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Undrafted Expansion Draft – AFC East

After a short hiatus, we are back, and we resume with the AFC East. Home to the Buffalo Bills, the Miami Dolphins, the New England Patriots, and the New York Jets. So question again is who would you save? Do you throw away the veterans to keep the young core? Do you keep all the Vets and go into win now mode? Join us on a journey into the teams, who stays, who goes, we decide.

Buffalo Bills – Chris

2020 Season

This week, I’ve been given the Buffalo Bills to cover! Buffalo have had a solid season, making it to the championship round of the playoffs, ultimately falling short to Super Bowl favourites, the Kansas City Chiefs.

Image Credit – Buffalo Rumblings

Despite the disappointment, much like the Cleveland Browns I covered last week, they have a bright and exciting future ahead of them.

Protected Players

  1. Stefon Diggs
  2. Tre’Davious White
  3. Josh Allen
  4. Tremaine Edmunds
  5. Jordan Poyer
  6. Micah Hyde
  7. Cole Beasley
  8. Dion Dawkins
  9. AJ Espenesa
  10. Devin Singletary

This was a tough one. I’ve left out a few solid players, and I’ve chosen Devin Singletary over Zack Moss, just due to the fact I think he’s got more improvement in him than Moss.

Image Credit – Chicago Tribune

The obvious names of Stefon Diggs and Josh Allen have led the Bills offence this season, and I like the sheer determination of Cole Beasley adds to the explosiveness.

The Bills Mafia finally have a great team in Buffalo. I think the mixture of veteran and youth combines really well, and it’s shown by the side going so far in the playoffs. With a couple more improvements to the team, there’s no reason the Bills can’t repeat the success of 2020 next year.

Offense

Stefon Diggs

Image Credit – The Athletic

Stefon Diggs is quite frankly one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. His attitude sometimes lets him down, and ultimately left Minnesota with no option but to trade him. However Diggs seems a different man in Buffalo and has seemingly got a great relationship with Allen. In 2020, the WR had the most yards, and receptions in the NFL, and is a crucial weapon in the Bills offence.

Josh Allen

Josh Allen is still young and has a lot of learning to do. His poor sportsmanship in the championship game against the Chiefs disappointed me. However there is no doubting his ability. He had a standout season in Buffalo, showing not only his arm strength, but how good he is with his feet. A serious dual threat quarterback, and a great player to lead the franchise.

Cole Beasley

I really like Cole Beasley. I think he’s such an underrated receiver, and often the port of call for Allen when he needs short yardage on a 3rd down. Beasley is excellent at running routes and is a stalwart in the Bills attack. He even played through a broken fibula during the 2020 playoffs run, proving he puts the team ahead of himself.

Dion Dawkins

Image Credit – NFL Mocks

Dawkins has been with the Bills since he was drafted in 2017. He’s been vital to the success of the team, and his teammates agree. They voted him to be a captain in 2019, and 2020. A big man mountain, Dawkins leads to O-Line brilliantly, and even caught a TD pass from Josh Allen in 2019.

Devin Singletary

It was hard to choose between Devin Singletary and Zack Moss. However I just preferred Singletary. He had a solid 2020, even with Moss being drafted to the franchise. With 2 touchdowns, 156 carries, with a total of 687 yards, Singletary only fumbled the ball once throughout the whole season. I think he will carry on being a weapon alongside Moss, and both are crucial to Buffalo.

Defense

Tre’Davious White

Image Credit – Bills Wire – USA Today

Tre’Davious White is a beast. Consistent on the field, he made 3 interceptions and a massive 57 tackles during 2020. White has made it to the Pro Bowl the last two years, and rightly so. He’s only getting better and better, and the future is bright for this first round draft pick.

Tremaine Edmunds

Much like White, Edmunds is improving all the time. Another first round draft pick who’s made it to the last two Pro Bowl’s. He really came to light in 2020 during the game against Seattle Seahawks, where he made a whopping 11 tackles, and sacked quarterback Russell Wilson. Another hugely exciting player for the Bills

Jordan Poyer & Micah Hyde

Image Credit – Democrat and Chronicle

I’m putting Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde together, as they work effortlessly together. Both coming to Buffalo in 2017. Poyer was excellent during his time at my team, the Cleveland Browns, and I was sad to see the back of him. However his partnership with fellow safety Hyde is outstanding. They make the job look easy while patrolling the defence. Another 2 stalwarts in this Bills defence.

