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2021 NFL Draft Review - AFC East

Hello and welcome to the third 2021 installment of my annual NFL Draft Review. You can read the AFC South review here and the NFC South review here.

Every year after the draft, I write a way-too-long review of each team’s draft. The purpose of this draft review is to give predictions for the careers of each team’s drafted players.  The vast majority of 4th-7th round picks don't amount to much, so I stick to the first three rounds.  I’ve watched film of each player I’m commenting on and have over seven years NCAA coaching experience. Draft grades are overly optimistic and unrealistic. Unlike the majority of post-draft coverage out there, I will pick busts. Keep in mind that 19% of all first-round picks bust.

Over the years I've had some impressive hits (like picking both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota to underwhelm) and embarrassing misses (like underestimating Justin Jefferson).  I stick to my process and usually hit on some unpopular predictions.  I enjoy arguing the contrarian opinion, but will only do so when my evaluations allow me to.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy football rankings for 2024 fantasy football drafts:

 

Overview

Each player will receive their career prediction in parentheses following their name. For example, Kyle Pitts (5). Here's how the picks break down:

5 – All-Pro: Starter who has performed at an elite level at his position.
4 – Above-Average: Starter who has been among the best at his position.
3 – Solid: Starter or valuable back-up with significant positive production.
2 – Replacement Level: Below-average starter or back-up who made minor contributions.
1 – Bust: Player who didn’t amount to anything positive.

Next up, the AFC East.

 

New York Jets

The Adam Gase era is finally over as Jets fans welcome a new day with Robert Saleh leading the way. It was no secret the Jets would take Zach Wilson with the second overall pick, but it was surprising how easy of a decision it seemed to be. Wilson’s range of outcomes is wide, as the former/current middle-schooler has the talent to be a franchise QB but also scary bust risk. Wilson spent his entire life in Utah and now finds himself as the face of the Jets in the Big Apple. The last anointed franchise-saver had his career derailed because he got Mono, possibly from partying in the City.  It is absolutely fair to wonder how the Disney Channel Assassin will handle the bright lights of New York.

On the field, Wilson is extraordinary. “Arm talent” doesn’t just mean arm strength. Wilson’s ability to throw lasers while literally jumping in the air and make all types of throws with the flick of a wrist is truly special.  He’s Mahomes-ian in that regard. Beyond his whippy arm, Wilson’s film showed some toughness, quick processing, and unteachable ball placement. It’s fair to wonder how he’ll deal with his transition to facing off against actual pressure as the BYU OL was simply dominant, giving him an unrealistic pocket all year. He also threw some hospital balls and trusted his arm too much. However, I would much rather have a guy with that type of confidence who can reign it back a bit rather than someone with hesitant or conservative film.

My greatest concern with Wilson before the draft was that he’d be going to a situation with a below-average OL and below-average weapons. It is my philosophy that optimal team building is to build surroundings first, then insert the franchise QB so that his formative years are experienced with success. The alternative is how you get Sam Darnold. Instead of building an offense before Wilson’s arrival, the Jets used this draft to do it concurrently. I truly believe the additions of Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore, and Michael Carter will help Wilson (4) achieve franchise QB status, and that if Joe Douglas instead chose EDGEs and CBs, Wilson would struggle. I’m that high on AVT and Moore.

This Jets draft also underscores a fundamental shift in the philosophy of team-building in the NFL. A random PFF tweet two years ago made me think – someone said that defense doesn’t matter. Of course it does, I thought. But the larger point is that offense might matter more. Even the Patriots who we think of as a modern-day outlier had the best QB and TE of all time, in addition to arguably the best OL coach leading those units.

During the pandemic, they replayed some old Super Bowls.  Do you remember how good Eli Manning’s receiving groups were during both title runs? Or that the Packers-Steelers Super Bowl featured like 10 Pro Bowl WRs total? Even thinking about successful Rex Ryan Jets teams – the defenses were great but that offensive line was nasty. I have not been shy about my thoughts about this top-five QB group. I think Wilson will be good and part of that is because of how the Jets spent their next three picks. You can read my full Prospect Profile with film clips of Wilson here.

