2018 NFL Divisional Draft Needs: AFC East
Dom Murtha goes division by division, team by team, and pick by pick, breaking down the 2018 draft strategy for each NFL franchise.
With the NFL Offseason now fully underway, it should come as no surprise that our attention has been completely turned to the NFL Draft. Alongside my “positional previews,” delivered to you on Wednesdays, Fridays will be reserved for my more traditional “Divisional Draft Needs” series. This week we start in the AFC East, examining a division full of teams with a myriad of needs and varying selections to fill them.
** Listed “2018 Draft Picks” do not include compensatory selections, as they will be awarded at a later date, just a few weeks prior to the draft. **
| New York Jets |
| 2017 Record: 5-11 | 2018 Draft Picks: 6, 37, 49, 72, 103, 148, 165, 209 | Needs: QB, OL, RB, DB, WR, LB, DL, Edge |
While the Jets, once again, finished last in the AFC East, the 2017 season wasn’t all lost, as they defied the very real Vegas odds that projected them to finish winless. In all, the Jets managed five victories, making their season far more respectable than the expectation, despite coming nowhere near the playoffs. As it stands, they possess eight selections in seven rounds for this upcoming draft. However, more compensatory picks may still be on the way. Simply put, they have more than enough draft-pick power to continue their long-standing rebuild process.
With their first pick at sixth overall, the Jets – while cursed with a roster needing plenty of help – are actually blessed in a way because they can take the best player available to them. Considering their quarterback hole however, that position has to be first on their minds. In my first mock draft I have the Jets drafting Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, but if they don’t go with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, they likely would pull the trigger on either of the other two top quarterback prospects in Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold, provided either is still available. Staying at quarterback, if none of those three are available, I wouldn’t expect them to invest the sixth overall pick on Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen – both of whom are far too controversial of prospects to be taken in the top-10 (in my opinion of course).
As I said though, if the top three quarterbacks are gone, then the Jets can really go BPA (best player available). Penn State’s Saquon Barkley comes to mind, as the top running back in the draft, while Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick (top DB in the draft), and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson (top OL in the draft) will also be in play.
With their subsequent picks, the rest of their needs must be addressed. In other words – considering almost every position group is listed as a “need” – the Jets can pick the best players available with their remaining seven selections. Here are some other guys that I like to for the Jets, based off of talent, draft range, and scheme fit…
Considering the depth, or lack thereof, of offensive linemen in general in this class, the Jets would be best served taking the top one when their 37th overall selection comes around, early in the second round. According to my most recent mock draft, with most of the top offensive line talent being wiped out before the end of the first round, that puts Iowa center James Daniels – the last “elite” offensive lineman in the draft – squarely in play for the Jets, who would have him join their starting unit from day one at center.
With the 49th overall selection, Kerryon Johnson – running back out of Auburn – would be a terrific pick for the Jets. While there are many mixed opinions on the order of this running back class, some consider Johnson the second best back overall, behind only Saquon Barkley, making him an excellent value for New York in what will almost be the third round at 49th overall. In terms of the type of player, Johnson is built in the mold of a modern feature back, a la Le’Veon Bell or DeMarco Murray. What I mean by that is that he sports a leaner, languid build, with weight being distributed more from top than bottom. He’s a patient strider until he sees daylight, when he then becomes one of the toughest runners to take down that I can ever remember scouting.
The second and third rounds are what many consider to be the “sweet spot” of this very deep wide receiver class, so if the Jets want to grab one, 72nd overall – early in the third – is going to be their last shot really. While they have developmental talent there and largely overproduced at the position last year, Robbie Anderson’s recent off-field issues raise major question marks for their wide receiver group as a whole going forward. To replace Anderson’s down the field threat – at least for the few games that he will be suspended for next season – James Washington out of Oklahoma State first comes to mind. While he’s not the biggest or the most polished route runner, no one in this draft saw more downfield production in their collegiate career than Washington. He’s a guy who plays much bigger than his profile and he will have a shot to be the number one guy coming out of camp, based on talent alone. He should provide excellent value early in the third to say the least.
