Projected Starters

AFC East projected starters: Bills boast depth; Pats vulnerable?

With the 2020 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams because that's his idea of fun. Check out the AFC East breakdowns below.

BUFFALO BILLS

Table inside Article
OFFENSE PLAYER DEFENSE PLAYER
QB Josh Allen DE Jerry Hughes
RB Devin Singletary DT Ed Oliver
WR Stefon Diggs DT Star Lotulelei
WR John Brown DE Mario Addison
WR Cole Beasley OLB Matt Milano
TE Dawson Knox MLB Tremaine Edmunds
LT Dion Dawkins CB Tre'Davious White
LG Quinton Spain CB Josh Norman
C Mitch Morse CB Taron Johnson
RG Jon Feliciano S Jordan Poyer
RT Cody Ford S Micah Hyde
  • Devin Singletary and rookie Zack Moss could combine to lead all backfields in forced missed tackles. While Moss is more of a power-running slasher compared to Singletary's make-you-miss style, both players can handle every down and situation. (Moss may be the more likely goal-line option.) Both players were third-round picks and could share the load more equally than Singletary's fantasy owners would prefer.
  • Robert Foster was the Bills' leading receiver down the stretch in 2018. He may struggle just to make this roster after the team selected UCF wideout Gabriel Davis in the fourth round. Josh Allen's weapons have come a long way in a short time since Foster and Zay Jones topped the depth chart.
  • If Cody Ford can't make the leap to a consistent starting tackle, the team has Ty Nsekhe and former Panther Daryl Williams, who is currently more likely to play guard. GM Brandon Beane has done a nice job building a line with some depth that may keep the same starters in consecutive years.
  • Alert Dan Hanzus, bouncer of the Kicker Corner: Stephen Hauschka and sixth-round pick Tyler Bass will have a kicking competition, with any tie likely going to the draft pick.
  • Fifth-round pick Jake Fromm should be a safe pick to make the Bills roster, even if it takes him a year to overtake Matt Barkley as Allen's backup.
  • One of second-round defensive end A.J. Epenesa's leading attributes as a draft prospect was his maturity and ready-made playing style. That should lead to a shorter learning curve than most, so don't be surprised if he winds up splitting snaps with Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison equally in a rotation.
  • Epenesa's arrival makes Trent Murphy someone to watch in training camp as a potential cut or trade candidate. Quinton Jefferson was also brought in from Seattle at a suddenly-deep position.
  • Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano are the identity of this defense, like the speedy duo of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis helped define the Panthers when Sean McDermott was there. Edmunds taking another step to All-Pro status would help this D take the next step as a whole.
  • If Josh Norman can't succeed in this system, with this safety tandem helping him out, then his career may be over soon. Norman's contract indicates he'll start, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Levi Wallace get the call eventually.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Table inside Article
OFFENSE PLAYER DEFENSE PLAYER
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick DE Shaq Lawson
RB Matt Breida DT Davon Godchaux
WR DeVante Parker DE/DT Christian Wilkins
WR Preston Williams DE Emmanuel Ogbah
WR Albert Wilson OLB Kyle Van Noy
TE Mike Gesicki ILB Jerome Baker
LT Austin Jackson CB Xavien Howard
LG Ereck Flowers CB Byron Jones
C Ted Karras CB Noah Igbinoghene
RG Robert Hunt S Eric Rowe
RT Jesse Davis S Bobby McCain
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick was arguably the best quarterback in the division last year. (Sorry, Tom.) It's hard to imagine a rookie coming off major surgery -- no matter how far ahead of schedule Tua Tagovailoa proves to be -- beating out Fitzpatrick during an abbreviated offseason. If Fitz's career trajectory is any indication, he'll ultimately come back to Earth and Tagovailoa will get his chance soon enough.
  • Keep in mind that the Dolphins are trying to install a new offense after firing Chad O'Shea and hauling Chan Gailey out of retirement. If Gailey's past is any indication, Miami's attack will include a lot of quick throws out of spread formations, just like Tua worked with in college. It's almost like the Dolphins knew Tua was the pick all along.
  • This pass-catching crew is incredibly boom or bust. DeVante Parker will try to build on a career year after four seasons that were lacking. Preston Williams looked like a first-round talent last year, but he's still a second-year undrafted player coming off a torn ACL. Albert Wilson hasn't looked the same since his 2018 hip injury, while tight end Mike Gesicki enjoyed a sneaky-good second season after looking stiff as a rookie. This is either a great value group or a disaster waiting to happen -- there doesn't seem to be a lot of room in between.
  • Jordan Howard isn't listed here because Matt Breida is a better fit on passing downs in a pass-heavy offense. Howard figures to be used plenty, however, because Breida has never logged 200 touches in a season.