Trading up for a guard isn’t typically thought of as a great move, but it’s important to understand the context. Alijah Vera-Tucker (4) was probably the last of the blue-chip prospects remaining and the Jets have a ton of draft capital. Most picks in general are overvalued, so when you can use them as a trade-up to get a premiere talent it’s worth it.

AVT has terrific film and solidifies arguably the best left side in the NFL. Vera-Tucker dominated UCLA DEs and Notre Dame DTs on film, displaying outstanding play strength, especially as a run blocker. He is a natural knee-bender at 6-4, 315, and uses his hands well, re-setting well in pass pro. It looks like he's going to cross his feet at times, but he subtly always seems to get to the right spot. At the end of the day, OL play is about staying in front of people, and he does that well.

The Jets' decision at No. 34 probably came down to Elijah Moore (4) or Javonte Williams. I think they made the right choice and not only because Moore plays a more valuable position. The 5-9, 178-pound playmaker was my 15th overall ranked player in this class.  He has sensational hands and elite play speed and quickness. I predict he develops into one of the premier slot receivers in the NFL. You can read my full Prospect Profile with film clips of Moore here.

The Jets did end up filling their need at RB with Javonte Williams’ teammate Michael Carter (3). Carter was the clear RB5 in a shallow RB class and a great value at the top of the fourth round. He had just one less carry than Williams at North Carolina in 2020, rushing 156 times for 1245 yards and 11 scores. His insane 8.0 yards-per-carry average was better than Williams' also-amazing 7.3. Both RBs were tough to evaluate due to the overwhelming potency of the Tar Heel rushing attack from both a schematic and personnel standpoint.

Carter's best trait is his quickness, confirmed by a 98th percentile agility score on PlayerProfiler. While long speed is not necessarily a huge strength (4.54 40), Carter was more of a big-play threat than Williams and showed some whoa moves in the open field. The issue with Carter is in his translation to the pro game. He doesn't have elite burst, especially considering his lack of ideal size at just 5-8, 208. He's not powerful and his film showed ball security flaws at times. The production is great, but evaluating players is not only about college performance. I don't know how much "NFL stuff" he really does on film.  I was not surprised with his fall to the fourth, but he has an amazing opportunity as the current best back on the Jets.

The Jets finished the draft with literally five DBs, which should make training camp interesting. They also have two firsts and two seconds in next year’s draft. Thanks to Joe D, things are looking up. I also loved Coach Saleh’s pitch to players – we’re trying to win and get you paid as much money as possible. It all comes down to the baby-faced kid from Utah.

 

Miami Dolphins

Last year, I did not like Miami’s draft. This year they drafted one of the most explosive WR prospects ever, arguably the best EDGE in the draft, my No. 1 safety, and an easy plug-and-play RT. The maneuvering from No. 3 to No. 12 and back up to No. 6 may have cost them Pitts or Chase, but I do believe they were targeting Waddle all along. They were missing a slot receiver with explosive traits, while they already have two outside starters.

Jaylen Waddle (4) is coming off a crazy year in which he missed nine games with a fractured ankle only to shockingly return to the National Championship game, where he was so clearly hobbled that NFL players were tweeting about it. His choice to play in that game speaks to his competitiveness and love for football, as it was probably not the best business decision. Medicals will be key with Waddle, as he actually produced just as much, if not more, than DeVonta Smith in the first four games sans Jeudy/Ruggs.

As far as evaluating traits of a healthy Waddle, his film is exciting. The speed pops off the screen, routinely running by defenders on deep routes, double moves, and with the ball in his hands. His tracking and ball skills are also advanced, and his ability to win contested deep balls at just 5-foot-10 speaks to his uncommon twitch and athleticism. In-and-up routes, perfect sail routes, and dominating Auburn for four TD are also highlights. Waddle is special, but it’s fair to wonder how quickly he’ll bounce back to be the same player. If not for injury, he would have likely challenged Chase for WR1 status.

