During 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-position AFC East defense breakdown for the 2022 season. This breakdown will contain “the best” at each unit and “the rest” in descending order.
2022 AFC East Defense Breakdown by Position
The Best: Miami Dolphins
The Rest: Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, New England Patriots
The Dolphins have one of the best interior duos of Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler, both of whom performed at a high level in 2021. Wilkins tied for the league lead in tackles among defensive linemen (89, with Pittsburgh’s Cameron Heyward). Third-year nose tackle Raekwon Davis is a run stuffer in the middle at 6’7″, 330 pounds, and his value was really noticed when he missed three games last year. This unit was very strong in the second half of last season.
The Bills should make a run for the top spot after adding Von Miller in the offseason. His veteran presence will help everyone in the front seven. The Bills’ reengineering of its defensive front will be led by the additions of Tim Settle, DaQuan Jones, Shaq Lawson, and Jordan Phillips, four experienced pros who will provide help for run clogger Ed Oliver and friends. The entire Jets defense will benefit from the return of Carl Lawson, who was lost the last pre-season when he tore his Achilles. Quinnen Williams has shown why the Jets drafted him third overall in 2019. The Patriots will still employ beefy bodies Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore to build on a solid first season.
The Best: Buffalo Bills
The Rest: Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, New England Patriots
In a division with solid edge rushers, the Bills jumped to the top of the AFC East defense breakdown in this position with the offseason acquisition of Miller. Their outstanding defense last season did lack a bit in sacking the quarterback. This season, the Bills deploy the edge rusher extraordinaire in their 4-2-5 alignment, which will be a matchup nightmare for opponents. Miller’s presence may allow others who in 2021 had many pressures but may get more sacks in 2022.
The Dolphins help all of their pass rushers by employing a blitz-heavy approach. Emmanuel Ogbah, Melvin Ingram, and Jaelan Phillips form a solid pass-rushing group for the Dolphins. The Jets got edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II late in the first round to help a team that has not had a consistently dominant edge rusher since 2005. Along with Daniel Ekuale and intriguing rookie Sam Roberts, the Patriots must also get production from Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., and Henry Anderson to keep the dual-threat quarterbacks from the AFC East in check.
The Best: Buffalo Bills
The Rest: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets
Former first-round pick Tremaine Edmunds has topped 100 tackles each of his four seasons but has yet to dominate games as many had hoped. Look for the arrival of Miller to have a positive influence on Edmunds. Matt Milano flies to the ball and had 15 tackles for a loss last season. Third-round pick Terrel Bernard has 4.59 speed and the tools to back up Edmunds and Milano.
Matthew Judon is a strong outside threat, while Ja’Whaun Bentley is an old-school thumper on the inside to lead the Patriots’ linebacking corps. They also added Mack Wilson from Cleveland to help out. Keep an eye on veteran Raekwon McMillan, who had an excellent camp in 2021 before a torn ACL ended his season. Elandon Roberts and Jerome Baker are adequate linebackers for the Dolphins. They hope that Georgia’s Channing Tindall will become a solid linebacker to join this corps. The Jets need C.J. Mosely to regain his 2020 form. Hamsah Nasirildeen and Quincy Williams need to bolster their run-stopping skills for this unit to be effective.
The Best: New England Patriots
The Rest: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets
Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, and Jabrill Peppers led a talented safety group for the Patriots. Peppers comes over from the New York Giants after suffering a torn ACL in 2021. McCourty has received two Pro Bowl selections and has the most post-season starts for a defensive player. Drafted in the first round back in 2010, he shows no signs of slowing down. The Bills are just slightly behind the Patriots at this position, led by first-time All-Pro Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde.
The Dolphins like their safeties to blitz quite a bit, starting with Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones. Holland is also a solid ball-hawking free safety. The Jets struggled on defense last season, especially in covering the pass, as the 2021 unit ranked 31st on pass coverage. Lamarcus Joyner returns after tearing his triceps muscle just nine defensive snaps into his Week 1. Joyner’s return should also help Jordan Whitehead be more productive in 2022.
The Best: Buffalo Bills
The Rest: Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
Wrapping up the AFC East defense breakdown is one of the best secondaries in all of football. The Buffalo Bills will be counting on the return of Tre’Davious White, who was lost following a Thanksgiving Day ACL injury. White has 16 interceptions and 60 pass breakups in his young career. Picking up valuable experience while White was out was Dane Jackson, who did not allow a touchdown in six emergency starts. Not wanting to stand pat, the Bills drafted Florida’s Kaiir Elam, whose press coverage skills will allow them to be more aggressive. The Bills play nickel almost exclusively, employing talented Taron Johnson to cover slot receivers.
The Dolphins featured Xavien Howard, the Dolphins’ lone Pro Bowler, in 2021. He has a league-leading 27 interceptions since entering the NFL in 2016. Byron Jones and nickel Nik Needham allow the Dolphins to blitz as often as they do, as they are more than adequate in man coverage. The Patriots will rely on Jalen Mills on the outside, while Jonathan Jones is among the league’s top slot corners. The Jets bolstered their weak 2021 cornerback group by drafting Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner fourth overall and signing D.J. Reed.