Projected Starters  

 

AFC East projected starters: Patriots' offense absolutely loaded

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Gregg Rosenthal will project post-draft starting lineups for all 32 teams, because someone had to do it. The AFC East is below:

Buffalo Bills

QB: Tyrod Taylor
RB: LeSean McCoy
WR: Sammy Watkins
WR: Zay Jones
WR: Andre Holmes
TE: Charles Clay
LT: Cordy Glenn
LG: Richie Incognito
C: Eric Wood
RG: John Miller
RT: Dion Dawkins

DE: Jerry Hughes
DT: Marcell Dareus
DT: Kyle Williams
DE: Shaq Lawson
MLB: Reggie Ragland
OLB: Lorenzo Alexander
CB: Ronald Darby
CB: Tre'Davious White
CB: Kevon Seymour
S: Micah Hyde
S: Jordan Poyer

» Buffalo's defensive line tells the wandering story of the Bills organization over the last decade. The four starters were acquired during the tenures of four different Bills head coaches. Current coach Sean McDermott is not one of them. There remains plenty of talent and veteran know-how to go around here, but there's no telling how the talent will fit McDermott's defense. Jerry Hughes underperformed last season and Marcell Dareus' best years came before Rex Ryan showed up.

» First-round pick Tre'Davious White was a much-needed addition to a thin cornerback depth chart and possibly a tip-off to the kind of players McDermott will go after. White had the pre-draft reputation of a no-nonsense technician, the type that coaches love and scouts love less. McDermott made his name with the Panthers by coaching up eclectic, rapidly-built defensive backfields, and he certainly has one here.

» In a perfect world, the Bills wouldn't have to slot a second-round rookie receiver into the starting lineup. The Bills live in another world, where the general manager was fired immediately after the draft. Zay Jones is such a strong pick to start in Week 1 because Buffalo's wide receiver depth is so thin. Andre Holmes, Walter Powell and Corey Brown are all candidates for significant snaps. Don't be surprised if Buffalo adds another veteran to the mix.

» McDermott said "nothing is promised" when it comes to starting jobs, including the QB1 job held by Tyrod Taylor. Luckily for Taylor, he doesn't have much competition. Taylor is light years ahead of Cardale Jones and Nathan Peterman and Taylor's already spent a year in new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison's system back in Baltimore.

» Reggie Ragland figures to usurp Preston Brown at middle linebacker, but Brown should get plenty of work with a team short on off-the-ball linebackers.

Miami Dolphins

QB: Ryan Tannehill
RB: Jay Ajayi
WR: Jarvis Landry
WR: DeVante Parker
WR: Kenny Stills
TE: Julius Thomas
LT: Laremy Tunsil
LG: Kraig Urbik
C: Mike Pouncey
RG: Jermon Bushrod
RT: Ja'Wuan James

DE: Cameron Wake
DT: Ndamukong Suh
DT: Jordan Phillips
DE: Andre Branch
LB: Kiko Alonso
MLB: Lawrence Timmons
LB: Raekwon McMillan
CB: Byron Maxwell
CB: Xavien Howard
S: Reshad Jones
S: Nate Allen

» It's understandable if Dolphins fans are overly excited about the upcoming season. The first seven offensive names above look better than any group the Dolphins have put on the field since late-period Marino. This is Year 6 for Ryan Tannehill, but only Season 2 A.P. (After Philbin).

» Mike Pouncey's health is a huge X-factor for this team -- the center underwent another mysterious hip procedure recently. Jay Ajayi made Miami's interior line look so much better than it deserved last season.

» The bigger issues were on defense last season, a fact reflected in the Dolphins' decision to use their first three draft picks on defense. First-round selection Charles Harris might be a situational pass rusher initially, but he could eventually flip roles with Cameron Wake. Second-round pick Raekwon McMillan could usurp sneaky stalwart linebacker Koa Misi, who was drafted by Jeff Ireland to play for Tony Sparano seven long Dolphins years ago.

» It's unclear who will start at middle linebacker. To hear defensive coordinator Matt Burke tell it, the designation doesn't matter much. The Dolphins have three players in Kiko Alonso, Lawrence Timmons and McMillan who the team believes can play any position and will be asked to perform a variety of roles depending on the matchup. Timmons and McMillan were added for their sure tackling, but this looks like a group which could still be exposed on passing downs.