AJ Espenesa

I’ve included Espenesa because I think he’s going to be a beast in the not-too-distant future. He’s slowly getting more and more game time and being broken into the team gently. With another preseason under his belt, I think he’ll become a starter for the Bills next year. He managed a sack in his first year in the NFL, bringing down Jared Goff during the game against the LA Rams. The future looks bright for this 6ft 6 giant.

Miami Dolphins – Tom

2020 Season

So, disclaimer here, I am a massive Dolphins fan, therefore I sometimes struggle to find fault in them, but after years of suffering, it ended up being a very nice season. Coach Brian Flores has brought a level of accountability to the team, which they previously seemed to lack, and it is showing on the field. Players are playing for each other and for the team and as a fan it is great to see.

Image Credit – The Phinsider

The Dolphins very much felt like a tale of two teams though, for example, they beat a very good Arizona Cardinals and yet they lost against the Denver Broncos, a team in a Quarterback crisis. This team ended up 10-6 and missed out on the Playoffs because when they lost, every other team on the cusp won. Getting blown out week 17 by the Buffalo Bills spared their playoff blushes.

Honestly, the Dolphins did not feel like a Playoff team this year, they seemed to struggle in some games that should have been easy wins, and of the 4 teams going into the final week needing to win the Dolphins were probably the worst. The Indianapolis Colts, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Cleveland Browns all looked more playoff ready, but the Dolphins definitely have the building blocks in place.

Protected Players

  1. Xavien Howard
  2. Jerome Baker
  3. Tua Tagovailoa
  4. DeVante Parker
  5. Byron Jones
  6. Robert Hunt
  7. Mike Gesicki
  8. Jason Sanders
  9. Kyle Van Noy
  10. Emmanuel Ogbah

The problem here is keeping a balance up, because overwhelmingly the Defense played better than the Offense last year. The Dolphins had some bright sparks from Tagovailoa and Fitzpatrick, the latter of who does not make the list as if I can only save 10, I cannot waste a pick on the backup Quarterback. The problem a lot of the time last year for the Dolphins was they had no run game, and they had a lot of contributor but not really any standout players.

If I were allowed more picks, I would probably be adding more Defensive players as they looked like an elite unit, ready for a serious run. Players like Shaq Lawson and Andrew Van Ginkel miss out purely because I ran out of picks before I could include them. The Offense needs an overhaul, especially if you want your second year Quarterback to succeed.

Image Credit – Dolphins Wire – USA Today

Youth seems to be the order of business in South Beach, and that can be seen by the fact the oldest saved player in the list is the 29-year-old Kyle Van Noy. If they build on what they started this year, the sky is the limit, its time for the Dolphins to take over the AFC East.

Offense

Tua Tagovailoa

The Alabama product is a difficult read, because in spots, he looked dynamic, poised and extremely competitive. However, in the same games he had moments when he looked completely out of his depth. Tua is the future of this Franchise and he looks like he is an offseason away from really showing the NFL what he is made of.

DeVante Parker

The Dolphins clear number 1 Receiver has to make this list, as he is a difference maker on the outside. He has suffered with injuries and is yet to fully realise himself as the true number 1, however when he is off the pitch it is startling how much the Offense regresses. Without question he has the talent, but he needs to stay fit.

Mike Gesicki

Image Credit – PFF

Any young Quarterback needs a safety blanket, and Gesicki is the perfect person to help in Tua’s ascension. An excellent catcher of the ball across the middle, he is not afraid to get involved in a jump and is happy to engage contact to get it. He can also stay in to block which is a real bonus once the Dolphins can sort out their run game.

