NFL Draft 2017 AFC East: Top needs, suggested first round pick for every team

By Frank Cooney, NFLDraftScout.com  |  April 4, 2017 at 3:33 PM
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Bills need WR, DB; unsure at QB

As they prepare for the April 27 start of the 2017 NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills are still hamstrung by their salary cap, but the door kept revolving at One Bills Drive with players coming and going during free agency.

As they target the No. 10 overall pick in the draft, the Bills still have two screaming needs - a legitimate sidekick at wide receiver for Sammy Watkins, and a cornerback.

Head coach Sean McDermott, however, sent up some mixed signals at the league meetings at both positions. He said he believes the No. 2 receiver is already on the roster and that it would be a "fun" competition to watch in the offseason workouts and training camp. And as for cornerback, he sang praises of Kevon Seymour, a 2016 sixth-round pick who impressed him in his film study of the team.

Meanwhile, the most important transaction was retaining quarterback Tyrod Taylor with a restructured contract that makes him a bargain in 2017. Not only is he taking a pay cut, but he is on a one-year prove-it deal because the Bills can escape the contract after 2017 on the cheap.

Otherwise, of the free agents the Bills signed, the biggest commitment is to safety Micah Hyde, who comes over from the Green Bay Packers on a five-year, $30 million contract. He moves into a young Buffalo secondary as the team released its two starters.

Here is a closer look at where the Bills are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.

THE BREAKDOWN

2016 finish: 3rd AFC East (7-9)

STATISTICS

TOTAL OFFENSE: 354.1 (16th)

RUSHING: 164.4 (1st)

PASSING: 189.8 (30th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 357.0 (19th)

RUSHING: 133.1 (26th)

PASSING: 223.9 (6th)

TEAM NEEDS

--1. Wide receiver: After losing Robert Woods (Rams; $34M/5 yrs) and Marquise Goodwin (49ers; $6M/2 yrs), the Bills signed four middling free agents. Head coach Sean McDermott believes there is a starter among them, but that's a tough sell. Sammy Watkins needs help and the Bills should try to upgrade at the position.

--2. Cornerback: At least the Bills added a few new warm bodies at receiver, but cornerback still lacks depth in talent and numbers, adding only cornerback Leonard Johnson (Carolina). McDermott likes 2016 sixth-rounder Kevon Seymour, but he has to prove he is a starter and there is nobody to play nickel.

--3. Quarterback: Tyrod Taylor is back, but if he fails to show tangible progress for a third year, the Bills can get out of his contract extension. Currently, the only backup on the roster is Cardale Jones, a 2016 fourth-rounder, so the Bills need another quarterback from somewhere.

KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 3)

--Retained: LB Lorenzo Alexander, C/G Ryan Groy, LB Ramon Humber, T Jordan Mills, WR/KR Brandon Tate.

--Added: WR Philly Brown (Panthers), WR Jeremy Butler (Chargers), DE Ryan Davis (Cowboys), FB Patrick DiMarco (Falcons), G Vlad Ducasse (Ravens), K Steven Hauschka (Seahawks), WR Andre Holmes (Raiders), S Micah Hyde (Packers), CB Leonard Johnson (Panthers), S Jordan Poyer (Browns), FB Mike Tolbert (Panthers).

--Lost: LB Zach Brown (Redskins), K Dan Carpenter (released), WR Marcus Easley (released), CB Stephon Gilmore (Patriots), WR Marquise Goodwin (49ers), S Corey Graham (released), WR Percy Harvin (retired), WR Justin Hunter (Steelers), QB EJ Manuel (Raiders), LB Lerentee McCray (Jaguars), CB Nickell Robey-Coleman (released), LS Garrison Sanborn (released), S Phillip Thomas (released), S Aaron Williams (released), WR Robert Woods (Rams).

*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 10 overall).

Rob Rang (March 27 mock draft):

--Mike Williams, WR, Clemson. With significant losses to both position groups in recent weeks, this selection is likely to be spent on either a wide receiver or a cornerback. Given the commitment made to re-signed quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the depth at cornerback this year, general manager Doug Whaley may like the idea of pairing the 6-foot-4, 218-pound Williams with his former Clemson teammate Watkins to give Taylor a pair of playmakers on the outside.

Dane Brugler (March 20 mock draft):

--Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan. The Philly Brown signing helps depth, but Sammy Watkins needs a sidekick and Davis offers the size, athleticism and receiving traits to make an immediate impact.

