With the initial free-agency frenzy winding down, organizations are turning their attention to the 2012 NFL Draft. What are the biggest remaining holes for each AFC East team? Let's examine ...
The Bills landed the top free agent on defense by signing defensive end Mario Williams to a six-year, $96 million deal, instantly upgrading the team's pass rush (Buffalo ranked 27th in the league in sacks in 2011). The Bills also signed Mark Anderson, another pass-rushing defensive end who comes over from the division rival Patriots. The team still has needs at linebacker and cornerback, however, after only re-signing 2011 reserve Kirk Morrison to a very average back seven.
Ryan Fitzpatrick collected his $5 million roster bonus this month, which makes it likely he will start in 2012. With only Tyler Thigpen and occasional Wildcat QB Brad Smith behind him on the depth chart, the team might consider picking up a young passer early in the draft. The team's situation at offensive tackle is less than ideal -- assuming free agent Demetrius Bell does not re-sign with the team -- which means the Bills will look at prospects at that position in the first or second round. Adding a guard to bolster the interior of the offensive line also makes sense. Re-signing top wide receiver Stevie Johnson (1,004 yards in 2011) was a solid move, but David Nelson and Donald Jones are only adequate as complementary receivers.
After losing out on quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn, the Dolphins signed David Garrard, hoping he is healthy enough to compete with Matt Moore for a starting spot. (Garrard was out of the league in 2011, repairing a herniated disc.) New offensive coordinator Mike Sherman might still try to convince general manager Jeff Ireland to select his quarterback the past two years at Texas A&M, Ryan Tannehill, in the first round. No matter who the quarterback is in 2012, the trade of Brandon Marshall to Chicago for two third-round picks (one in 2012, the other in 2013) makes finding a playmaking receiver a major need. The team could bring back veteran Marc Colombo for a second season at right tackle, but might choose to draft a young replacement instead.
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The team's reported change to a 4-3 scheme for the 2012 season creates a need for some true hand-down defensive ends to play across from (and spell) Cameron Wake, who had 8.5 sacks in 2011. New defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle might also want linebackers to fit his scheme, as well. Releasing leading tackler Yeremiah Bell either opens up a safety spot for veteran free-agent acquisition Richard Marshall (who has played safety and corner in his career) or leads the team to address the position in the draft.
Despite the success of many two-tight end sets featuring Rob Gronkowski (1,327 receiving yards, 17 TD in 2011) and Aaron Hernandez (910, 7) on the way to the Super Bowl XLVI, the Patriots upgraded their receiving corps in free agency by putting the franchise tag on Wes Welker, re-signing Deion Branch and bringing in Brandon Lloyd (who reunites with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, his coach in Denver), Anthony Gonzalez, and Donté Stallworth. Signing guard Robert Gallery helped add depth on the line, as well.
The Patriots' major needs still remain on the defensive side of the ball, however. They found bit players in free agents Jonathan Fanene and Trevor Scott, but lost Anderson (10 sacks last year) to Buffalo. Expect the Pats to use their multiple first- and second-round draft picks (they have four of the top 62 picks) to bolster their pass rush, as well as add depth at safety and cornerback behind starters Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington.
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The Jets struggled to move the ball consistently in 2011, whether on the ground (ranking 22nd in the NFL in rushing yards per game) or through the air (21st in passing yards/game). It seemed like the team planned to upgrade the offensive line and receiver group around quarterback Mark Sanchez this offseason, but the addition of Tim Tebow via trade from the Broncos will make for an interesting training camp. Right tackle Wayne Hunter signed a four-year extension last summer, but the team has reportedly put him on the trading block. Drafting another guard to challenge Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore also seems prudent. Gang Green signed 6-foot-4 receiver Chaz Schilens from the Raiders and brought back 6-5 wideout Patrick Turner, but may try to draft another true vertical threat as a foil to Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley.
Midseason pickup Aaron Maybin led the team with just six sacks in 2011, so it might make sense to add another young pass rusher to spell veterans Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas. If Bart Scott is not in the Jets' future plans, they could attempt to find an interior linebacker early in the draft. Bodies are needed in the secondary, as well, especially if free agent signee LaRon Landry is not healthy enough to start at strong safety coming off his Achilles injury last fall.