Robert Hunt

Speaking of sorting out their running game, Robert Hunt, the second-round pick in 2020, is another player on the rise. He played mostly at Right Tackle in his Rookie campaign, however now that the Dolphins have a Left-Handed Quarterback, expect him to make a move over to Left Tackle. He began to show some real promise towards the end of the season, which bodes well for Tua going forward.

Jason Sanders

Image Credit – The Phinsider

I see your Justin Tucker Adam and raise you Jason Sanders. The Kicker was faultless last year and earned himself a 5-year deal in the process for his ice-cold kicking. I have said it a thousand times that Kickers and Punters do not get the respect they deserve, and Sanders is proof of this. A good Kicker can win you games on his own, and Sanders has all the quality to do this.

Defense

Xavien Howard

The uncrowned Defensive Player of the Year was playing with metal balls and magnets in his hand’s year, collecting 10 interceptions in the process. Howard had a career year, making the pro bowl and finding himself practically unplayable all year. He makes this list as the first name and he is quickly showing he is the piece to build around.

Image Credit – NFL.com

Byron Jones

When you play on the opposite side to a player like Xavien Howard, you are forced to step up and Byron Jones absolutely did this. Signed in the offseason from Dallas, Jones came in as the star and with his solid play, helped Howard to truly breakout. When you know your Defensive partner can handle themselves, you can take more risks, and Jones has that quality.

Jerome Baker

A breakout season also happened for Jerome Baker, looking every bit the leader in the middle of that Defense. When you play Middle Linebacker, there is a lot of pressure on your command the team on the field on behalf of the coaches. With his secondary terrifying passers, Baker stepped and led his team into the backfield. He collected 7 sacks this season, including a 23-yard sack of Patrick Mahomes.

Image Credit – Miami Herald

Kyle Van Noy

Sometimes signing a player from division rivals works, and Kyle Van Noy looks be another example of this. A player just about to him their prime and showing how good Edge Rushers can be. Knowing how to get to the Quarterback is key to throw anyone off their rhythm and Van Noy has a map of the backfield, his 6 sacks go some way to showing this, but his 10 tackles for a loss show this even more.

Emmanuel Ogbah

One elite Edge Rushers is good, having two is game changing and Ogbah showed up to contribute alongside his teammates. His team leading 9 sacks demonstrate his ability to chase down the Quarterback. One of the reasons for these final two picks is because having players coming hard from both sides of the lines can change a game in an instant.

New England Patriots – Ant

2020 Season

The 2020 NFL season was an interesting one, to say the least, for the New England Patriots.

Tonnes of opts out followed the news that legendary QB Tom brady was on the move from New England to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.

Image Credit – DraftKings Nation

With questions as to if the Patriots would be going through somewhat of a rebuilding year or if Bill Belichick would be able to work his magic and lead New England back to the postseason yet again, the Patriots ended the 2020 campaign with what ended up being a disappointing year while missing the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

Following the 16-game regular season schedule, New England finished the year with a record of 7-9 overall, finishing third in the AFC East behind the Buffalo Bills (13-3) and Miami Dolphins (10-6), while placing ahead of the New York Jets (2-14) in the standings.

With questions still remaining as to the future of New England and the direction the organization will go in multiple areas, with a particular focus at quarterback, this offseason will be another interesting one for the Patriots.

Protected Players

  1. Stephon Gilmore
  2. Cam Newton
  3. Don’t’a Hightower
  4. Devin McCourty
  5. Chase Winovich
  6. Joe Thuney
  7. Lawrence Guy
  8. Michael Onwenu
  9. Damien Harris
  10. Jakobi Myers

Offense

Cam Newton

It’s not one and done for me with Cam Newton and the New England Patriots. New England was not a team this year ready to have a new QB walking through the door after all these years of having Brady behind centre.  Too many opt outs because of Covid 19 combined with limited weapons on the offensive side of the ball meant Cam was always destined to fail.

Image Credit – Bay News 9

For me I would not be surprised to see them bringing the veteran QB back for the 2021 campaign. He brings a lot from a leadership point of view and let’s remember it was only a few years ago he threw for 35 touchdowns and led the Panthers to the Super Bowl and won the NFL MVP award.

Newton obviously felt the disrespect this season and his cryptic Instagram post underlines why I think you protect this man on the roster.

