2014 NFL Draft: Breaking Down the AFC East Post-Draft

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IMay 12, 2014

The New York Jets added Louisville safety Calvin Pryor (above) to their roster, but was their draft class enough to surpass the New England Patriots in the AFC East?
The New York Jets added Louisville safety Calvin Pryor (above) to their roster, but was their draft class enough to surpass the New England Patriots in the AFC East?Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

Did anyone get closer to catching the New England Patriots, or are Tom Brady and Bill Belichick still kings of the throne in the AFC East?

That's the question everyone in New York, Buffalo, Miami and Foxborough is asking themselves in the days following the 2014 NFL draft.

Indeed, the Patriots seemed to take the long approach to the draft, selecting players who will contribute in two or three years rather than players who will be expected to get the team over the hump immediately.

That seems to have opened the door for the Patriots' division rivals to inch closer and closer to unseating the division champions of the past five years. 

Let's take a look at where the teams all rank now that the draft is in the books.

4. Buffalo Bills

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The team that made the biggest splash in the draft also put themselves in a precarious position for the future in order to do so. There's no question that wide receiver Sammy Watkins makes the Bills a better football team, but the Bills made themselves a bit worse the very next day by trading star receiver Stevie Johnson to the San Francisco 49ers.

The Bills selected three offensive linemen, but all of them have major question marks. Offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) faces concerns about the health of his knee, guard Cyril Richardson (Baylor) about his conditioning at 329 pounds and Seantrel Henderson (Miami) about several off-field issues, including a failed drug test at the scouting combine and some drug-related suspensions.

From a talent standpoint, Kouandjio is the only one who looks like a true day-one starter (Richardson could be forced into starting duty due to a lack of depth at guard), and with so much importance on the running game in Buffalo, they will be thrown to the wolves if they are asked to start immediately.

With major question marks still surrounding last year's first-round pick, quarterback EJ Manuel, the Bills mortgaged the future and a potential opportunity to draft another quarterback if Manuel fails to improve. With a new ownership group soon to take over, general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone may not be around to bear the fruits of their all-in trade.

3. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins finished their rebuild on the offensive line by reaching for right tackle Ja'Wuan James with the 18th overall pick and grabbing a small-school project in tackle/guard Billy Turner in the third round. James is a solid one-on-one pass-protector, which is why Joe Philbin liked him as a first-round pick. Turner has the physical tools to develop into a starter. But both picks are risky.

LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry was worth the second-round choice, but it's fair to wonder how much he'll see the field as a rookie in a loaded wide receiver group that features Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Rishard Matthews. The Dolphins made nice picks from rounds four through seven to round out their depth chart, and Jordan Tripp could become an important name in a year or two.

The Dolphins' small-school approach (two picks from the Big South, one from Big Sky, one from Pioneer, one from Missouri Valley) leaves question marks as to whether these players will be ready for the elite competition of the NFL as rookies.

Either way, quarterback Ryan Tannehill is probably a huge fan of this draft with a new weapon at his disposal and two new offensive linemen to keep him upright after absorbing a league-high 58 sacks in 2013. The rebuilt offensive line needs to come together quickly if the Dolphins are going to make a push for a playoff spot.

2. New York Jets

Of all four AFC East teams, the Jets did the most to help themselves for 2014. They got a hard-hitting, in-the-box strong safety in Calvin Pryor who will start from Week 1 and who will provide stability at a position that's been a sea of change for the Jets in recent years. 

Their woeful passing game should take a step forward as well. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro is more of a pure pass-catcher than an in-line blocking tight end, but he'll provide a new wrinkle for their offense. Their depth chart at wide receiver was scary, and although it may seem like overkill to use three picks on receivers, the Jets made the right choice by creating a competitive situation at receiver that could bring the best out of everyone.

One person who it will certainly bring the best out of is quarterback Geno Smith, who is bound to have at least one or two new weapons at his disposal. Much like with the Bills, though, this situation is all about the progress made by Smith as a passer (although the Jets' backup plan is decidedly better than the Bills'). 

Trevor Reilly may never be a "complete" outside linebacker in the Jets' 3-4, but he could instantly boost their pass rush in sub packages (five or more defensive backs on the field). Overall, the Jets made a lot of smart picks that could contribute to their roster this year and down the line. It's impossible to say they're in the driver's seat in the division without knowing for sure how much (if any) progress Smith has made this offseason.

1. New England Patriots

It's possible that none of the Patriots' 2014 draft picks will be Week 1 starters. Some may not even get a chance to contribute until at least their second year. Guard Jon Halapio and center Bryan Stork will compete with Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell, respectively, for starting jobs, but Cameron Fleming will likely compete with Marcus Cannon to be the Patriots' top backup at offensive tackle. 

Cornerback Jemea Thomas could find some playing time in nickel and dime packages. He is versatile enough to contribute as either a safety or cornerback in those situations, but with one of the deepest secondaries in recent Patriots history, he may not get much of an opportunity even when the team trots out five or six defensive backs. 

The hidden gem of the draft could be defensive end Zach Moore, who is a bit of a project but has all the physical tools defensive coaches like to see. The 6'5", 269-pound physical freak figures to be a defensive end in the Patriots 4-3 with the ability to kick inside on passing downs. He will likely compete with veteran Will Smith for the third spot at defensive end and could be a year or two away from major contributions.

Of course, adding quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the discussion only furthers the point. The Patriots had an opportunity to address a number of more pressing needs, including tight end, running back and wide receiver, but instead went with the eventual replacement for Ryan Mallett—and if he ends up being the future of the franchise, we could be talking about him as the best pick of the draft, period.

The Patriots are still the best team in the division. That being said, the team that was on the doorstep of another trip to the Super Bowl just four months ago began drafting to avoid the precipice of life after Tom Brady. It's fair to ask how much instant progress the Patriots made this weekend. This year's rookie class will surely have some impact, but that impact probably won't be as great as the contributions some other teams in the conference get from their draft picks. 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots correspondent for Boston.com

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