It’s been the same story since 2009 as the New England Patriots won the AFC East again for the eighth straight season. If you factor in that the Patriots also hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in Houston last February, the other three teams in the division have a lot of work to do in order to catch up to New England.
The Miami Dolphins did, however, make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 last season, but they were quickly shown the exit as the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated them 30-12 in the AFC Wild Card Round. The Buffalo Bills finished in third place in the division with a 7-9 record and the New York Jets finished in last place at 5-11.
So what are the biggest draft needs for each team in the AFC East?
New England Patriots (14-2), Super Bowl Champion, AFC East Winner
Unlike some teams that are content on enjoying their championship, the Patriots have reloaded this offseason, on paper anyway. New England traded their 2017 first-round pick (32 overall) and a third-round pick for Saints receiver Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round draft pick. Last season, Cooks caught 78 receptions for 1,173 yards and six touchdowns.
New England also signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $85 million dollar contract. The team did lose tight end Martellus Bennett, but they were able to replace him with former Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen.
The Patriots do not have a pick until No. 72 overall, which is in the third round, so it is hard to figure out which direction they may go. New England still needs an every down running back depending on what happens to LeGarrette Blount. They also could draft help on the defensive line considering this is a talent-rich draft at that spot.
Miami Dolphins (10-6), lost in AFC Wild-Card Round to Pittsburgh Steelers, second in AFC East
Head coach Adam Gase’s first season for the Miami Dolphins was nothing short of a success. The team qualified for the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons and Gase improved the play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
If you look at Miami’s stats in 2016, they didn’t do anything in particular great last season. Their defense was among the worst statistically in the league. While the Dolphins did sign Lawrence Timmons to help upgrade their linebacking corps, the team will likely continue to address their defense in this year’s draft.
If Jabrill Peppers from Michigan is there at No. 22, that could be the direction the Dolphins decide to go. Temple linebacker Haason Reddick could be another target for Miami as the team hasn’t been able to rely on Koa Misi during a 16-game season.
Buffalo Bills (7-9), third place in AFC East
For the fourth time since 2014, the Buffalo Bills made a head coaching change as former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will be in charge of trying to lead the team to their first playoff appearance since 1999. McDermott takes over for Anthony Lynn, who served as the Bills interim coach after Rex Ryan was fired on December 27.
Buffalo will need to address the receiver position after Marquise Goodwin and Robert Woods both left for other teams in free agency. Mike Williams from Clemson or John Ross from Washington could both be targets at pick No. 10. Buffalo could also use help at safety with the likelihood that Aaron Williams has played his last game in the NFL.
New York Jets (5-11), fourth place in AFC East
Last offseason, the New York Jets didn’t want to cave into quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s contract demands. Eventually, the two sides were able to reach an agreement during the start of training camp, but Fitzpatrick was unable to duplicate his individual or the team’s 10-6 season from 2015. Now, Fitzpatrick will not return in 2017 and the Jets appear set on letting Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty compete for the starting quarterback job.
New York also has a lot of other needs including at receiver, offensive line, in the secondary. The Jets really could use a lot of help at any of positions outside of their defensive line, so they should just select the best available player at No.6.
If Leonard Fournette is there at the sixth pick, the Jets need to choose him. While Matt Forte and Bilal Powell are decent options, Fournette could be a game changer offensive as he could help take pressure off of whoever starts at quarterback. New York could also look at cornerback from Ohio State, Marshon Lattimore or LSU safety Jamal Adams, if he is still available.