Rounding out the rest of their draft, the Jets need to address the other side of the ball. Iowa’s Josey Jewell – a linebacker built in the mold of Sean Lee – immediately comes to mind in the fourth round, as does Western Michigan’s Darius Phillips, who could serve as an immediate upgrade over the oft penalized and likely-to-be-cut Buster Skrine at the nickel position. In hopes of replacing Muhammad Wilkerson – another player sure to be on the chopping block this offseason – Nathan Shepard out of Fort Hays St. – a plus traits player, built to play the five-technique in this Jets 3-4 defense – could be in play somewhere towards the fifth or sixth rounds. Finally, Joe Ostman from Central Michigan – an odd looking edge rusher who led the nation in 2017 with more than 1.25 sacks per game – could end up being a steal for the Jets, provided they can get him in either the sixth or seventh round.
| Miami Dolphins |
| 2017 Record: 6-10 | 2018 Draft Picks: 11, 42, 73, 107,128, 169, 197, 203, 221 | Needs: QB, LB, WR, CB, OL, DE, RB |
The Dolphins 2017 season began and ended in disappointment, as injuries at the most important positions – quarterback being one of them – derailed their chances at the playoffs. With five picks inside the top-150 for this upcoming draft, they have the opportunity to not only add impact players at an assortment of positions, but also they can build their depth to prevent injury woes from crippling their playoff chances again.
While I see quarterback as chief amongst the Dolphins needs entering the 2018 offseason, I instead mocked them linebacker Tremaine Edmunds out of Virginia Tech. Now, while I may have just delivered that news with a negative connotation, don’t get it twisted, Edmunds is an incredibly talented, do-it-all, linebacker, who may be the most physically gifted player in the entire draft. Unfortunately though, the selection of Edmunds largely takes them out of the quarterback sweepstakes for this draft season, unless of course either of Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson falls to the back end of the first round. If that were the case, I could see the Dolphins packaging a few of their several other top-150 selections to move back into the first to get their QB. In my mock, that is not exactly the scenario that plays out however…
Whiffing at quarterback, the Dolphins should focus their attention elsewhere for their subsequent selections. As I said with the Jets, due to the overall lack of depth in this offensive line class those selections are going to be pushed to the premium rounds. Even if that weren’t the case though, the Dolphins would still like to use an early selection on an offensive lineman in hopes of upgrading their 29th rated rush unit and a pass protecting (or lack thereof) unit that saw two quarterbacks seriously injured on their watch. One name that keeps sticking out to me as a potential offensive line upgrade is Martinas Rankin out of Mississippi State – a career tackle, who is best suited to kick inside to guard or even center at the NFL level. Right off the bat, Rankin would offer the Dolphins’ battered offensive line some versatility at all five positions, while he could compete for the starting right guard spot right out of camp. He would be my pick for Miami at 42.
As I mentioned before when speaking about the Jets, the “sweet spot” for this talented jumble of wide receivers will be in the second and third rounds. However, after taking the lineman that best fits what Miami is looking for, but maybe not necessarily the most talented one, I expect them to do the same with their selection wide receiver position, which leads me to believe they can wait an extra round for their guy (more on that later). Instead, in the third round the Dolphins can focus their attention to their next biggest need, cornerback… While Miami has talent at the cornerback position, it’s still a unit that could benefit from added depth and potential. Out of the many talented corners in this draft, you could argue that LSU’s Donte Jackson has more potential than any of them. He’s feather light on his feet laterally and lightning quick down the field; many even expect him to give John Ross’ new 40-time record a “run” for its money at the NFL Combine this year. Outside of physical traits, on the field Jackson has received favorable comparisons to longtime NFL starters in Leodis McKelvin and Terence Newman. The book on him is that he may need to add some weight to his incredibly slight frame (just 175 lbs.) and that he still may need some fine tuning in terms of understanding route concepts and combinations. Overall though, considering his elite physical gifts, he will be considered a potential steal in the third round, especially considering he won’t be asked to start right away in the Dolphins young and talented defensive back room.