“Make no mistake about it,” Newton wrote in the post. “I’m coming for everything 2020 took from me. No excuses, no sobbing and definitely no blaming. I need to be better. The revolution has begun.”

Motivation to be better. Newton needs weapons and to understand the offensive system better in NE to give him the platform to show what he can really do! Don’t write this man off yet mark my words!

Joe Thuney

How could I not choose a man that has started all 90 regular season and playoff games over the last five seasons. In Thuney the New England Patriots have one of the best players in his position (Left guard) that the league has to offer.

At 28 years old he has a wealth of experience and a lot of miles left in the tank. He has been a starter from day one and has helped the team win two Super Bowl’s during his time. Like Lawrence Guy who we will get on to next, Thuney is a key player for the Patriots. He is one of the few truly elite talents on a roster in transition and as such certainly worth being kept. 

Michael Onwenu

Rookie Michael Onwenu was listed as a guard at the start of the season but showed absolute flexibility as he was moved all around the line this year with the majority of his snaps coming at right tackle.

Image Credit – CBS Boston – CBS Local

Michael Onwenu is dominant with his run-blocking, earning him one of the highest grades of any tackle in the league this season. His high-level play did not go unnoticed, with Pro Football Focus grading him an 84.3, the third top rated rookie of the season. Some reading huh?

He only allowed 3 sacks and 13 QB disruptions over 16 games and having played 92% of the time. That’s pretty awesome bearing in mind some of the freak athletes he was coming up against on the line of scrimmage.

Watching rookie Michael Onwenu play this season, you would never know he was playing out of position in any game. So, it’s Onwenu’s flexibility that gets him a protected spot on this NE team.

Damien Harris

2020 looks to be Damien Harris breakout season. This is after sitting out nearly all his rookie year (drafted back in 2019) due to injury. It took an injury to Sony Michel for Harris to be given his chance out of the backfield.

Through the 10 games he played in and started, he totalled 137 carries for 691 yards and 2 touchdowns. This placed him at number 11 among all RB’s in the league which is happy reading for any Pat’s fan! Averaging 5 yards per carry Damien Harris proved he can operate in a run-heavy team and continue to move the chains.

I love a running back that can find holes in the oppositions defence on a consistent basis to run through. Also, when you combine that with the fact, he can break tackles and add extra yardage to his runs he will be a real weapon for the future. For this pick to be validated, Harris needs to stay fit and healthy…. But based on what we have seen this year Harris gets my vote!

Jakobi Myers

The one big miss from my list is Julian Edelman but we have to base our protected players on who we believe will provide the basis for success moving forward. For me Julian Edelman is not the future.

Image Credit – Musket Fire

Jakobi Meyers has become the Pat’s number one target / receiver in 2020! Despite Cam’s struggles his connection with Meyers was great and his numbers got better and better as the year went on. Meyers totalled 59 receptions for 729 yards, with a catch rate of 72.8% on the year. Comparing these numbers to most other receivers in the league may not look so impressive, but it’s important to keep note of the difficulties this year’s offense had.

Jakobi Meyers even has a dual threat nature which meant he was able to contribute to the passing game. 2 Passes for 43 yards and two touchdowns shows his trickery and importance to a team that needed someone to step up this season. Defences are starting to plan for Meyer’s which is testament to how far he has come as a WR this season.

Defense

Stephon Gilmore

Gilmore was an absolute no brainer to protect. It might sound biased because I played defensive back, but it’s without a doubt the hardest position on a football field. But that is a discussion for another day….

Being the number 1 DB in New England, he was tasked with locking down Seattle Seahawks’ DK Metcalf, Arizona Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins, and Los Angeles Chargers’ Keenan Allen throughout the season. Easy right?

We’ll his stats show he did a very good job – he recorded 37 tackles and one forced fumble. His pass coverage gave way to 27 completions on 42 attempts, per Pro Football Focus. And it gave way to 354 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Bill Belichick loves him, wouldn’t you as a head coach? He can play physical, force the run, and cover some of the quickest receivers / bigger vertical WR’s in the league. There are very little limits to his game.

