During the 2021 NFL off-season, the AFC East has been the most entertaining division in the league. After years of playoff misery, one team won the division and fell just shy of a Super Bowl berth. Another team leaped years ahead of their rebuild efforts and looks to take another leap forward into contention in 2021. For one team, only a year after losing arguably the greatest quarterback of all time looks bound to be in playoff contention again. Meanwhile, a team that has been at the bottom of the division for years looks primed to be competitive again this season. Now with the 2021 NFL Draft has come and gone, let’s take a look at the draft grades for the AFC East…
2021 NFL Draft Grades: AFC East
Buffalo Bills: B+
When a team is one game away from the Super Bowl, it means they are right there. They are ready to win it all now – and that is where the Buffalo Bills proved they are during the draft. Two of their issues lied along the line of scrimmage. The team needed young playmakers off the edge to get to the quarterback and depth along the offensive line. In the first two rounds, the Bills went back-to-back on defensive ends in Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham. Rousseau, who opted out of the 2020 season, is a tall, lanky, but raw rusher who can develop while in a rotational role. As for Basham, he brings versatility as he can line up anywhere along the line.
Meanwhile, the Bills spent three of their eight total picks on blockers upfront. Even with Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams under contract, the Bills get long-term contract flexibility thanks to the selections of tackles Spencer Brown and Tommy Doyle. Both are massive project players who can learn behind the current starting duo. The Bills also took Jack Anderson, who is capable of playing guard or center.
In addition to protecting MVP-candidate quarterback Josh Allen, they elected to give him a speedy weapon too. Marquez Stevenson is not a big, bodied receiver, rather one who can help stretch the field. It is also important to note though that Stevenson’s injury history is concerning. Bills also boosted their secondary with safety Damar Hamlin and cornerback Rachad Wildgoose. Hamlin brings immediate depth, whereas Wildgoose can go ‘wild’ from special teams and in the slot.
Overall, even though the Bills took care of their primary needs, they are banking on their ability to develop these prospects.
Miami Dolphins: B+
Remember when people thought the Miami Dolphins could trade second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa because they didn’t have faith in him? Well, during the draft the Dolphins made it very clear that they are team Tagovailoa. Right out of the gate, the Dolphins reunited Tagovailoa with his old Alabama teammate wide receiver Jaylen Waddle – who just happens to be the most explosive receiver in the class. And it did not end there. Miami beefed up their offensive line with Liam Eichenberg, who is capable of starting from day one. As for Larnel Coleman, he provides a swing tackle for the Dolphins. The Dolphins also added some running back depth in Gerrid Doaks and an excellent backup tight end in Hunter Long.
At the same time, the Dolphins added two big pieces on defense. Jaelan Phillips has all the traits needed to become a double-digit sack edge rusher. That is assuming he can stay healthy, as he has a length injury history that includes at one point retiring. The Dolphins also added a playmaker in their secondary with the versatile Jevon Holland. Expect for him to be all over the field with his coverage skills.
In the end, the Dolphins took a couple of chances here, though walk away with a handful of likely early starters.
New England Patriots: A+
After buying in free agency, the New England Patriots continue to be among the biggest winners of the off-season. In the first round, the Patriots take the closest thing to Tom Brady’s pocket passing precision in Alabama’s Mac Jones. He will be able to compete with Cam Newton for the starting job at least. Jones will be a perfect fit if offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels elects to revert back to the offense he ran for Brady.
New England also sought out to give Jones a few new rookies on offense, given they splurged on that side of the football in free agency. Rhamdondre Stevenson is a big brusier who compares to LeGarrette Blount. William Sherman is the traditional Patriots versatile offensive lineman, and Tre Nixon gives another downfield threat.
Nevertheless, Bill Belichick did his best work on the defensive side of the football. Christian Barmore is a phenomenal interior lineman who is an absolute steal in the second round. Ronnie Perkins has ridiculous burst off of the line of scrimmage, and even being a developmental player, Perkins has high upside as a rusher. Cameron McGrone is another steal for the Patriots with starting potential down the road with sideline-to-sideline speed. New England also adds safety depth with Missouri’s Joshuah Bledsoe.
It became clear from the start that New England would have a great draft weekend. Looking back on it now, it already appears to be one of the best, if not the best in the league. New England walks away with the highest of the AFC East draft grades.
New York Jets: A
Players Added: QB Zach Wilson, OG Alijah Vera-Tucker, WR Elijah Moore, RB Michael Carter, S Jamien Sherwood, CB Michael Carter II, CB Jason Pinnock, S Hamsah Nasirildeen, CB Brandin Echols, DT Jonathan Marshall
From BYU to the Big Apple! Zach Wilson is the new starting quarterback of the New York Jets, and they have already done more to support him than they did for Sam Darnold. General manager Joe Douglas was aggressive, trading up for USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, who was the top guard in the draft. Then, with the 34th overall pick, they gave offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur Elijah Moore, who can fill the Deebo Samuel role on LaFleur’s Shanahan-type offense. If things could not get any better for Wilson, the Jets gave him a potential started running back in Michael Carter, who many viewed as a second-round talent, in the fourth round.
Once the Jets took Carter, they pivoted entirely to the defensive side of the football. Head coach Robert Saleh loves his safety/linebacker hybrids, and he got a pair who could take on that role. Jamien Sherwood is a surefire tackler who could fill out to play linebacker, while Nasirildeen is a big-framed safety who compares to Isaiah Simmons. New York also selected two cornerbacks who will be great special teams players in Michael Carter II and Brandin Echols, who also can compete for the slot corner job. There is also Jason Pinnock, who has fantastic ball skills and will be a project outside cornerback. Joe Douglas rounded the class out by giving Saleh another athletic freak in Jonathan Marshall, who can become a solid rotational piece for the Jets.
In the end though for the Jets, their drafting of three cornerbacks who may not make an early impact costs them the top spot out of the AFC East draft grades.