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AFC East projected starters: Garoppolo fills in for Brady

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With the NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, Around The NFL will project starting lineups with tasty position battle nuggets for all 32 teams. The AFC East is below.

New England Patriots


Patriots Projected Starters
  Offense Defense
  QB: Jimmy Garoppolo* DE: Rob Ninkovich
  RB: Dion Lewis DT: Malcom Brown
  WR1: Julian Edelman DT: Terrance Knighton
WR2: Chris Hogan DE: Jabaal Sheard
  TE1 Rob Gronkowski LB: Jamie Collins
TE2: Martellus Bennett LB: Dont'a Hightower
LT: Nate Solder CB1: Malcolm Butler
LG: Shaq Mason CB2: Logan Ryan
C: Bryan Stork CB3: Cyrus Jones
RG: Jonathan Cooper S: Devin McCourty
RT: Sebastian Vollmer S: Patrick Chung

»I'm listing Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter following Tom Brady's suspension being reinstated. Conventional wisdom says Brady will have a hard time avoiding the suspension this time, but conventional wisdom hasn't been very wise during this story.

»Chris Hogan has the size and ability to play on the outside, pushing Danny Amendola into the third receiver role. Then again, Julian Edelman and Amendola may not be ready for the season opener following their dueling surgeries. Either way, the Patriots are likely to run more two tight end sets than ever with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett.

»Third-round rookie Jacoby Brissett is a big long shot to unseat Garoppolo for the job. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Patriots added another veteran QB (Zach Mettenberger?) to the mix depending on how Brissett looks this offseason.

»The tackle positions are set, although Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer need to stay healthy because the position is thin. The three interior line spots are wide open. The return of Dante Scarnecchia should help Tom Brady's pass protection immensley, but Bill Belichick wasn't taking any chances while loading up on depth at center and guard this offseason. Second-year guard Shaq Mason is a decent bet to start. Third-round pick Joe Thuney will compete at center and at guard. Former top-ten pick Jonathan Cooper, acquired in the Chandler Jones trade, may have an uphill battle to beat out veteran Josh Kline.

»Dion Lewis played more snaps-per-game than any running back for the Patriots since Corey Dillon. It's dangerous to need him that much again coming off a torn ACL, yet the Patriots have a similarly thin running back crew this year after passing on the position in the draft.

»The Patriots figure to use plenty of four down linemen sets this season often because that's where their depth lies. We have Chris Long and Alan Branch slated to be backups, but they figure to rotate plenty. Linebacker is a bigger problem; the team lacks a traditional middle linebacker option.

»There is room for second round pick Cyrus Jones to play starter-worthy snaps immediately as the team's nickel back, if he can avoid being another failed second round defensive back taken under Belichick.

New York Jets


Jets Projected Starters
  Offense Defense
  QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick DE: Muhammad Wilkerson
  RB: Matt Forte DT: Steve McLendon
  WR1: Brandon Marshall DT: Leonard Williams
WR2: Eric Decker DE: Sheldon Richardson
  FB: Thomas Bohanon ILB: Darron Lee
TE: Jace Amaro ILB: David Harris
LT: Ryan Clady OLB: Lorenzo Mauldin
LG: James Carpenter CB1: Darrelle Revis
C: Nick Mangold CB2: Buster Skrine
RG: Brian Winters S: Calvin Pryor
RT: Breno Giacomini S: Marcus Gilchrist

» It makes too much sense for the Jets and Ryan Fitzpatrick to come to an agreement. Geno Smith would be the favorite to start if Fitzpatrick holds his ground and retires. If Fitzpatrick returns, don't be shocked if Geno makes the team over last year's fourth round pick Bryce Petty.

» The Jets offense could get to another level if Jace Amaro plays to his potential. Otherwise, the tight end position is very weak.

» I expected general manager Mike Maccagnan to address the offensive line more this offseason. Ryan Clady is a boom or bust risk at left tackle and Breno Giocomini is a below average starter at right tackle.

»In theory, the Jets run a 3-4 defense. In practice, they found a way to start Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, and Mo Wilkerson together along with Damon "Snacks" Harrison last year. Harrison has been replaced by free agent nose tackle Steve McLendon, but coach Todd Bowles will find creative ways to keep his best players on the field by moving them around.

» The Jets' best players definitely aren't at outside linebacker. They will ask Lorenzo Maudlin to step up after a promising rookie season. The second "starting" outside linebacker spot is up for grabs. Third-round pick Jordan Jenkins should play, but is more of a run stopper. I listed only one starter at OLB for now, with first round pick Darron Lee beating out Erin Henderson for the inside linebacker spot. Lee has the skill set to be one of the safety/linebacker hybrids that are so popular with the kids these days.

