gainwell (EDP: 74), Michael Carter (82), Trey Sermon (84)

5. Slot Receiver

Finding a slot receiver would be a luxury because TE Mike Gesicki plays so many snaps in the slot already, but the Dolphins can find an upgrade over current starting slot WR Lynn Bowden. Will Fuller (one-year contract), DeVante Parker, and Preston Williams are all outside receivers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Ja’Marr Chase (the No. 1 X receiver) isn’t an option.

1.06 Options: Ja’Marr Chase (EDP: 5), Jaylen Waddle (9), DeVonta Smith (10)

1.18 Options: Jaylen Waddle (EDP: 9), Devonta Smith (EDP: 9)

2.36 Options: Kadarius Toney (EDP: 28), Rondale Moore (43), Elijah Moore (52)

2.50 Options: Kadarius Toney (EDP: 28), Rondale Moore (43), Elijah Moore (52)

3.81 Options: Amon-Ra St. Brown (EDP: 78), Tutu Atwell (104)