The New England Patriots have owned the AFC East over the past decade, but the tide could turn in 2013. The Miami Dolphins, who started closing the gap during the offseason with a bevy of free-agent signings, had another chance to gain some ground during the draft. The Buffalo Bills haven't been viable contenders in more than a decade, but there's increasing optimism that they'll compete under new coach Doug Marrone. The New York Jets, meanwhile, have been characterized as a circus, but we shouldn't forget about Rex Ryan's ability to muddy up games with complex defensive schemes. The draft certainly is an important part of the offseason puzzle for all three teams as they endeavor to end New England's reign.
AFC East notables
The Dolphins aggressively traded up from their original No. 12 draft slot, landing the most explosive athlete on the defensive side of the ball with the third overall pick. Jordan is a dynamic hybrid player with impressive speed, quickness and rush skills. He has the potential to wreak havoc off the edges like a young Jason Taylor. He also has the athleticism and awareness to be incorporated into coverage as a drop end. With the Dolphins poised to tap into his versatility and explosiveness as the central figure in their hybrid scheme, Jordan quickly could become a star in the AFC East.
To the dismay of mock drafters everywhere, the Bills selected Manuel with the 16th overall pick. Now, there had been a sense that Manuel might make his way into the first round, but no one expected the Florida State product to be the first quarterback taken in the draft. Additionally, the obvious connection between Marrone and Ryan Nassib (who was coached by Marrone at Syracuse) made it difficult to think Buffalo would pick a different quarterback. However, Manuel is unquestionably a talented player with outstanding potential. If Marrone can successfully mold an offensive system around Manuel's talents, the criticism surrounding this choice will subside.
The Jets were expected to make a play for a quarterback at some point in this draft, but few would've guessed that the top quarterback in the 2013 class would be available for them to take with the 39th overall pick. Not only is Smith a viable alternative to veteran Mark Sanchez, he's a deft, quick-rhythm passer with the potential to develop into a star under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg (see: Michael Vick and Jeff Garcia). If Smith can earn the starting job and give the Jets much-needed stability at the quarterback position, this pick could go down as the most important of the John Idzik era.
Note: Click on team names to see complete draft classes.
BUFFALO BILLS: General manager Buddy Nix deserves kudos for manipulating the draft board to land four possible first-year starters (Manuel, WR Robert Woods, LB Kiko Alonso and S Duke Williams). Pairing Woods with Stevie Johnson will give the Bills their most explosive receiving tandem in years. If WR Marquise Goodwin and TE Chris Gragg can also tap into their athletic potential, Buffalo's offense could develop into a scoring machine. Defensively, Alonso and Williams add toughness, athleticism and playmaking ability to a unit that has lacked an identity in recent years. Overall, Nix's effort will be judged by Manuel's ability to develop into a franchise quarterback, but there is no denying that the Bills are a more talented team after a productive draft weekend. GRADE: B+
MIAMI DOLPHINS: GM Jeff Ireland, who typically takes a conservative approach on draft day, opted to be aggressive this year, packaging a Day 2 selection as part of a trade to move up nine spots and land Jordan. The former Oregon standout has the speed, athleticism and motor to wreak havoc off the edges opposite Cameron Wake. Cornerbacks Will Davis and Jamar Taylor, meanwhile, will feature prominently in the Dolphins' nickel package, with one likely emerging as a Week 1 starter on the outside. Dallas Thomas could play on either side of the offensive line as a tackle, or he could kick inside to guard to fortify the interior. Dion Sims is a big-bodied tight end adept at dominating in the running game. GRADE: B
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: The Patriots tend to opt for substance over sizzle in the draft, and this year was no exception. Bill Belichick addressed obvious defensive needs by adding OLB Jamie Collins, CB Logan Ryan and S Duron Harmon, who will fill voids at pass rusher and defensive back. Collins, in particular, gives the Patriots the high-energy defender they've been missing in recent years; he is an extremely explosive athlete off the edge, showing an uncanny knack for getting to the quarterback. Receiver Aaron Dobson has a chance to be a good player in the Patriots' system, with his combination of size, speed and athleticism. If he fulfills his potential, he could become an effective perimeter complement to tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. GRADE: C+
NEW YORK JETS: Idzik certainly has made his mark on the Jets, trading away the team's best player in Darrelle Revis, then essentially replacing him with the top cornerback in the draft (Dee Milliner). Though DT Sheldon Richardson doesn't appear to fit the 3-4, sources tell me the Jets' hybrid scheme will allow him to play 3-technique (outside shade of the offensive guard) in a four-man front that will feature Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples on the edges. Regardless, Richardson's motor and interior rush skills will help the Jets get after the passer. Finally, Smith could become the face of the franchise as the new starting quarterback. Though he slid down the draft board last week, Smith is a notch above Sanchez in terms of talent, making the pick a worthwhile gamble. GRADE: B-