  • If the pass catchers are boom or bust, the offensive line is OK or bust. (Which is better than last year's bust or bust.) It's possible the Dolphins OL could have five new starters -- the unit looks likely to have at least four. Robert Hunt, a high second-rounder, could wind up starting at right tackle, giving Miami an all-rookie set of bookends. The Dolphins drafted Austin Jackson to start, even if he's raw. For all the impressive progress the Dolphins' rebuild has made, this is still one of the most talent-poor offenses in football.
  • The defense, on the other hand, is a lot closer to ripe. Coach Brian Flores, like Bill Belichick, believes in building his defense back to front. This cornerback group ranks with any in football if rookie first-rounder Noah Igbinoghene hits. He's expected to man the slot.
  • Then again, Flores is counting on scheme and smarts to rule the day up front because there aren't many great pass rushers here. (Don't sleep on Emmanuel Ogbah playing a bigger role here than expected -- and possibly producing at a higher level than pricy pickup Shaq Lawson.)
  • While the front seven isn't perfect, adding quality core players like Kyle Van Noy improves the group's overall depth. Having options like second-round rookie Raekwon DavisKamu Grugier-HillVince Biegel and Elandon Roberts not even listed above shows the team is making progress. Like the Patriots, Flores would love to give 18 or more defenders significant snaps weekly.
  • The Dolphins have the flexibility and versatility to change their game plans as much as they want each week. If Flores is as impressive as he appeared last season, he'll make some noise with this group.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Table inside Article
OFFENSE PLAYER DEFENSE PLAYER
QB Jarett Stidham DE Lawrence Guy
RB James White DT Adam Butler
WR Julian Edelman OLB John Simon
WR Mohamed Sanu ILB Dont'a Hightower
WR N'Keal Harry ILB Ja'Whaun Bentley
TE Devin Asiasi OLB Chase Winovich
LT Isaiah Wynn CB Stephon Gilmore
LG Joe Thuney CB Jason McCourty
C David Andrews CB Jonathan Jones
RG Shaq Mason S Patrick Chung
RT Marcus Cannon S Devin McCourty
  • There's nothing more the Patriots can say with their actions -- or words -- to show they believe Jarrett Stidham can be a quality starting quarterback. Now he just has to reward that faith, mostly with a group that Tom Brady struggled to score with in 2019.
  • James White gets the nod because he has led the Patriots in running back snaps for consecutive years, even if Sony Michel looks like the more traditional "starter." Rex Burkhead also should stay in the mix because Rex Burkhead is immortal.
  • N'Keal Harry cost a first-round pick last year, Mohamed Sanu cost a second. Both played far too slow on a slow offense last year. Sanu can blame an injury and a slow adjustment to the team's offense. Harry can blame a typical rookie's struggles to get on the same page as Brady. The Patriots badly need both players to improve this season to give Stidham a chance.
  • I wrote Devin Asiasi's name down as the projected tight end because that would be the most fun outcome. The third-round pick has potential to catch and block, but it's anyone's guess if he'll develop faster than fellow third-rounder Dalton Keene. With Matt LaCosse the best veteran at the position, don't be surprised if the Patriots sign someone else.
  • The offensive line will carry the offense, at least in Bill Belichick's Nantucket dreams. David Andrews (blood clots) was medically cleared to return to football after missing last season. The Pats' guard duo ranks among the league's best, while Isaiah Wynn has performed like a solid left tackle in the rare instances he's been healthy. The concern here: Other than Joe Thuney, all four starters have been injury-prone and OL svengali Dante Scarnecchia retired after the 2019 season.
  • The Patriots' biggest team strength remains their secondary, possibly the deepest in the league. Slot corner Jonathan Jones isn't well known, but he cracked PFF's top 10 corners last year. J.C. Jackson will compete with Jason McCourty to start at corner. Joejuan Williams, a second-round pick last year, couldn't crack the rotation despite a strong 2019 camp. Patrick Chung's replacement, Kyle Dugger, was drafted early in the second round this year. Belichick believes in building his defense from the back to the front, and the Patriots have the depth to survive injuries and the versatility to throw the right body at any matchup.
  • The Belichick Pats have never been this light on defensive linemen, which is partly by design. They didn't play a single big ugly a year ago more than Lawrence Guy's 523 regular-season snaps. The unconventional approach of spreading the snaps around extends to the entire front seven, where players can fill a bunch of spots.
  • Rookie Day 2 picks Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings add to an eclectic assortment of edge players. Belichick relies on manufacturing a pass rush through scheme, a necessary plan because New England lacks conventional options to win one-on-one matchups. Dont'a Hightower must be wondering where all his buddies have gone.

