Introducing the Next Generation of AFC East Studs
The NFL is a young man's league.
This year's draft class brought the division plenty of new talent that will be making news of their own and lead their team as they develop into legitimate NFL studs.
Some of the names on the list shouldn't surprise as they were top picks. Others are sixth-rounders ready to cement their status as draft steals. Either way, they are ready to contribute and help their team fight for the division title.
Buffalo Bills: Stephon Gilmore
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In a division with cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Vontae Davis and Devin McCourty, it's hard to imagine the AFC East can produce another elite pass defender.
Stephon GIlmore, the 10th overall selection by the Bills in the 2012 NFL draft, is poised to challenge that notion.
The former South Carolina Gamecock showed exceptional speed, running a 4.40 40-yard dash at the combine, and at 6'0" was one of the tallest corners from this draft class. Those concerned about his ability to contribute as a rookie should be reminded he started every game as a true freshman in 2009 and was named a Freshman All-American by CollegeFootballNews.com and Scout.com.
According to a Yahoo! Sports profile of him:
"It is unusual to start a cornerback's scouting report by praising his run defense, but Gilmore stands out in this area. He often played the "force defender" role for the Gamecocks, deterring running backs from trying to run to the weak side of the formation by attacking from the edge on that side of the field. Gilmore reads running plays quickly and attacks them aggressively."
That said, he does have areas to improve in:
"Gilmore's man coverage technique is very raw. His footwork is not great, and he will lose his receiver at the top of the route. When playing off the receiver, he gets caught flat-footed when the receiver breaks."
Gilmore will undoubtedly benefit from the Bills addition of Mario Williams. The accelerated internal clock for opposing quarterbacks will shorten the length of his downfield coverage, limiting opportunities for him to get beat.
Miami Dolphins: Jonathan Martin
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The Miami Dolphins' big draft splash may have appeared to be their selection of QB Ryan Tannehill at eighth overall, but they may have gotten the best value in the second round when they selected Jonathan Martin.
Martin was, in many circles, deemed the third best tackle in the draft behind highly coveted Matt Kalil (4th overall selection) and Riley Reiff (23rd overall selection).
His NFL.com draft profile projected him as a first round pick and noted:
"Martin has prototypical skills for the position. He missed just two games in his career and is extremely tough. He carries his weight well and is one of the most technically sound prospects in the draft. He has a smooth, efficient pass set that allows him to get a solid base and work from a balanced state."
ESPN.com has speculated that Martin is expected to start for the Fins this season. Adding him to a line that already has young talent in Mike Pouncy and Jake Long bodes well for the development of Ryan Tannehill and should improve the unit's lackluster 2011 performance.
New York Jets: Terrance Ganaway
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It would be easy to pick DE Quinton Coples or WR Stephen Hill as the Jets future playmakers from this year's draft. They were both high draft picks with raw talent that projects well onto the pro game.
In selecting Terrance Ganaway, the Jets managed to grab the college football's eighth leading rusher in yards and fifth leading rusher in touchdowns—with the 202nd overall pick in the draft. His college numbers were no doubt padded by sharing the field with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, but those numbers are impressive nonetheless.
Ganaway projects to be a bigger version of Shonn Greene. At the combine, he measured 6'0" 240 pounds, an inch taller and 15 pounds heavier than Greene, and still managed to run a slightly faster 40 time.
With new Offensive Coordinator Tony Sparano, and the franchise's desire to return to ground-and-pound football, Ganaway should get plenty of opportunities to split carries with the incumbent running backs Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight.
New England Patriots: Chandler Jones & Dont'a Hightower
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It's impossible to decide which player was a better pick for the Pats. In the AFC East, the rich get richer.
The New England Patriots moved up to take both of them, and they should both contribute almost immediately.
Albert Breer of NFL.com noted that Bill Belicheck's praise for Hightower thus far is similar to his initial comments on CB Devin McCourty and LB Jerod Mayo, both of whom developed into cornerstones of the Patriots defense. Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson told the Boston Herald:
"This is a big compliment for Nick Saban, but I know what type of teacher he is, being up under him myself. He groomed that young man (Dont'a Hightower) very well."
Based on feedback from minicamp thus far, both Hightower and Jones should start this season, helping improve the bend-not-break Patriots defense of last season.