Contrary to the NFC (L)east in 2015, the AFC East ended up being one of the most hotly contested divisions in football last season. Three of the four teams finished with a .500 record or better, while the 6-10 Dolphins finished strong with a Week 17 victory over the division champion Patriots. With free agency mostly wrapped up, teams are now looking toward the draft with the goal of supplanting the Pats – a team who has won the division 13 times in the last 15 years – as champions for the first time since 2008.

Buffalo Bills

2015 Record: 8-8

2016 Draft Picks: 19, 49, 80, 117, 139, 156, 192, 218

The Bills enter the home stretch of draft season in quite a bit of limbo – as is typical of Rex Ryan coached teams – as they finished 2015 with an ultimately mediocre 8-8 record and could not have been more inconsistent along the way. In order to rectify this, a culture change has begun along the defensive front seven. Leading the way was the departure of former All-Pro sack master Mario Williams. While that makes standup edge rusher a huge need for this Buffalo defense, the Bills' lack of a scheme versatile interior defensive lineman has emerged as the No. 1 pressing issue that needs to be addressed in April’s draft.

With the No. 19 pick in the first round, I expect the Bills to specifically be targeting Vernon Butler of Louisiana Tech – an ultra athletic three technique on tape with one of the most urgent first steps in the class. Watch here, as he splits the down zone-blocking action and makes the play in the backfield before anyone knew what happened…


If drafted to Buffalo, Butler would likely line up as a five-technique in base packages, while he could either kick outside to left defensive end on passing downs with a 4-3 nickel sub package, or he could slide inside over the center where his initial burst off the ball would be best utilized. Considering his raw athletic talent and solid football IQ, coach Ryan could do wonders with Butler lined up anywhere in his Multiple-D scheme.

As for the Bills' other draft needs, expect them to target an inside linebacker in the second to fourth round range. Potential fits include: Kentrell Brothers of Missouri and Dominique Alexander of Oklahoma in the second, while Tyler Matakevich of Temple, Nick Vigil of Utah State, and Scooby Wright III of Arizona, all could be potential targets in the third to fourth rounds.

As for Buffalo’s need at edge rusher, they will also look to the middle rounds to fill the void. The two best options will likely be available until the third or fourth rounds, so Bills fans should get to know Kyler Fackrell of Utah State, and Jordan Jenkins of Georgia.

Further down Buffalo’s long draft wish list includes an athletic swing tackle with the ability to compete with underwhelming right tackle Cyrus Koundjio and a late-round change-of-pace running back due to the currently unknown outcome of LeSean McCoy’s offseason legal issues.

Later round tackles to keep in mind here are Charles Toner of Harvard, Fahn Cooper of Ole Miss, and Caleb Beneoch of UCLA. As for the depth running backs in play, the Bills should begin with Daniel Lasco of Cal – who had an unbelievable Combine – Tyler Ervin of San Jose State, Josh Ferguson of Illinois, Keith Marshall of Georgia – who ran the fastest 40 time at the Combine this year, Aaron Green of TCU, and my personal favorite, DeAndre Washington of Texas Tech ­– who is a bowling ball of energy with lightning quick feet.


Miami Dolphins

2015 Record: 6-10

2016 Draft Picks: 13, 42, 73, 107, 147, 186, 227, 231

Newly anointed head coach Adam Gase brings an impressive reputation to Miami, specifically of running some high quality offenses out in Denver over the last few seasons. Ironically, headed into the draft, the thing that he most pressingly needs to improve for the Dolphins is their disappointing defense. They certainly possess some talent on that side of the ball, however, beginning in the middle with Ndamukong Suh. But Suh needs a partner on the defensive line, particularly coming off the edge, to take some of the pressure and attention off of him. Although they lost Olivier Vernon to free agency this offseason, the Dolphins added veteran pass rusher Mario Williams to supplement the loss. I believe this still is not enough to ignite their lacking pass rush, so expect the Dolphins to use the No. 13 pick on Shaq Lawson of Clemson, provided he is still available.

Here, Lawson absolutely manhandles the offensive tackle with his functional strength, excellent hand use, and creative pass rush footwork in order to get past the help blocker. He destroys the quarterback, effectively looking much larger than his listed size of 6-foot-3, 269 lbs. Simply put, he would be an excellent addition to what would become a suddenly imposing Dolphins defensive front.

Other needs for last season’s division bottom dwellers include cornerback, which will almost certainly also be in play with the 13th overall pick, and guard, which is likely addressed in the second or third round, depending how the board plays out. For exercise purposes here, let’s assume that Miami goes with Lawson in the first, making cornerback and guard in play for their next two picks.

With No. 42, Miami should be looking for the best available players at either position. Corners that come to mind here are Kendall Fuller of Virginia Tech, Artie Burns of Miami, and Xavien Howard of Baylor. As for potential guards in play at 42, Vidal Alexander of LSU, and Joshua Garnett of Stanford fit the mold.

Considering the same positions at 72, Conor McGovern of Missouri is a guard they should really have their eye on, while D.J. White of Georgia Tech is an excellent slot corner for them to keep in mind.

Like the Bills, the Dolphins also will be targeting running back depth in the later rounds beginning around the fourth or so. C.J. Prosise of Notre Dame seems like a logical choice in Adam Gase’s one-cut scheme, as he possesses an NFL build, decisiveness as a runner, and breakaway speed.


Other options include Jonathan Williams of Arkansas, Keith Marshall of Georgia, and much later on, Peyton Barber of Auburn.

