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AFC East draft review: Grading the hits and risks for Bills' rivals

AFC East draft review: Grading the hits and risks for Bills' rivals

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The Buffalo Bills’ AFC East rivals loaded up on prime picks in the 2021 NFL draft.

Miami took four players in the top 42 and five in the top 81. The New York Jets took three in the top 34, although they didn’t pick again in the top 100. New England picked two in the top 38 and three in the top 100.

The Bills had just one top-50 pick and took three in the top 100.

Read the full story from News Sports Reporter Mark Gaughan

"Our division from free agency, and what already has been added in the first round," Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said, "it's going to be really tough. We knew it would be, but that's what makes it fun. And we've got to do our job to continue to find players to offset what they've done.”

Here’s a review of how the Buffalo Bills’ competition fared in the draft:

Miami Dolphins

Key pick: The Dolphins’ pass offense wasn’t explosive last year. The addition of Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle, the sixth overall pick, will help. Second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa won’t have any excuses this year about the weaponry at his disposal.

Upgrade: University of Miami edge rusher Jaelan Phillips, taken 18th, should help improve a Dolphins pass defense that ranked 23rd. The Dolphins got a lot of sacks last year due to heavy blitzing but gave up a ton of passing yards. Phillips could be an immediate upgrade as a pass rusher over the rush men he’s more or less replacing, Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy.

Risk: Phillips has a history of concussions and several other injuries.

Filling holes: Second-round picks went for Oregon safety Jevon Holland (No. 36), Notre Dame right tackle Liam Eichenberg (No. 42), and a third-rounder was made on Boston College tight end Hunter Long (No. 81). Holland and Eichenberg probably will start, and Long can be the No. 2 in two-tight end formations with Mike Gesicki. All three are young and cheap. Whether they’re significantly better than their predecessors is uncertain.

Need: Miami stood pat at running back with last year’s seventh-round pick Myles Gaskin. Whether he and a shuffled offensive line can improve on last year’s No. 22 run ranking will be a question.

Grade: A. Two first-round studs and three useful second-day picks.

New England Patriots

Key pick: Alabama’s cerebral, accurate quarterback, Mac Jones, seemed like a good fit for the Patriots all along. When Bill Belichick nudged Tom Brady out the door and then signed Cam Newton last summer, there was a lot of speculation the Patriots wanted to join the trend toward dual-threat, dynamic quarterbacks. Picking at No. 15, that QB wasn’t an option. Newton re-signed on a backup QB contract. His presence means Jones doesn’t have to start Week 1.

Risk: Jones only has 17 starts and will be throwing to a receiving corps not remotely close to being as good as what he had at Alabama. Will his lack of mobility hold him back?

Upgrade: New England traded away two fourth-round picks to move up eight spots in the second round and take Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore at No. 38. It could be viewed as filling a hole, because the Pats lost quality DT Adam Butler to Miami in free agency. Barmore is viewed as a bit of a boom-or-bust pick due to inconsistency. But he finished the 2020 season strong. The boom scenario is he becomes a disrupter as good as Kansas City monster Chris Jones.

Going to the well: By taking Crimson Tide players 1-2, Belichick now has drafted 13 former Nick Saban players since 2000.

“A lot of Tides up here,” Belichick told Jones by phone, “you’ll fit right in.”

True to form: The Patriots will power up and play physical. They can run a two-tight end attack, and they added power back Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth round. He’s not nifty, but he’s 227 pounds. Good thing for the Bills they drafted two more big, power, edge-setting defensive ends in Greg Rousseau and Carlos Basham.

Filling holes: Third-rounder Ronnie Perkins fills a designated rush role, but he’s not quite as explosive as incumbent Chase Winovich. Fifth-round linebacker Cameron McGrone may have to redshirt in 2021 due to a knee injury.

Grade: B. The top two are good players. Can they go from good to great?

New York Jets

Key pick: The Jets took Brigham Young’s Zach Wilson No. 2 overall. His arm is just as good as that of the man he replaces, Sam Darnold. Wilson had all day to throw and open receivers at BYU. Is he an upgrade over Darnold?

Upgrades: One thing is for sure, Wilson already has better pieces around him than Darnold had. Last year, the Jets added a high-end talent at left tackle in man-mountain Mekhi Becton. Now they added guard Alijah Vera-Tucker at pick No. 14 overall. He’s a safe pick who seems sure to be a quality starter. Then the Jets took electric slot receiver Elijah Moore, who has 4.35 speed, at No. 34 overall.

Risk: The Jets went 2-14 last year and have a lot of holes. They traded away pick Nos. 68 and 86 to move up eight spots and draft Vera-Tucker. That’s two more holes they might have filled. The Jets could have used one of those prime picks on a cornerback, which remains a weak position. That’s an issue with/vs. the Bills and Dolphins’ wide receiver corps.

Filling holes: Fourth-round pick Michael Carter, joins the Jets’ RB committee and fits the team’s new zone running scheme. Safety Hamsah Nasirildeen looks like a good value as a safety prospect in the sixth round.

Grade: B. Three prime players for a team with many needs.

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Bills/NFL writer

Mark Gaughan is in his 37th year at The Buffalo News. He is past president of the Pro Football Writers of America and served as a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for 12 years.

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