Rex Ryan predictably boasted he would have a tough time believing “somebody had a better draft” than the Buffalo Bills.
Here’s a guess that he didn’t consult anyone affiliated with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who came away with arguably the two best defensive players in the draft in cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack. Cincinnati and Minnesota also have reason to do a little bit of chest-puffing of their own.
But this much seems clear (or at least as clear as any of the countless first-glance assessments of the 2016 NFL Draft can be): it’s hard to imagine any of the Bills’ AFC East counterparts making the same claim as Ryan with a straight face.
It’s fair to say the Bills found at least two, and possibly three, quality rookie starters with their first three picks (Clemson outside linebacker Shaq Lawson, Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, and Ohio State defensive tackle Adolphus Washington). They also just might have come up with a long-term solution at quarterback in Ohio State’s Cardale Jones.
For the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and New York Jets, the draft seemed to leave behind more questions than potential answers.
Here’s a closer look at each of the division’s drafts in alphabetical order:
What to like: They dispensed with the “we-want-the-best-player-available” cliché and went right for their most crying needs. They were all about improving the NFL’s 19th-ranked defense in 2015 with big-school talent that had championship pedigree. Lawson was widely viewed as the best edge rusher in the draft and graded higher than his landing spot at No. 19. Ragland, an old-school player capable of becoming the glue-like force Ryan lacked in the middle, was a first-round-graded player taken in Round Two.
Head-scratchers: Ignoring the offensive line through the entire draft, given the uncertainty at right tackle. Did it really make sense to go with a defensive tackle – and one who had a character flag – rather than an offensive tackle or even a quarterback in the third round?
Bottom line: This was Ryan’s draft, because he knows that his defense is the key to pretty much everything that happens in this sink-or-swim season.
What to like: The potential steal that Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil could be with the 13th overall pick. Of course, that means the off-field concerns that contributed to his fall (highlighted by that bizarre bong-smoking-in-a-gas-mask video that emerged just before the draft) prove unfounded and he plays like the top-overall-rated player he once was.
Head-scratchers: The talk from the Dolphins’ decision-makers that Tunsil could, at least at the beginning, play guard is curious. You don’t use that high of a choice, even one who slid down to you, on a guard. Trading up to the second round to Baylor cornerback Xavier Howard, the model of inconsistency, didn’t seem to make a ton of sense. To select Alabama running back Kenyan Drake in the third round, the Dolphins passed over some seemingly more talented players at the position, such as LSU’s Kenneth Dixon and Utah’s Devontae Booker. And did it really make sense to trade up in the third round to get Rutgers receiver Leonte Carroo?
Bottom line: The Tunsil pick was bold and could very well pay huge dividends, but there isn’t a player in the Dolphins’ draft who provides a high degree of confidence that he’s going to be a big-time contributor.
New England Patriots
What to like: Not a whole lot, considering they didn’t have a first-round pick as part of their #Deflategate punishment. They might have found a decent nickel defensive back/returner in Alabama’s Cyrus Jones and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell of Georgia has good size and runs routes well. With Tom Brady facing a four-game suspension, it made sense to get a quarterback at some point, and they did: Jacoby Brissett of North Carolina State.
Head-scratchers: They traded up for Miami’s fifth-round pick at 147 – in exchange for two sixth-round choices (196 and 204) and a seventh (250) – but rather than use it on a player, they packaged it and a seventh-rounder in a trade with Seattle for the Seahawks’ seventh (Arizona State wide receiver Devin Lucien) and a 2017 fourth-rounder. The Patriots also failed to address a crying need at running back.
Bottom line: They’re the Patriots, so they tend to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to off-beat draft maneuvering.
New York Jets
What to like: First-rounder Darron Lee, from Ohio State, was one of the top-rated linebackers in the draft. He has tremendous speed and athleticism, although at 6-foot-1 and 232 pounds, he is relatively small and larger blockers could make life difficult for him. Third-round pick Jordan Jenkins, and outside linebacker from Georgia, was overshadowed by college teammate Leonard Floyd because he is more scrappy than spectacular. There might be some value picks in North Carolina State cornerback Justin Burris in the fourth round and Clemson wide receiver Charone Peake in the seventh.
Head-scratchers: Using a second-round pick on Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Most teams didn’t have higher than a fourth-round grade on him. He showed terrible inconsistency for the Nittany Lions, and figures to be a long-term project for a team that doesn’t even know its quarterback of the present.
Bottom line: As with his processor, Ryan, Jets coach Todd Bowles believes improving his defense is his shortest path to the postseason. But it’s hard to think that he found enough of it to get him there.
More [BN] Blitz draft coverage
Bills add 14 undrafted free agents by Vic Carucci