New England Patriots

2015 Record: 12-4

2016 Draft Picks: 60, 61, 91, 96, 196, 204, 208, 214, 221, 243, 250

The Patriots seemingly never want to remain in the first round anyway, so this year, commissioner Goodell did them a favor and took away New England’s first-round selection due to the “Deflategate” scandal of the 2014 playoffs. Sarcasm aside here, the Pats always seem reluctant to remain in the end of the first round, so possessing two second round picks as their earliest selections is not something  they will be unfamiliar with.

Considering both of their second round picks are so close together, one after the other in fact, expect them to go best player available between two narrowed down positions – wide receiver and running back.

The bigger of the two needs appears to be at wide receiver, as the Patriots lack any semblance of a legitimate outside of the hashes target. At No. 60, I think the best fit for the Patriots will be Michael Thomas of Ohio State, who possesses size, athleticism, and a high ceiling for deliberate and polished footwork.


Considering Thomas’s propensity for hand catching rather than body catching, physicality with the ball in the air, and ability to make people miss after the catch, he could end up being the outside threat that Brady has desperately been searching for since the departure of Randy Moss.

Running back also comes into play for the Pats in the late second round due to the likely loss of LeGarette Blount. While New England seems pretty set with their collection of receiving backs, Blount’s exodus leaves a serious void on earlier downs in the Patriots offense. With the 60th or 61st pick, expect coach Belichick to target Derrick Henry of Alabama, on the off chance that he is still there, but more likely to go after Jordan Howard of Indiana, who almost exactly fits the physical profile of Blount.

On talent alone, Howard is an upper echelon talent in this running back class. His injury concerns might have him slip by some teams, but considering the Pats' shrewd drafting style, expect them to fall in love with what Howard can do on the field when totally healthy.

Considering his similar measurables to Blount, it should come as no surprise the type of power he possesses as a runner. Howard would likely enter New England as the “starting” running back from day one, and handle the early down reps, while Dion Lewis and newly signed Donald Brown would control the third down, furthermore, general passing down situations for this New England offense.

As for the rest of their draft, the Patriots will look to add a couple of depth and competition players along their offensive line, while also targeting Sebastian Vollmer’s eventual replacement at right tackle considering his advanced age of 31. The tall and lean Joe Haeg of North Dakota State seems like a nice fit for them in the third round, as he can become a swing tackle right off the bat and hopefully add enough functional strength to become Vollmer’s replacement in a year or so. Another offensive line option for New England is Spencer Drango of Baylor, as his athletic build gives him the look of a tackle, while his natural instincts for the game give him the skillset of a versatile interior offensive lineman.

As the later rounds approach, in classic Belichick form, New England has so many picks that it would be foolish to try and project where they are going to be trying to upgrade. Basically any position is in play from picks 196 to 250, and their other five selections in between.

New York Jets

2015 Record: 10-6

2016 Draft Picks: 20, 51, 83, 118, 157, 241

The Jets have to be in the most unique position entering the 2016 season considering they are the AFC East squad experiencing the biggest mix of emotions right now. On the one hand, they ushered in a new era of front office and coaching staff regime and managed to take a four win team to 10 in only one season. On the other hand, their team crapped the bed down the stretch and played their way out of an easily obtainable playoff spot in the final weeks of the season. Considering all of this, the draft is one major way they can build upon all of their successes by filling all of the holes that led to their ultimate disappointment.

Possessing the 20th pick in the draft, I think that the best way for Todd Bowles and his Jets to get into the playoffs is by improving the pass rush. This will be no easy task, however, as the Jets' at-times-dominant front seven has been under major fire this entire offseason. First of all, they lost nose tackle extraordinaire, Damon “Snacks” Harrison to the crosstown rival Giants via free agency. They are also reportedly shopping Muhammad Wilkerson due to salary cap concerns, while Sheldon Richardson is a free agent after 2016. At No. 20, the Jets would be wise to target Leonard Floyd out of Georgia – a lanky, yet effective edge rusher.

Considering the Jets' potential exodus of interior line talent, they might be best suited to build up on edge rushers. With Floyd, the youth movement would continue, as he and Mauldin would create a nightmare scenario for offensive coordinators to have to game plan against each week. Mauldin, entering his second year in the league, would bring the more disciplined edge-setting tone and more polished rushing repertoire from one side, while Floyd would come like a bat out of hell from the weak side and likely rip the heads off of some quarterbacks when facing a single blocker.


To go along with this god given, natural, explosive, athletic rage, Floyd can also drop into coverage comfortably and did it often in college. He also has experience playing inside linebacker if needed as well, giving coach Bowles all of the positional flexibility and scheme versatility he needs out of a first round selection. Pair both he and Mauldin up with last year’s first round five-technique, Leonard Williams, and the Jets will be on their way to reloading their defensive line, even if they were to lose both Wilkerson and Richardson to go along with the already departed Harrison.

Despite having a 10-win season in 2015, the Jets will seemingly enter the draft with a myriad of holes on their roster. After acquiring an edge rusher with number 20, the Jets will likely use their remaining five picks on the best players available due to their number of roster voids. Players I like in their range-plus-need formula includes running back Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech, cornerback Artie Burns of Miami, guard Cody Whitehair of Kansas State, defensive tackle Austin Johnson of Penn State, linebacker Blake Martinez of Stanford, offensive tackle Willie Beavers of Western Michigan, and cornerback Harlan Miller of Southeastern Louisiana.

Despite running through a gaping hole, here’s a taste of Dixon’s better than expected in-game speed and violent stiff arm…

And with that the AFC East is wrapped up. Check back in on Sunday evening when I go over the draft needs of the NFC North teams.