Jaelan Phillips (2) makes Waddle’s injury concerns seem minor in comparison. Phillips transferred from UCLA to Miami and tallied eight sacks in his only year as a Hurricane. He has an unteachable size/power/athleticism mix with natural pop in his hands. Although his pass-rushing repertoire is not yet refined, Phillips has real upside. The Virginia Tech right tackle had no chance against him.

The issue with Phillips is his injury history. The UCLA medical staff actually recommended that he retire from football if he suffered another concussion. Also with two ankle surgeries to his name, Phillips struggled to find his place in other areas before returning to the football field in Miami. The risk here is massive, but if he can stay healthy, he could be an All-Pro at one of the most valuable positions in the NFL.  I hate to predict injury, but this risk is far too great for me to pick a star.

In the second, Miami took one of the most underrated defensive players in the draft in Oregon safety Jevon Holland (4).  Before deep-diving into film, the first step to evaluating a player is projecting if they even fit in the NFL - athletically, competitively, in terms of presence.  A 24-year-old TE who puts up decent stats and plays well but is an average athlete - there’s a chance he simply just doesn’t have what it takes to fit in the exclusive best-of-the-best league.

Jevon Holland’s film screams NFL, and the fact that his traits popped off the screen as a teenager in the Pac-12 makes me even more confident in his ability. Holland is a ball-hawking safety prospect who can run, tackle, and cover. He has NFL size and athleticism at 6-1, 207 with a 4.46 40. He's an urgent, fluid athlete with special teams upside as a returner. In terms of physicality, athleticism, and movement ability, he has Pro Bowl potential. He’s just raw. He made Jonathan Taylor look bad in pass pro in 2019 as a sophomore.

The Dolphins also took one of the easiest evaluations in this class in Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg (3).  Eichenberg is a prototypical pro right tackle. He struggles with speed and doesn't have ideal foot quickness, but everything else about his game translates. Calm and steady with great recognition skills against twists, Eichenberg has good knee bend and mostly mirrors well in pass pro. Quickness from elite pass rushers may give him trouble but he's plug-and-play from day one. I suppose Robert Hunt will move inside to guard.

Finally, the Dolphins took Boston College TE Hunter Long (2) to add to their offense.  Long is slow as anything on the field with no separation or quickness.  But he’s a big body with good ball skills and I’m in favor of adding TEs with mid-to-late picks. Having three who can contribute on the roster is helpful to an OC.

 

Buffalo Bills

The Bills could have taken Javonte Williams at No. 30, but they’ve been one of the most progressive teams in the league in terms of understanding the expected value of run-pass ratio.  They started a game last year with 20 pass plays in a row and I loved every minute of it.  So instead of investing valuable draft capital in the RB position, they doubled down on EDGE, taking two talented but flawed prospects.

I was not a big Gregory Rousseau (3) guy, but Buffalo was probably the absolute best landing spot for him.  Rousseau is arguably the most physically impressive of all the EDGEs in this class, but comes with just one year of elite production at Miami.

Rousseau tallied 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in his only season starting for the Hurricanes in 2019.  He's also 6-7, 265, with plus quickness for a man his size, and natural pop in his hands as a pass rusher.  When his technique is sound, he is able to play his gap in the run game, and use his quickness to beat guards from the inside as a pass rusher.  Rousseau is a classic boom-or-bust raw prospect whose physical traits give him an extremely high ceiling.

On the negative side, his film shows glaring weaknesses in terms of technique, using leverage, and staying balanced and disciplined.  He will need to be coached and developed to succeed at the next level, but you just can't teach the rare mix of size and athleticism he possesses.  Given how successful Sean McDermott’s program in Buffalo has been, I kind of want him to pick him to boom.  I’ll say he settles in as a solid piece, which is still in his range of outcomes.  Situation matters.