» Safety T.J. McDonald is suspended for the first half of the season, but he should take Nate Allen's job eventually. Miami's cornerbacks played above expectations last season, with Xavien Howard and CB3 Tony Lippett still young and improving.

New England Patriots

QB: Tom Brady
RB: Mike Gillislee
WR: Julian Edelman
WR: Brandin Cooks
WR: Chris Hogan
TE: Rob Gronkowski
LT: Nate Solder
LG: Joe Thuney
C: David Andrews
RG: Shaq Mason
RT: Marcus Cannon

DE: Trey Flowers
DT: Malcom Brown
DT: Alan Branch
DE: Rob Ninkovich
LB: Dont'a Hightower
LB: Kyle Van Noy
CB: Malcolm Butler
CB: Stephon Gilmore
CB: Eric Rowe
S: Devin McCourty
S: Patrick Chung

» New England's backups at the skill positions could secede from Patriot Way and still form a watchable squad. An offense comprised of Jimmy Garoppolo, Rex Burkhead, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Dwayne Allen, Dion Lewis and James White could win a few games (possibly for Josh McDaniels in 2019).

» While the Patriots added a few key pieces, only LeGarrette Blount is missing from the group that scored at least 34 points in all three playoff wins. The Patriots have more continuity and depth of offensive talent than in any prior season of the Belichick-Brady era, with the possible exception of 2007.

» Mike Gillislee is listed as the starter because he's the logical candidate to take over Blount's role on inside runs. Burkhead could wind up with more overall snaps than Gillislee and the Patriots didn't give White a $4 million signing bonus to sit him on the bench. Lewis figures to be a matchup-specific option who plays more if any injury strikes elsewhere. Collectively, they form a middle finger toward fantasy football.

» The Pats' lack of depth at cornerback was one reason they were smart to insist on a high price in a potential Malcolm Butler trade with New Orleans. Even after adding Stephon Gilmore, this secondary is a little thin beyond the starters.

» Third-round pick Derek Rivers and trade acquisition Kony Ealy will both fight for playing time as edge rushers. Rob Ninkovich, 33, is used as part of a rotation that will also include ex-Raven Lawrence Guy.

New York Jets

QB: Josh McCown
RB: Matt Forte
WR: Eric Decker
WR: Quincy Enunwa
WR: Robby Anderson
TE: Austin Seferian-Jenkins*
LT: Kelvin Beachum
LG: James Carpenter
C: Wesley Johnson
RG: Brian Winters
RT: Ben Ijalana

DL: Muhammad Wilkerson
DL: Leonard Williams
DL: Sheldon Richardson
OLB: Jordan Jenkins
ILB: David Harris
ILB: Darron Lee
CB: Buster Skrine
CB: Morris Claiborne
S: Jamal Adams
S: Calvin Pryor
S: Marcus Maye

» Eric Decker looks unlikely to be released, based on recent comments from coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan. Coming off hip and shoulder surgeries, Decker could wind up being an in-season trade candidate. He will be especially easy to deal if the young Jets receivers work out ...

» Rookie mid-round wideouts ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen don't make this list, but they add to an intriguing young receiver group. Robby Anderson has a high ceiling for a second-year undrafted player, but his recent arrest might not help his cause.

» While the team is deep at wideout, the Jets' depth chart at quarterback, tight end and along the entire offensive line rank among the worst in football. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is suspended the first two games of the year (hence the asterisk above), but he only has to beat out a fifth-round rookie (Jordan Leggett) when he gets back.

» Josh McCown seeks out contact like he enjoys pain, so he's a poor bet to stay healthy even in the best circumstances. Playing behind this offensive line is a recipe for a Week 3 Christian Hackenberg start.

» The Jets are reportedly still shopping Sheldon Richardson, but other teams haven't jumped at taking on his $8 million salary. If the talented but troubled D-lineman stays, Bowles has to settle on the best way to deploy Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams at the same time. For all the grief Richardson took last season, Wilkerson was a bigger problem on the field.

» Bowles loved playing three safeties at once when he was a coordinator in Arizona. Don't be surprised if he goes the same route for much of this season following the Jets' twin rookie-safety picks and the team's shortage at cornerback.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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