Power in the AFC East
By Joe Levit, Patriots Insider
With the exception of the Miami Dolphins last year, the AFC East was a difficult division to face in 2004. The Bills delivered some brutality down the stretch once Willis McGahee began to ring up the rushing yards, and would have made the playoffs if they could have finished off Pittsburgh in their final game. The Jets were literally kicked out of the AFC Championship game when Doug Brien missed two potentially game-winning 40+ yard field goals. This after a year in which running back Curtis Martin logged his best season and won the league rushing title at age 31. And, of course, the Patriots logged their third Super Bowl win in the last three years after introducing the Pittsburgh Steelers to only their second loss of the season.
More than most teams, these AFC East squads selected players based on need during the recent NFL Draft. If the picks pan out, it would not be surprising to see at least two, and possibly three of the teams in the playoffs once again. With a closer look, we'll discuss a few of the key picks each team made, and begin to see what these teams might accomplish in the 2005 season.
New England Patriots
The Patriots were picking last in the first round this year, and ended up selecting someone that not many people were familiar with. At number 32, the team took Logan Mankins from Fresno State, who was originally blocking for David Carr. He'll be guarding against defensive invasion for Tom Brady in the near future. He projects at guard, and his nasty disposition should keep Corey Dillon happy this season. Don't be surprised to see him make an impact for the passing game as well.
In the seventh round, the team drafted two little-known players to develop. Quarterback Matt Cassel has been a backup to Matt Leinart at USC, so he has not had much of an opportunity to show off his wares. On the other hand, he may be another example of a talented QB who was largely outplayed in college (Tom Brady).
The second 7th-rounder is tight end Andy Stokes, from William Penn. He carries the dubious honor of being this year's Mr. Irrelevant, the last player selected in the draft. His selection marks yet another season in which Bill Belichick drafts a TE. Stokes did not require a first-round pick to acquire his services, but he caught 42 passes last year, albeit at the NAIA level. He could soon become a reliable third tight end.
In a surprising pre-draft move, New York jettisoned its first-round pick in the 2005 draft to Oakland in exchange for tight end Doug Jolley. Obviously the team felt that tight end (Anthony Becht) was one component of its offense that could really use upgrading. Jolley should give Chad Pennington a good target over the middle of the field, which may free up Laveranues Coles and Justin McCareins outside or Jerricho Cotchery if he can win the slot job at wideout.
With their first pick, number 47 overall, the Jets took kicker Mike Nugent from Ohio State in the second round. The Jets made what may seem to be a radical selection in large part because they missed the AFC championship game because of kicker shortcomings against the Steelers. Nugent connected on a number of impressive field goals from beyond 50 yards in college, and should close out whatever his offense earns this season.
Third-round selection Sione Pouha won't make anyone forget Jason Ferguson right away at DT, but he was still a solid choice. The Jets may be able to get the ball back on offense more quickly after selecting CB Justin Miller ten spots behind Nugent. Miller can play well in man coverage, and brings the bonus of being an accomplished kick returner.
If for some reason Jolley does not work out at tight end, then perhaps the team can drag out Joel Dreesen instead. This former Colorado State starter was taken in the sixth round.
Cedric Houston, a running back from Tennessee, and Harry Williams, a wideout from Tuskegee, will provide depth for the running back and receiving corps, respectively. Williams was the fourth division two player taken in the draft, and can get deep often but is light overall and may be thin in the mold of Todd Pinkston.
Though the Bills had to wait until the 55th pick in the draft to select a player, they immediately began to grab guys that they feel can help J.P. Losman keep the late-season momentum from 2004 going. Third receiver Josh Reed has been a disappointment for the Bills, so they selected burner Roscoe Parrish from Miami in the second round. Parrish is short, but extremely quick, and tough in the open field, which should mean some decent looks from Losman this year.
Next, the team added a tight end. Because incumbents Mark Campbell and Tim Euhus are not a big receiving threat, rookie Kevin Everett could become an impact player for Buffalo. He isn't an explosive runner, even if - as local legend has it - he beat former Hurricane Kellen Winslow Jr. in a footrace when challenged by the now-Browns player back in college. Despite that, he has good coordination and presents a big target. He still has potential to fulfill since he was only a one-year starter Miami.
In the last round, they selected the other back from Louisville, Lionel Gates. Gates can carry the load in short situations as long as he is not asked to make any special moves. Because Willis McGahee is such a terrific goal-line back, expect Gates to be involved only occasionally as a change of style during drives.
With the second pick in the entire draft, the Dolphins were in a prime spot to take a top player. Good thing for them that they did with Auburn back Ronnie Brown, because they are a team in need of consistent playmakers on both sides of the ball. Brown played a platoon role with Carnell Williams in college, and some considered him a backup, since Williams gained more yards on more carries. Still, Brown presents a wonderful package of proven power and potential. He has good speed and he is not afraid to bull through would-be tacklers. He has outstanding receiving ability for a back, and some scouts thought he was one of the best pass catchers in the draft, period.
With their second-round pick slotted for defense, the Dolphins chose Matt Roth, a highly rated defensive end from Iowa who is relentless in pursuit and puts runners on their backs with abandon. In the right scheme, he could produce a surprising number of sacks because of his spatial awareness and drive.
Miami gained another top prospect in the third round. In Channing Crowder, they got a linebacker who was sometimes projected to be selected at the end of the first round. That is true value for a team that needs an injection of youth at this position. Both of these young defenders may help the Dolphins to some three-and-out sequences, allowing them to get back to the running game with Brown, which will be a good idea this season as the team can't count on Boston to be the threat he once was at wide receiver.
Joe Levit, based in Boston, is a fantasy and pro football columnist for SI.com and thehuddle.com. He is published in many of the industry's top magazines, including Grogan's Fantasy Analyst, The Handbook, Fantasy Football Draftbook, and Tuff Stuff's Fantasy Football Guide. Joe has conducted fantasy analysis on the radio with fantasyasylum.com. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and Fantasy Sports Writers of America, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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