In the second round, the Bills went EDGE again with Wake Forest’s Boogie Basham (2).  Basham has somewhat of a high floor as a productive player with good intangibles.  He plays with passion and effort, and his hustle sacks will translate.  The problem is that he really didn’t flash NFL-level traits in terms of rushing on the edge, and will struggle against pro tackles the same way he did in the Clemson film.  Most of his sacks were on inside moves or stunts and I labeled him as possibly a better fit at LE than RE.  He wasn’t very good versus the run, getting washed against double teams.  The Clemson RT had his way with him.  The positives are instincts and balance, and his effort and pursuit will keep him in the league.

In the late third, the Bills took a shot on the enormous Spencer Brown from Northern Iowa.  He has quickness for his size, evidenced by blocking a corner blitz.  His movement skills are fantastic for a 6-8, 311 monster.  However, he doesn’t know what he’s doing yet, lacks functional on-field strength, and lost badly to an inside move.  It’s still a very wise investment to take a chance on a guy with his size and athleticism in the third round, where less than 20% of all picks yield solid-or-better players.

 

New England Patriots

The New England Crimson Tide spent wild in free agency and will take another shot at the for-some-reason-14-team playoffs with Cam Newton under center.  If Cam is actually done, and he could be after last year’s performance, we’ll get an early look at the future of the franchise in Mac Jones.

It’s always tough to rank QBs.  At what point on the QB spectrum is a QB more valuable than say, a Pro Bowl WR?  Surely you’d rather have Josh Allen than DeAndre Hopkins.  But would you rather have Matt Stafford than Davante Adams?  When we’re talking about the third and fourth rounds of the NFL Draft, sure, it’s worth it to take a QB because it’s rare to hit in those rounds anyway.  But part of me wants to either rank QBs in the top 10 of my rankings or not even in the top 50.  I had Mac Jones at No. 18, but why?  It’s just another reason the NFL Draft is so fascinating.  There are mathematical edges to be had.  Maybe Dave Gettelmen’s computer folks have the answers.

In my Prospect Profile of Mac Jones, I likened him to a point guard.  He was instinctive and accurate delivering the ball to his playmakers, and his command of Steve Sarkisian’s offense was commendable.  However, any evaluation of Jones should start with an understanding of Sark’s offense.  It was based on the run game, RPOs, and play-action.  So there’s going to be a learning curve.  The good news is that his anticipation, timing, and internal clock were terrific, and those things translate regardless of the playbook.

The first time I sat down and studied Mac Jones (2) I came away thinking he was clearly overrated and that his lack of an elite arm and athleticism would severely limit him. The more I watched, the more he grew on me, and by the time I wrote his Prospect Profile, I had him in my top 20. For the purpose of this (ridiculous) exercise, I’m going to stick to my initial instincts and predict he struggles and settles in as a career backup. I don’t love his supporting cast in New England and pocket passers just have so little margin for error. I picked Dwayne Haskins to underperform for similar reasons.

In the second, the Pats traded up for a falling Christian Barmore (3). Barmore is a typical, lovable penetrating SEC three-technique who made a lot of his splash plays against guards who won't sniff the NFL. The issue with prospects like Barmore is that when they win with quickness in the SEC, transitioning to facing off against the best college guards and ex-college tackles is difficult. The tape shows strong hands and quickness, but some rough stretches against Notre Dame and Ole Miss, including struggling to get off blocks and stay stout against doubles.

Barmore is talented, and when his first step is right, he's very good, but there are a lot of flaws on film and I don't know if his bullrush translates. The good news is that he's young and coachable and has above-average tools to work with. Landing in New England was the best thing for him, so I’ll pick him to stick as a disruptive DL.

