Bucky Brooks is performing a division-by-division assessment of the 2014 NFL Draft, spotlighting notable picks and handing out grades for each team. You'll find the AFC East evaluation below; click here for other divisional breakdowns.
The New England Patriots have had a vise grip on the AFC East for the past decade, largely due to the spectacular play of Tom Brady and a high-powered offense. Although the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills have waged competitive battles against the Pats, the trio's lack of consistency and playmaking on both sides of the ball has helped maintain New England's reign. The draft represents an annual opportunity for Miami, New York and Buffalo to close the gap, but only time will tell whether the teams' respective prospect hauls will alter the AFC East hierarchy.
AFC East notables
The Bills surrendered a hefty sum to land Watkins, shipping the ninth overall pick plus a first- and fourth-round selection in 2015 to the Browns for the right to take the Clemson wideout, but the price tag should be high for a transcendent star poised to take the NFL by storm. Watkins is an extraordinary talent who has the speed, athleticism and ball skills to create headaches for opposing defensive coordinators around the league. Of course, we should remember that it typically takes receivers a little time to acclimate to the pro game. Still, Watkins is such a special playmaker that he should be well worth the wait (if there is indeed a wait).
I knew the NFL was buzzing about James' potential in the days leading up to the draft, but no one expected the Tennessee product to vault into the top 20. Don't get me wrong: James, who has the length and athleticism to shadow speed rushers off the edge, is an ideal right tackle. However, there were other blue-chip prospects available at this stage of the draft, and the Dolphins bypassed a chance to snag a game-changer in favor of adding a developmental offensive lineman. While James could end up being a solid starter for the Dolphins early in his career, the jury is still out as to whether he possesses enough blue-chip qualities to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Landry dropped down the charts after clocking a pedestrian 4.77-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, but astute evaluators view the former LSU star as an Anquan Boldin-type playmaker with the physicality to overpower defenders on the perimeter. Although the presence of veteran receivers Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline on the Dolphins' roster means Landry will have to slide into the third spot on the depth chart, the youngster exhibits all of the traits to thrive in an offense that prominently features a number of catch-and-run plays.
Note: Click on team names to see complete draft classes.
BUFFALO BILLS: It takes a lot of courage to go all-in on a player at the top of the board, but the best decision-makers in the business trust their instincts under pressure. Less than one year after officially assuming the role of general manager, Doug Whaley engineered a trade that could define his career in Buffalo. The savvy shot-caller did what he had to do to ensure he'd end up with Watkins -- the most explosive playmaker in this draft class. Adding a dominant pass-catcher to EJ Manuel's supporting cast made the hefty cost worth it. Whaley also upgraded the protection around his quarterback with tackles Cyrus Kouandjio (a second-round pick) and Seantrel Henderson (picked in the seventh round). Both are considered question marks -- Kouandjio because of knee issues and Henderson because he's admitted that marijuana use led to college suspensions -- but their talent and potential could pay huge dividends for the Bills down the road. GRADE: B
MIAMI DOLPHINS: GM Dennis Hickey was tasked with rebuilding an entire offensive line this offseason to help quarterback Ryan Tannehill -- who took a league-high 58 sacks last season -- remain upright in the pocket. Hickey successfully added a franchise-caliber left tackle in free-agent signee Branden Albert, but the Dolphins still needed a stout edge blocker on the right heading into the draft. James is a capable fit, due to his size (6-6, 311), strength and power, but based solely on his talent level, he was a stretch at No. 19. Offensive tackle Billy Turner was an intriguing prospect at the Senior Bowl; the third-round pick could develop into a quality contributor as a swing player along the line. The Dolphins grabbed the draft's biggest steal with Landry on Day 2. He has the ability to be a true difference-maker on Sundays. GRADE: B-
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Coach Bill Belichick will go off the rails -- at least according to conventional wisdom -- on draft day to nab a player who is capable of filling a specific role. Thus, it's impossible to fully grade his drafts until the Patriots take the field with newbies manning their assignments according to his vision. However, I must express my surprise at his willingness to snag defensive tackle Dominique Easley in the first round despite multiple ACL injuries. The Florida product flashed blue-chip qualities during his collegiate career, but his durability issues could backfire on the Patriots down the road. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is an intriguing developmental prospect to bring into the fold; the second-round selection is a sound decision-maker with a quick release, which makes him a great fit in the Patriots' quick-rhythm passing game. Fourth-round pick James White is a versatile back with a game that will enable him to perfectly complement veterans Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. GRADE: B-
NEW YORK JETS: If coach Rex Ryan had his druthers, he would only select defensive players at the top of the draft. His affinity for disruptive defenders might explain why the Jets made safety Calvin Pryor the 18th overall pick. The Louisville product is an old-school safety with an enforcer's mentality and a hard-nosed game. He will discourage opponents from throwing down the middle while also helping to shut down running lanes as an extra defender in the box. Tight end Jace Amaro (second-round pick) and receivers Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans (both fourth-rounders) should add an explosive dimension to the Jets' passing attack. Each is capable of doing damage between the hashes, while Sanders adds a big-play element as a catch-and-run specialist. Quarterback Tajh Boyd could be a sleeper pick in the sixth round, based on his arm talent, athleticism and leadership skills. He was an ultra-productive passer at Clemson, a noteworthy fact considering Gang Green's struggles to throw the ball in recent years. GRADE: B+
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