Dolphins could use versatile lineman

As they prepare for the April 27 start of the 2017 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins have put themselves position to go for the BPA (Best Player Available) with their initial selection, 22nd overall.

Among re-signings and acquisitions, the Dolphins have a minimally-acceptable starter at almost every position. That has some mock drafts selecting Western Kentucky guard Forrest Lamp as the Dolphins' first-round pick. Lamp, a left tackle in college, will likely convert to guard in the NFL with the idea he could also play center.

Miami addressed numerous defensive needs, including acquiring inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (Pittsburgh), extending the contract of linebacker Kiko Alonso, restructuring linebacker Koa Misi's contract, re-signing defensive end Andre Branch, signing safety Nate Allen, and trading for defensive end William Hayes (Rams).

That means the Dolphins could put a defensive starting 11 on the field that includes tackles Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips, ends Cameron Wake and Branch, Timmons at middle linebacker with Alonso and, say, Misi, on the outside, cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Maxwell, and safeties Reshad Jones and Nate Allen.

Offensively, the starting 11 could be quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Jay Ajayi, center Mike Pouncey, right guard Jermon Bushrod, left guard Ted Larsen, right tackle Ja'Wuan James, left tackle Laremy Tunsil, tight end Julius Thomas, and wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker.

Here is a closer look at where the Dolphins are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.

THE BREAKDOWN

2016 finish: 2nd AFC East (10-6)

STATISTICS

TOTAL OFFENSE: 332.8 (24th)

RUSHING: 114.0 (9th)

PASSING: 218.8 (26th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 382.6 (29th)

RUSHING: 140.4 (30th)

PASSING: 242.2 (15th)

TEAM NEEDS

--1. Strong-side linebacker: Head coach Adam Gase wasn't specific on the linebacker alignment at the NFL league meetings, but conventional wisdom suggests Lawrence Timmons in the middle and Kiko Alonso on the weak side. That would leave an opening for a strong-side linebacker. Miami has a few candidates among Koa Misi, Spencer Paysinger and Donald Butler, to name a few. But there's a general feeling an upgrade is needed.

--2. Pass rusher/defensive end: This remains a priority. General manager Chris Grier, speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine, said this area would likely be addressed both in free agency and the draft. Look for the Dolphins to acquire such a player in the first three rounds. The group of returnees is led by Cameron Wake and Andre Branch, but among Terrence Fede, William Hayes, Nick Williams and others, more is required to form a reliable rotation.

--3. Guard/center: Although the Dolphins re-signed right guard Jermon Bushrod, acquired Ted Larsen and still have players such as Kraig Urbik and Anthony Steen on the roster, they want to build a long-lasting unit. That was part of the reason they traded veteran left tackle Branden Albert to Jacksonville. Given that logic, it would be reasonable to think the Dolphins might want to upgrade at guard while grooming someone at center because Mike Pouncey (back, hip) has been bothered by injuries recently.

KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 3)

--Retained: DE Andre Branch, G/T Jermon Bushrod, LS John Denney, WR Kenny Stills.

--Added: S Nate Allen (Raiders), TE Anthony Fasano (Titans), DE William Hayes (trade Rams), G/C Ted Larsen (Bears), S T.J.McDonald Rams), TE Julius Thomas (trade Jaguars), LB Lawrence Timmons (Steelers).

--Lost: S Isa Abdul-Quddus (released), T Branden Albert (traded Jaguars), TE Jordan Cameron (retired), CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (released), LB Jelani Jenkins (Raiders), DE Dion Jordan (released), DT Earl Mitchell (released/49ers), TE Dion Sims (Bears), DE Mario Williams (released).

*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 22nd overall).

Rob Rang (March 27 mock draft):

--Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky. Trading away starting left tackle Branden Albert (to Jacksonville) says a lot about the Dolphins' confidence in last year's first-round pick Laremy Tunsil. While Tunsil should have no problem reacclimating to tackle after starring at left guard last season, his absence inside could be an issue. Lamp looks like a plug and play solution after a seamless transition inside to guard at the Senior Bowl.

Dane Brugler (March 27 mock draft):

--Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan. The Dolphins will be looking to add another pass-rush option in the draft and Charlton is an ascending prospect that can be groomed behind Cameron Wake.

SB champ Pats not standing pat

After their amazing comeback to win Super Bowl LI, the New England Patriots kept the pedal to the medal with major transactions as the new season began and the ongoing threat that they are not done yet.