The fourth round is where I expect the Dolphins to get some serious value at the wide receiver position, and it’s mainly because of the type of player they will be looking for rather than just a guy with a prototype build… It’s no secret that Jarvis Landry could very well be on his way out the door via free agency, and losing him would mean losing arguably the most productive slot receiver in the game over the last five years or so. While not an apples to apples replacement, Penn State’s Daesean Hamilton is a guy who could go overlooked because of his lack of versatility to play outside of the slot position. Luckily for Miami, that is the exact position that they will be looking for, and in Hamilton they will be getting a good one. He finished his career as Penn State’s all-time leading receiver, and while he maybe isn’t blessed with the physical gifts of say Calvin Ridley – the consensus number one receiver in this class – Hamilton’s tape shows evidence of perhaps this class’ best and most decisive route runner. Like Landry, Hamilton wins with attention to detail in and out of his breaks, which helps him get tons of separation from opposing corners.
Moving onto the rest of the draft and the Dolphins still have needs at running back, defensive end, and backup quarterback. Expect them to consider names like Miami’s Chad Thomas, an edge defender in the middle rounds, Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, a quarterback and the Senior Bowl MVP in the mid-to-late rounds, and Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage, a bulky, dual-threat, running back in the later rounds.
| Buffalo Bills |
| 2017 Record: 9-7 | 2018 Draft Picks: 21, 22, 53, 55, 96, 117, 149, 189, 208 | Needs: QB, C, LB, DL, CB, WR, RB |
After a major pro sports record playoff drought of 17 years, the Bills finally made the big dance in 2017. While that may be nice, a 9-7 record is still one that can definitely be improved upon. Beyond general roster upgrades, the Bills also have several questions to be answered at major positions going forward – quarterback being chief amongst them.
Despite the fact that the quarterback position will be looming large in their priorities this offseason, I still don’t have the Bills taking one with either of their back-to-back first round picks. The reason being is because I don’t see any first round caliber signal callers falling down to the 20 range. I made it clear in my first mock that trades were not considered just yet because it is a bit premature to do so with free agency and the combine still yet to happen, but when the dust settles, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if the Bills packaged several picks to go up and get their guy in this draft. Having said that, for now I have them using their two first rounders on a center replacement for the now retired Eric Wood and a raw and toolsy edge rusher. For those keeping score at home, Ohio State center Billy Price and UTSA edge defender Marcus Davenport are their names.
Onto the second and the Bills once again have two selections. This is where things can be fun for the Bills front office because they can not only fill their needs, but they get to do so with high potential and ready-to-play guys. With both of the two selections, I expect them to focus on adding the best player available based on their needs. While that sounds rather obvious, it’s not exactly the case for all teams when drafting that high. With the way my theoretical draft board is playing out so far, I first expect that the Bills will be in play for Boise State linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch, a prototype for all three linebacker positions, built in the mold reminiscent of Rolando McClain. With their second, second-rounder, I expect the Bills to pull the trigger on a quarterback. Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State is the name here, and while I believe that he’s more worth a late third round pick, the rule with quarterbacks is that they are really worth at least one round earlier than you rank them. That puts Rudolph in play here for Buffalo, a guy who other draft pundits have connected them to quite a bit so far early on in this draft process. He’s not exactly the best prospects, but he had a decorated collegiate career and can certainly be considered more talented than Nathan Peterman, which may be his only competition entering camp next season.
The third round is a good opportunity for the Bills to grab a wide receiver, because as I have said time and again already, the wide receiver position really starts to run dry after that range. In Deon Cain out of Clemson, the Bills get the perfect guy to play opposite the big-bodied Kelvin Benjamin, and on the outside of shifty, high-volume target, Zay Jones. Cain’s skill set features a refined route tree, solid hands, and over-the-top ability. He should be the perfect WR2 for Buffalo going forward.
In the fourth the Bills finally get their guy at defensive tackle, and at a really good value at that, as Florida State’s Derrick Nnadi is not only an incredibly high motor player who can handle the shade 1-tech spot in Buffalo’s 4-3 defense, but he’s also a guy who is an underrated pass rusher, as he racked up a whopping 33 sacks in just two seasons as a high school player.