In the third, the Pats took Ronnie Perkins (2), who Daniel Jeremiah was bullish on. Perkins showed well in the Bowl game against Florida. He has a decent power/quickness mix and some pop in his hands. There was a nice shed on the EDGE, and a good bounce-back after getting ridden wide on one play, coming back with a counter move to win inside on the next passing snap.  Perkins has a decent first step, he just needs to refine his hands plan. Explosive, aggressive, urgent, and toolsy is a good mix, but he doesn’t have ideal balance and is a little tight running the arc. They played him as a stand-up spy against the QB so the Pats definitely liked his versatility.  I don’t see 10 sacks a year but he can be a solid piece in New England.

Finally, Bill Riley went back to Oklahoma to get his next LeGarrette Blount. I still don’t understand why they chose Sony Michel to fill that early-down role, especially with Nick Chubb still on the board. Rhamondre Stevenson (2) is powerful and deliberate and put on a show against Florida. At 5-11, 231, he’s a heavy-footed, straight-line power back with limited burst and wiggle. He showed a good stiff arm and spin move along with power but doesn't seem to have the translatable juice of an NFL back. Then again, Jonas Gray once scored four TD in a game for the Patriots, so who knows?

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the other divisions in the coming days.



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Chris Olave - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

The Best Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Tandems for 2024 Drafts

Being successful in your fantasy football league will require drafting players who will be able to score fantasy points consistently every week as well as offer a very high ceiling of potential when it comes to fantasy scoring. The wide receiver position is the one that tends to offer the highest fantasy ceiling in a... Read More


Jahmyr Gibbs - Fantasy Football, Rankings, Draft, Sleeper, DFS, Running Back

NFL Power Rankings: All 32 Teams Ahead of Training Camp

The countdown to the NFL season is on, and with training camps just around the corner, it's the perfect time to look into the ever-evolving world of NFL Power Rankings. As we gear up for another rollercoaster of a season, each team’s potential is meticulously dissected, scrutinized, and ranked. From future champions to underdogs, our... Read More


Terry McLaurin - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

Washington Commanders Fantasy Football Team Preview - QB, RB, WR, TE Outlooks

Welcome to my 2024 fantasy football preview for the Washington Commanders as part of my team-by-team fantasy football outlooks series. This new 32-part series will dissect each NFL team through a fantasy football lens. We'll look at each of the four primary positions -- quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end -- and identify each... Read More


DeAndre Hopkins - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Yardage Regression Candidates - 2024 NFL Sleepers and Busts

The 2023 NFL season featured some impressive performances by wide receivers, but not all of those performances feel sustainable heading into the future. Various factors should lead to various shifts in production. Today, we'll be looking at some wide receivers who had a lot of receiving yards in 2023 and discussing why their 2024 outlook... Read More


Rashee Rice - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL wr, Draft Sleepers

Fantasy Football Outlook: Where to Draft Rashee Rice in Fantasy Football

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice had a promising rookie campaign last year. The young wideout gained steam as the season progressed, and he finished as a key contributor to Kansas City's run to a Super Bowl victory. However, a lot has transpired since February. Between multiple relevant roster moves and a series of... Read More


Jaymyr Gibbs - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS and Betting Picks

2024 Fantasy Football Rankings (Preseason)

      Fantasy Football Rankings by NFL Position ALL - QB - RB - WR - TE - DEF Above you will find all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings, tiers, player news and stats for your 2024 fantasy football leagues. Our Ranking Wizard displays our staff's fantasy football rankings for various league formats, all in one easy place. Here's what you'll find: Fantasy Football... Read More


DeVon Achane - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL DFS Picks, Injury News

Fantasy Football Draft Targets And Avoids - AFC East Breakdowns

Fantasy football draft season is right around the corner. What better way to start your preparation than by looking at some targets and avoids from around the league? That's exactly what we'll aim to do in this article Here, we'll take a look specifically at the AFC East. Which players should you be targeting in... Read More