With the future home of cornerback Malcolm Butler in question, they signed Stephon Gilmore (Bills) to the largest free-agent deal in franchise history ($65 million, 5 years) and traded for speedy, young former Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive end Kony Ealy (Panthers).

Cooks cost the 32nd overall pick and a third-round pick to the Saints for the two-time 1,000-yard receiver and a fourth-round pick. Owner Bob Kraft compared Cooks' potential impact to that of former flyer Randy Moss.

The team also re-signed Pro Bowl linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

Meanwhile, Butler and backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo continue to get as much attention, by teams as well as the media. Butler, the former undrafted rookie who made perhaps the biggest defensive play in Super Bowl history, has not signed his restricted free-agent tender and has interest from the Saints, at least.

Garoppolo, whose efficiency was statistically better than that of Tom Brady in his starts last season, is a potential free agent next year and is strong trade bait as teams look at a mediocre class of quarterbacks in the draft. But with Brady 39 years old, the Patriots may not be eager to let go.

One mitigating factor: Trades leave the Patriots with the No. 72 selection as their first pick -- for now.

Here is a closer look at where the Patriots are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft, such as it is.

THE BREAKDOWN

2016 finish: 1st AFC East (14-2)

STATISTICS

TOTAL OFFENSE: 386.3 (4th)

RUSHING: 117.0 (7th)

PASSING: 269.3 (4th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 326.4 (8th)

RUSHING: 88.6 (T3rd)

PASSING: 237.9 (12th)

TEAM NEEDS

--1. Defensive end: The offseason saw Jabaal Sheard (Colts) and Chris Long (Eagles) depart, while Rob Ninkovich continues to age and show a decline in production. New England could look to add another young edge playmaker with potential to pair with developing star Trey Flowers, who had a breakout second half of 2016 capped by an impressive Super Bowl. Many consider edge players one of the deepest groups in this year's draft.

--2. Tackle: With left tackle Nate Solder heading into the final year of his current contract and no logical replacement on the roster, New England could seek tackle depth on draft weekend to protect itself at the position moving forward. After adding to the youth movement on the interior of the line the last few years, the Patriots may need to dig into a tackle class that's not overly impressive.

--3. Tight end/running back: The top of the depth chart at tight end is stocked, but Rob Gronkowski and newcomer Dwayne Allen certainly have injury histories. Adding a developmental No. 3 tight end might be enticing. At running back, the team could very well be in line for a young, big-bodied talent to replace LeGarrette Blount in the committee backfield, joining the likes of versatile newcomer Rex Burkhead and James White/Dion Lewis.

KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 3)

--Retained: DT Alan Branch, FB James Develin, S Duron Harmon, LB Dont'a Hightower.

--Added: TE Dwayne Allen (trade Colts), RB Rex Burkhead (Bengals), WR Brandin Cooks (trade Saints), DE Kony Ealy (trade Panthers), CB Stephon Gilmore (Bills), DE Lawrence Guy (Ravens).

--Lost: TE Martellus Bennett (Packers), DE Chris Long (Eagles), LB Barkevious Mingo (Colts), CB Logan Ryan (Titans), DE/LB Jabaal Sheard (Colts), T Sebastian Vollmer (released).

*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 72 overall, 3rd round).

Rob Rang (Special for this reseet):

--Trey Henderickson, DE, Florida Atlantic. Given their needs up front, an instinctive and relatively pro-ready edge rusher like Hendrickson -- the reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and FAU's all-time leader in sacks (29.5), tackles for loss (41) and forced fumbles (seven) -- could be a target.

Dane Brugler ISpecial for this reset):

--Ryan Anderson, LB, Alabama. Anderson is one of the most intense players in this class and his chameleon style fits whatever scheme Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick want to run in base and sub-packages.

Jets full speed ahead -- to 2018

When the New York Jets gave a contract to quarterback Josh McCown on March 20, it was not a good sign in more ways than one.

McCown has a reputation as a good locker-room guy and is skilled enough to have remained in the league since 2002. But McCown turns 38 years old in July, is 2-20 in his last 22 starts and is 13 seasons removed from the only time he started more than 11 games in a season.

McCown has not been in the recent discussions around the quarterback-needy league -- controversial or otherwise -- that included Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick, Mike Glennon and even Brock Osweiler.

Signing McCown may be seen as the final flourish in an offseason that positions the Jets for a top pick in the 2018 draft. Oh, yes, they pick No. 6 overall in this year's draft.

