During the month of August, the Last Word on Sports NFL department will be breaking down every division in the league by position. This article contains a position-by-positions breakdown of the AFC East Defenses. The breakdown will contain “the best” at each unit followed by “the rest” in descending order.
2021 AFC East Breakdown by Position: Defense
The Best: New York Jets
Defense is where things get interesting in the AFC East because all of them have their area of expertise. For the New York Jets, it is stopping the run. For the past decade, they have been regulars in the top 10, and there is no reason to think they wouldn’t finish up there again in 2021. Quinnen Williams is ready for his year three breakout. Folorunso Fatukasi is one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the league. Oh, and they just added Sheldon Rankins into the fold.
The Rest: Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots
As for the rest of the division, they are hoping for better play from the defensive line in 2021. The Miami Dolphins have a promising duo in Raekwon Davis and Christian Wilkins. The Buffalo Bills didn’t see a year two jump from Ed Oliver. If anything, he took a massive step back. For the New England Patriots, they simply need to sure things up along the front. Hopefully, Bill Belichick can get a productive year from Lawrence Guy, and rookie Christian Barmore can contribute out of the gate.
The Best: Buffalo Bills
There is no question that the edge rusher is the weakest position group in the division. Yet, the Bills claim the top spot based on potential. As things stand, they have no proven threat outside of the aging Jerry Hughes. But it is the upside of A.J. Epenesa, as well as rookies Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr. that give the Bills the nod.
The Rest: Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
Nonetheless, it is in Miami where last year’s top rusher resides. Emmanuel Ogbah, who was a bust with the Cleveland Browns, racked up nine sacks in his first year as a Dolphin. Had it not been for Carl Lawson’s torn Achilles, the Jets would have a case for the top spot. Nevertheless, they fall behind the Patriots because of their lack of experience.
The Best: New England Patriots
People forget just how good the Patriots linebackers always are. Dont’a Hightower is back after sitting out last season due to toCOVID-19 concerns. Kyle Van Noy returns after spending some time away from the Patriot way, and Matt Judon joins the team via free agency. That is a fantastic trio that can play every down in Belichick’s defense.
The Rest: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins New York Jets
Do not forget about the Bills linebacker trio either. Tremaine Edmunds has made back-to-back Pro Bowls, Matt Milano signed an extension, and A.J. Klein holds his own too. Down in Miami, the newly acquired Benardrick McKinney has quietly been one of the more productive linebackers since entering the league in 2015. And of course, the Jets will see the return of a healthy and slimmer C.J. Mosley, after playing just two games in two years for the team.
The Best: Miami Dolphins
What is the best position in the AFC East? Look no further than cornerback, where three of the game’s best play in the division. Luckily for the Dolphins, the Xavien Howard contract saga is over. Now, he will look to replicate the 10-interception season he had in 2020. Opposite of him is Byron Jones, who is also one of the better cornerbacks in the league. Not to mention year two for 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene.
The Rest: New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets
Up in New England, Belichick is still producing elite cornerbacks. Stephon Gilmore leads the way, with J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and Jalen Mills behind him. As many questions there are around the Patriots entering 2021, cornerback is not one of them. The same goes for the Bills, who with Tre’Davious White on one end have a solid unit too. Once again, the Jets find themselves at the bottom, thanks to inexperience. Starters Bryce Hall and Blessuan Austin have had their moments, but only combine for 17 career starts.
The Best: Buffalo Bills
At safety, the Bills once again claim the top spot. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have been the heart of the team’s defense for years now and deserve more credit. Both have been as consistent as they come, with only three missed starts combined since signing with the team in 2017.
The Rest: New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots
The best safety in the division though plays for the New York Jets though, and his name is Marcus Maye. In his first year as their top safety, Maye posted career-highs in multiple categories and is going to be hungry in 2021 playing on the franchise tag. The safety room in Miami is one to watch moving forward. They have a solid starting duo in Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty, but their young backups Brandon Jones and Jevon Holland are the future. Both were day two picks who could take the starting jobs by the season’s end. Belichick is going to have a similar decision to make, as Kyle Dugger should join Devin McCourty in the starting lineup sooner than later. Dugger was a playmaker as a rookie and could take Adrian Phillips’ strong safety gig any day now.
Check out the 2021 AFC East Breakdown by Position: Offense.
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