As the NFL season enters its third week, let’s take a look at the faces of the AFC East, a division which could be in the midst of a new era as its least successful franchise since 2000 looks to turn a corner and take the league by storm.
Faces of the AFC East
Buffalo Bills: Fred Jackson
In a league that has been beset by a constant negative limelight since the 2014 season began, it’s unfortunate that the feel-good story of the Buffalo Bills hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. Fred Jackson played a huge role in week one’s road upset of the Chicago Bears with a decisive, physical run in overtime where he practically steamrolled safety Chris Conte, setting up a game-winning field goal. The 6’1″ 210 pound running back is an embodiment of the blue-collar underdog spirit that has always been a fabric of the Western New York region. His journey to the NFL is as unlikely as it is inspiring.
Jackson played his college ball at Division III Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and rushed for over 1,700 yards and 29 touchdowns his senior year. Still, very rarely do players from that level garner interest from NFL teams, and he was cut from the Broncos, Bears and Packers after trying out with all three after graduating. He played for the Sioux City Bandits of the United Indoor Football League for two seasons, making $200 a week and having to supplement his income working as a youth counselor. In 2006, he made the Bills practice squad, started his first NFL game in 2007 and in 2009 compiled over 1,000 rushing yards and kickoff return yards, becoming the first player in NFL history to achieve that feat.
Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill came into the NFL as part of a vaunted 2012 quarterback class where Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were the clear-cut first and second picks going into the draft and plenty of teams with a need at the position passed on Russell Wilson three times. The signal caller that Johnny Manziel would eventually succeed at Texas A&M was picked eighth by the Dolphins and thrown to the wolves right off the bat after beating out Matt Moore for the starting job. All things being equal, he acquitted himself pretty well in his rookie season. Not much was expected from Miami with first-year head coach Joe Philbin calling the shots, yet they finished 7-9 and had slim playoff hopes late in the year.
His second season showed marked improvement. He finished 2013 as the league’s tenth best passer in total yards and also threw for 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. After a 24-20 win over the Patriots in week 15, the Dolphins found themselves at 8-6 and in the thick of the AFC playoff race. However, the team would swoon their way out of contention with consecutive losses to Buffalo and the Jets. Still, as Carolina’s Cam Newton has demonstrated, an NFL quarterback’s third season can oftentimes be the sweet spot from a development standpoint.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady
Talk about no-brainer of the century. What can I say about Brady that hasn’t already been broken down by countless pundits for well over a decade? We all know the story by now about him being a sixth round pick, coming in for the injured Drew Bledsoe in his second game of his second year with the team and eventually leading the Patriots to a massive Super Bowl XXXVI upset of the heavily favored St. Louis Rams. What you may not know is that he was taken with New England’s compensatory pick in that round, selections which are made after all 32 teams have made their regular picks. There’s also rumors that Brady wasn’t the only quarterback on the Pats radar, and that someone named Tim Rattay had also impressed their scouts. Can you imagine how different this franchise, considered the dynasty of the 2000s, would’ve looked had they gone with Rattay?
New York Jets: Nick Mangold
Before you go nuts and exclaim, “you’re out of your mind if you have an offensive lineman as the face of an NFL franchise,” hear me out, please. Go to the Jets website and look up Mangold’s profile on the roster and pay special attention to the right of the page. It’s possible that one of the banner ads that appears is one in which he’s pitching a major soft drink. His shoulder length hair and lumberjack beard endears him to the Jets diehards sitting in the nosebleeds and yelling “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!” He’s also an avid cook and once appeared with famed celebrity chef Rachael Ray on a tailgating themed show in 2009.
The Centerville, OH native started for Ohio State at center three years running and was a finalist for numerous awards honoring the nation’s best lineman during his senior year for the Buckeyes. The Jets had two picks in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft and used both to shore up their O-line, picking D’Brickashaw Ferguson fourth and Mangold 29th. In so doing, they became the first franchise since the 1975 Los Angeles Rams to draft two offensive lineman in the first round of the draft. Both have been mainstays in the trenches for Gang Green since. Mangold signed a seven-year, $55 million extension in 2010 and made his fifth Pro Bowl in 2014.
Be sure to look at our Faces of the NFL series from other divisions we’ve covered so far by clicking on the links below.
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