Before signing McCown, the Jets shed three-fifths of their offensive line - including future Ring of Honor inductee Nick Mangold - as well as future Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and kicker Nick Folk in a spate of transactions that cleared more than $45 million in cap room.

Here is a closer look at where the Jets are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.

THE BREAKDOWN

2016 finish: 4th AFC East (5-11)

STATISTICS

TOTAL OFFENSE: 329.3 (26th)

RUSHING: 112.6 (12th)

PASSING: 216.6 (27th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 342.4 (11th)

RUSHING: 98.8 (11th)

PASSING: 243.6 (17th)

TEAM NEEDS

--1. Offensive line: The Jets probably won't find their much-needed franchise quarterback in this draft, but maybe they can discover one or two guys to protect him. The offensive line is in the midst of a complete overhaul, with only guard James Carpenter remaining from the 2015 season opener. There aren't any can't-miss offensive linemen in the top 10, so don't be surprised if general manager Mike Maccagnan trades down from the No. 6 pick to get his lineman as well as an extra pick.

--2. Cornerback/safety: The Jets used to be loaded at cornerback and empty at safety. Now they're in dire need of help at both positions. If Maccagnan stays at No. 6, he should be able to pick from the likes of cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Marlon Humphrey and Chidobe Awuzie or safeties Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker.

--3. Tight end: There's de-emphasizing a position, and then there's what the Jets did with the tight end under former offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Tight ends caught just 26 passes the last two years. A team with as many needs as the Jets probably can't reach for Alabama tight end O.J. Howard early in the first round, but they'll almost surely add a tight end sooner than later.

KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 3)

--Retained: LT Ben Ijalana, OLB Corey Lemonier, LB Josh Martin, LS Tanner Purdum.

--Added: T Kelvin Beachum (Jaguars), K Chandler Catanzaro (Cardinals), CB Morris Claiborne (Cowboys), C Jonotthan Harrison (Colts), QB Josh McCown (Browns), WR Quinton Patton (49ers), DT Mike Pennel.

--Lost: K Nick Folk (released/Buccaneers), T Breno Giacomini (released), C Nick Mangold (released), WR Brandon Marshall (released/Giants), CB Darrelle Revis (released), RB Khiry Robinson (released), QB Geno Smith (Giants).

*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 6 overall).

Rob Rang (March 27 mock draft):

--O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama. If the Jets indeed plan on entering next year with Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg at quarterback, adding weapons in the passing game is a must. After spectacular performances at the Senior Bowl and Combine, Howard is gaining traction as the top pass-catcher in this draft and a top-10 pick.

Dane Brugler (April 3 mock draft):

-- Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina. In his two drafts as general manager of the Jets, Mike Maccagnan has drafted two quarterbacks in the top four rounds (Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg). But neither should preclude New York from drafting a quarterback high in this class and the Jets have shown interest in Trubisky.

Agree? Disagree? Still shopping for your team?

Based on each team's current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see full mocks at NFLDraftscout.com

--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX team insiders contributed to this article.

Topics: Tyrod Taylor, Aaron Williams, Josh McCown, Percy Harvin, Anthony Fasano, Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall, Randy Moss, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Ryan Anderson, Bill Belichick, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick, Chan Gailey, Geno Smith, Dan Carpenter, James White, LeGarrette Blount, Mario Williams, Martellus Bennett, Mike Williams, Nick Folk, Nick Williams, Brock Osweiler, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, 2017 NFL Draft, P. Diddy, Ryan Tannehill, Sammy Watkins, Frank Cooney, Jay Ajayi, Dane Brugler, Adam Gase, Stephon Gilmore, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jarvis Landry, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Bryce Petty, Morris Claiborne, Kenny Stills, Marshon Lattimore, Branden Albert, Jelani Jenkins, Malik Hooker, Marlon Humphrey, DeVante Parker, Micah Hyde, Dwayne Allen, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Lawrence Timmons, Jamal Adams, Logan Ryan, Kiko Alonso, Matt Patricia, Byron Maxwell, Lorenzo Alexander, Chandler Catanzaro, Zach Brown, Rex Burkhead, Anthony Steen, Mike Glennon, Corey Davis, Cardale Jones, Sean McDermott, Nate Allen, Kony Ealy, Spencer Paysinger, Brandin Cooks, Doug Whaley, Taco Charlton, Kelvin Beachum, Mike Maccagnan, Mike Pouncey, Justin Hunter, Andre Holmes, Jeremy Butler
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