Buffalo Bills


Bills Projected Starters
  Offense Defense
  QB: Tyrod Taylor DE: Kyle Williams
  RB: LeSean McCoy DT: Marcell Dareus
  WR1: Sammy Watkins DE: Adolphus Washington
WR2: Robert Woods OLB: Jerry Hughes
  WR3 Leonard Hankerson ILB: Reggie Ragland
TE: Charles Clay ILB: Preston Brown
LT: Cordy Glenn OLB: Manny Lawson
LG: Richie Incognito CB1: Stephon Gilmore
C: Eric Wood CB2: Ronald Darby
RG: John Miller S: Aaron Williams
RT: Jordan Mills S: Corey Graham

»The Bills ignored upgrading their offense this offseason, which could come back to haunt them when Tyrod Taylor drops back to pass. Robert Woods is a shaky second receiver, and Sammy Watkins will miss the majority of the team's offseason program after suffering a fracture in his foot. Veteran Leonard Hankerson is my best guess to win the No. 3 receiver spot among an uninspiring field. (That's assuming Watkins is even back for Week 1.) This will be a run-first team that could struggle when they are forced to pass.

»That's one reason to worry about the Bills. One reason to believe in offensive coordinator Greg Roman: The entire starting offensive line is back for the first time in 20 years. It's a strong group overall, especially the left side.

»The weak spot is definitely right tackle, where Seantrel Henderson's football future remains up in the air.

»The Bills essentially promised their first three draft picks starting jobs. That plan is in doubt after outside linebacker news broke Monday that Shaq Lawson will need shoulder surgery. Hughes and Manny Lawson could be listed as outside linebackers or defensive ends, depending on how many down linemen the Bills are using. Either way, Buffalo may look for another veteran pass rusher.

»Lawson, Reggie Ragland and Adolphus Washington need to come in a big way or general manager Doug Whaley will be under fire. It's a little odd to not make the rookies battle for the starting job, especially when Ragland and Washington have to prove they are worth keeping on the field on passing downs. Lawson has to prove he has the pass rush moves necessary at the pro level because he can't get by only on his strength. Surgery will put him behind pace.

»With all that said, this is a strong group on paper. We thought Corey Graham might lose his safety job this offseason, but the Bills only added Robert Blanton as competition.

»Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby has to be the most exciting young cornerback duo in the league.

Miami Dolphins


Dolphins Projected Starters
  Offense Defense
  QB: Ryan Tannehill DE: Mario Williams
  RB: Jay Ajayi DT: Ndamukong Suh
  WR1: Jarvis Landry DT: Earl Mitchell
WR2: DeVante Parker DE: Andre Branch
  WR3 Kenny Stills LB: Jelani Jenkins
TE: Jordan Cameron MLB: Kiko Alonso
LT: Branden Albert LB: Koa Misi
LG: Laremy Tunsil CB1: Byron Maxwell
C: Mike Pouncey CB2: Xavien Howard
RG: Billy Turner S: Reshad Jones
RT: Ja'Wuan James S: Isa Abdul-Quddus

»Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said that third-round pick Leonte Carroo was the second-ranked receiver on the team's entire draft board. They showed it by giving up their third- and fourth-round pick in 2017 to get him. He'll have a chance to unseat Kenny Stills, but the veteran is the favorite for now.

»The Dolphins' offensive line has some moving pieces. Branden Albert is getting paid like a franchise left tackle, but he could wind up moving inside to guard to make way for rookie Laremy Tunsil. They should start next to each other, the only question is where. Veteran Jermon Bushrod is also converting to guard and could wind up starting over Billy Turner.

»Jay Ajayi has a high ceiling if he can stay healthy, but a backfield of Ajayi and third-round pick Kenyan Drake ranks as the most inexperienced backfield in the league.

»The Dolphins have called Xavien Howard a "prototype" at a "premium need" for the team. Translation: The second-round pick seems likely to start opposite Byron Maxwell. It's a thin position with guys like Tony Lippett (still learning the position) and Bobby McCain next in line.

»Mario Williams and Ndamukong Suh are the only two locks to start on the defensive line. Cameron Wake will be working his way back from Achilles surgery and could be used as a situational pass rusher to start the season. Free-agent pickups Jason Jones and Andre Branch will rotate with Wake. Last year's second-round pick Jordan Phillips could challenge Earl Mitchell for snaps. It's a deep defensive line overall.

»Isa Abdul-Quddus, signed from Detroit, was a Pro Football Focus darling late last season, ranking No. 1 among safeties from Week 10 on. He looks like the unquestioned starter opposite Reshad Jones.

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