Their final three picks should see attention towards corner, offensive line, and running back. Here are three guys I like in the later round range for Buffalo… Darrel Williams, running back out of LSU – a guy who was buried behind Derrius Guice and Leonard Fournette for the last three years, but is well built (6-foot-1, 230 lbs.) and is a serious dual-threat out of the backfield as a runner and a receiver. Michael Joseph a massive corner out of little known D-III Dubuque. Joseph is a whopping 6-foot-6 and reportedly can run with anyone. His main issue is that he struggles in press man situations, but in coach Sean McDermott’s mainly zone scheme, Joseph has a chance to flourish if developed properly. And finally Alex Cappa – a tackle and another small school guy (Humboldt State) who should add depth to the Bills depleted offensive line.
| New England Patriots |
| 2017 Record: 13-3 | 2018 Draft Picks: 31, 43, 63, 95, 159, 191 | Needs: CB, Edge, QB, OL, LB, SS |
2017 was yet another excellent season from the Patriots, however a Super Bowl loss leaves a sour taste in their mouth. Like the Yankees in baseball, the fact that New England didn’t finish the job means that 2017 was a failure. With big losses to both coordinator positions, undoubtedly along with it will mean a new look in the personnel department. The Patriots chances to improve their roster may be limited this draft season, as they only possess six picks in seven rounds, however that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. If there is anyone who knows how to maximize value for his selections, it’s coach Belichick.
Often picking at the end of the first round, the Patriots are never benefited with the opportunity to draft a true first round talent, however according to my first mock draft, this season they will be getting one in Colorado cornerback Isaiah Oliver. Oliver’s tape shows a guy – while not exactly ready to start in the NFL – who possesses high-level skills and potential; and could eventually turn into an elite shutdown corner due to his combination of size, speed, length, and athleticism.
After the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, one that the Pats may now be regretting, they received the consolation prize of being able to pick twice in the draft. Considering the Super Bowl caliber roster’s general lack of dire needs, the Patriots are also benefited with the ability to draft BPA after taking the cornerback early on. So far, with the way my theoretical draft has been unfolding, the second round seems like a good time to take an offensive lineman. Ohio State’s Jamarco Jones is a logical selection at 43, as he may be asked to step in as a day one starter to protect Tom Brady’s blind side, provided Nate Soldier walks in free agency. With their second, second-rounder, the Patriots will look to upgrade their hybrid safety/linebacker position that has been manned by Patrick Chung for the last few years. In West Virginia’s Kyzir White the Patriots would be getting a downhill thumper, who also can excel as a cover man close to the line of scrimmage. He would solve a lot of issues in nickel and dime situations.
As I said earlier, Jimmy G is gone and therefore the Patriots have a hole in their backup quarterback department. And let’s face it, Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger either, so picking his successor is going to be something that they try to do in almost every draft from here on out. Washington State’s Luke Falk is really all there is left at the quarterback position in this draft, but with that being said, I see some traits in him that may translate well to what the Patriots are trying to do. He’s well built at 6-foot-4, 225 lbs. – Tom Brady’s exact height and weight, ironically enough – while he features good pocket mechanics, an above-average arm, and an ability to go through his progressions quickly and efficiently. While he’s a long shot to turn into much, at worst he’ll be a solid backup for Brady in the short and long term.
In the fourth, the Patriots get a steal, as Florida State edge rusher Josh Sweat – a player who has top-50 potential – will likely fall into day three due to long-term knee concerns. While undersized and owning a spotty medical record, Sweat projects as a toolsy edge player, who can win with both speed and his hands at the point of attack.
A team captain, a vocal leader, a special teams contributor, and most importantly, a downhill tackling machine at linebacker, Tegray Scales may be just what the doctor ordered for Bill Belichick to fill his gaping void at inside linebacker. The fifth round seems like a reasonable range to take a player of Scales caliber, as he is all of those great superlatives above, but still a limited athlete.
Beyond that, the Patriots can use their final pick on anyone who tickles their fancy. A true BPA pick late in the draft is typically reserved for a player who fell for off the field reasons, injury reasons, and/or lack of production reasons. A name that comes to mind is Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who reminds one of Odell Beckham with devastating speed, quickness, and footwork, however his well documented off the field issues may see him go undrafted.