NEW YORK JETS

Table inside Article
OFFENSE PLAYER DEFENSE PLAYER
QB Sam Darnold DE Quinnen Williams
RB Le'Veon Bell DT Steve McLendon
WR Breshad Perriman DE Henry Anderson
WR Jamison Crowder OLB Jordan Jenkins
WR Denzel Mims ILB C.J. Mosley
TE Chris Herndon ILB Avery Williamson
LT Mekhi Becton CB Pierre Desir
LG Alex Lewis CB Bless Austin
C Connor McGovern CB Brian Poole
RG Greg Van Roten S Jamal Adams
RT George Fant S Marcus Maye
  • The Jets can't go into the season with only David Fales, James Morgan and Mike White behind Sam Darnold. (Can they?) I'd be stunned if Adam Gase left himself vulnerable to getting Luke Falked again.
  • Signing Frank Gore to back up Le'Veon Bell probably closes the door on Bilal Powell returning on another short-term deal. Gore should not be a threat to Bell, who needs to show more explosiveness in Year 2 with Gang Green. Bell's instincts and vision still appeared stellar last year, but it was as if his body just couldn't respond to what his mind was telling it.
  • These pass catchers -- including tight end Chris Herndon -- complement each other well. They just lack depth, and the starters are tough to fully rely on. Jamison Crowder is a steady presence. So if at least two of the next three (Herndon, streaky Breshad Perriman and ultra-talented rookie Denzel Mims) can pop, the offense will be fine. If all three hit, this offense could realize some of the expectations it had entering last year's disaster.
  • Herndon oddly feels like the key to it all. The sample size was small as a rookie, but he flashed All-Pro-type potential before playing 18 snaps last year. If he's right, Herndon can open up a lot of play-calling options for Adam Gase.
  • A year ago, the headline of this article said "Jets set to fly." Whoops. Like the Browns, could New York have some post-hype potential this year?
  • If general manager Joe Douglas solved nothing else except the offensive line this offseason, it will have been an incredibly successful offseason. This group -- led by first-rounder Mekhi Becton -- will have four new starts. George Fant is a huge gamble at right tackle. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack has a lot of work to do, but the unit can't be worse than last year's group.
  • I only put one outside linebacker for now because the Jets are so thin at the position. Tarell Basham and rookie third-rounder Jabari Zuniga are both options to play plenty. John Abraham is not walking through that door.
  • Inside linebacker Avery Williamson was reportedly on the trade block before the draft, so his roster spot doesn't seem entirely ensured either.
  • Jamal Adams and his solid sidekick, Marcus Maye, are talented enough to make the Jets' cornerbacks look better than they are. But this is still a Gregg Williams defense, where cornerbacks wind up on an island and often suffer miscommunications. This group will be under attack.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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