Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks is performing a division-by-division assessment of the 2015 NFL Draft, spotlighting notable picks and handing out grades for each team. Below is his review of the AFC East. (NOTE: Click on the tabs to see other divisional breakdowns.)
From a philosophical standpoint, it should've been an easy decision for general manager Mike Maccagnan to make Williams the pick when the Jets went on the clock, due to the disruptive defensive lineman's consensus status as the best player available. The 6-foot-5, 302-pounder was a dominant force in the Pac-12. He exhibits all of the core traits (size, agility, strength, power and hand skills) to develop into a premier NFL defensive lineman early in his career. Although the Jets didn't have a pressing need on the D-line, the opportunity to add another blue-chip defender to a rotation that already features a pair of studs (Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson) is never a bad idea in a pass-happy league.
The Patriots landed a potential blue-collar starter in the fourth round with the acquisition of Jackson on Day 3. The 6-4, 330-pounder was considered one of the top interior blockers in the draft, but inexplicably slid down the charts in Chicago. With New England searching for a more physical presence in the middle, Jackson fills a need and possibly upgrades a unit that played a critical role in the team's title run last season.
The Dolphins might've secured the biggest steal in the draft with their selection of Ajayi in the fifth-round. The ex-Boise State standout was flagged as a medical risk (knee concerns), but his on-field performance suggests he could blossom into a rugged workhorse runner as a pro. Ajayi not only possesses the size and strength to act as a hammer between the tackles, but he is a nifty runner with the speed and quickness to take it the distance. Given that Lamar Miller's in a contract year, Ajayi could be the Dolphins' feature back of the future.
NOTE: Draft hauls are ranked from best to worst within the division.
1) NEW YORK JETS: General manager Mike Maccagnan deserves kudos for his astute management of the draft board last weekend. The first-time decision maker showed exceptional discipline and poise while acquiring blue-chip talent throughout the draft. Landing Leonard Williams was certainly an unexpected event, but taking the best player available could help the Jets field a dominant defense for the next five years. With Lorenzo Mauldin also coming on board as a third-round pick, Gang Green fortified its top unit with smart drafting. Second-round selection Devin Smith gives the Jets' aerial attack a vertical stretch receiver. His speed and explosiveness will open up the field for Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, while giving Geno Smith a big-play option on every play. Bryce Petty will not compete for the starting QB job in 2015, but matching the Baylor standout with a creative play designer (Chan Gailey) could pay off for New York down the road. GRADE: A
2) MIAMI DOLPHINS: The Dolphins are in a great position to make a move in the AFC East after complementing savvy free-agent moves with a rock-solid draft. The team acquired one of the most polished receivers available in DeVante Parker. The ex-Louisville standout is a big-bodied pass catcher with exceptional hands and ball skills. Plus, he is a proven red-zone weapon (33 TDs in college) capable of putting the ball in the paint on an assortment of vertical routes. Jordan Phillips is arguably the most athletic defensive tackle in the 2015 class, but an inconsistent motor made him a "flash player" at Oklahoma. If he learns how to consistently bring effort and energy, Phillips could be a Pro Bowl-caliber player early in his career. Jay Ajayi might supplant Lamar Miller as the Dolphins' running back of the future. He is a nice fit in Miami's version of the spread, as a big, physical runner with speed and burst. GRADE: B+
3) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: The Patriots aren't afraid to go against the grain on draft day. They utilize a smaller draft board and focus extensively on guys pegged to fill specific roles down the road. Consequently, New England traditionally selects a prospect or two who's severely underrated on media lists prior to the draft. All that said, first-rounder Malcom Brown certainly doesn't quality as an undervalued prospect, based on his outstanding combination of size, strength and tools. He will step into the void created by Vince Wilfork's departure and give the Pats a disruptive presence in the middle. On the other hand, the selections of Jordan Richards (Round 2) and Geneo Grissom (Round 3) represent reaches to the outside world, but each prospect could grow into a designated role in the Patriots' scheme. Trey Flowers and Tre' Jackson were tremendous value selections in Round 4. Expect both players to crack the rotation early. GRADE: C+
4) BUFFALO BILLS: It's hard to kill the Bills for failing to knock it out of the park on draft day when their offseason acquisitions have put the team squarely in contention in the AFC East. Buffalo has assembled one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, with few glaring holes outside of the quarterback position. Thus, the team entered the draft looking for complementary players to augment the stars dotting the rosters on both sides of the ball. Ronald Darby appears to be a luxury pick based on the Bills' deep and talented secondary, but he could be insurance against Stephon Gilmore's potential departure at the end of his contract. Regardless, he gives the Bills a nickel corner to throw into the rotation on sub-packages. The selections of former Seminoles Karlos Williams and Nick O'Leary led to some quizzical looks in league circles, based on Buffalo's depth at running back and tight end, but it's never a bad thing to add competition to the bottom of the roster. Dezmin Lewis could be a diamond in the rough -- the 6-4, 214-pound wideout's a small-school sleeper with big-time potential. GRADE: C