Gilmore’s time in New England has led to three Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pros as well as a Super Bowl LIII ring. The first NFL Defensive Player of the Year in franchise history stands as a member of the franchise’s latest All-Decade team.

It’s safe to say Gilmore deserves to be the first player I am going to protect!

Dont’a Hightower

Don’t’a who? Yep, what a player to miss for a whole season. Having Hightower back for the 2021 season will be a massive boost for the Pat’s. He will have the biggest impact out of all the opt outs on his return.

Image Credit – Pats Pulpit

Hightower is an amazing Linebacker. He is a great pass rusher and also superb at stopping the run. Looking back at this 2019 stats, Dont’a racked up over five sacks along with 71 tackles. He would have been the Patriots leader in sacks in 2020 had he played. The question is how rusty Hightower will be in 2021. He will now be 31 years old and a season removed from the NFL.

Patriots fans will be hoping that he will actually be even more refreshed. After not playing football for a year, his body must feel great. Based on what this did to Gronk and the season he had with the Buc’s they need not worry.

Devin McCourty

Our number four choice heads down the route of Defensive Back again but moves to the safety unit. The Pat’s will need their veterans for the 2021 season, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

McCourty led New England’s defence in snaps and played an important role in the secondary. He’s the definition of a consistent performer with the ability make big plays in games. On top of it all, McCourty also served as the Patriots’ defensive signal caller for most of the year after taking over the role from Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley early in the season. This is something I only stumbled across whilst researching his stats for the year.

With the capability to play both as a deep safety and closer to the line of scrimmage McCourty offers flexibility on the defensive side of the ball, which is a defensive coaches dream. In what looks like his final season, this pick was still based on what he still offers now to the team alongside the experience factor once again.

Chase Winovich

I remember watching Chase Winovich for the Michigan Wolverines in the Amazon Documentary and really liked the prospect of what he could achieve as a line-backer in the NFL.

Image Credit – Prime Time Sports Talk

He flashed talent in his rookie season but 2020 was another clear jump in his progression. The line-backer position takes time to learn. The running game of NFL RB’s and blocking schemes is next level from college. Line-backers get caught up in all the commotion upfront so staying patient is key. Something I think Chase has got better at in this second year in the NFL.

While Chase Winovich’s playing time fluctuated a bit based on the defensive strategy used by the Patriots, he was still the Pat’s most disruptive defender and proved himself a weapon for a front seven in a transitional period. I truly believe in a few years’ time he has the capability to be one of the best line-backers in the league, so I’m going to back and protect him. Hopefully, I don’t live to regret this choice.

Lawrence Guy

Captain fantastic, better known as Lawrence Guy. The best defensive lineman New England have on their roster and a man they literally wouldn’t be able to cope with losing (even though it looks like it could happen this off season).

With the ability to flip between end and tackle the man is a monster at 6ft 4inch, 315 pounds! The heartbeat of the Pat’s defensive front., I’d have Lawrence Guy in any team I was building, due to his well round game in both the pass game and run game. No matter if it is the nose alignment, the 3-4 end or the 4-3 defensive tackle, Guy has proven himself capable of playing at a high level. He is a disruptor and pocket pusher in the passing game, and a great gap-filler against the run.

New York Jets – Adam

2020 Season

The 2020 season started badly, got worse, got even worse, and then ended on a little bit of an upswing for the Jets. The best part of the entire season was Adam Gase getting fired. 2-14 is not a season any of the players for the Jets will want to remember but it may be one that the fans look back on and thank for putting them in the position to get the new Franchise Quarterback that Sam Darnold was supposed to be.

Image Credit – Elite Sports NY

The less said about the season itself is probably the better but wins against the L.A Rams and the Cleveland Browns, in games which mattered for those opponents, do give a little cause for optimism when the current crop of players are being considered. With a strong draft and a Head coach who has a semblance of an idea what he is doing in Robert Saleh I expect to see a vast improvement from the Jets in the near future.

Areas for Improvement: Pretty much everywhere

Protected Players

  1. Sam Darnold
  2. Chris Herndon
  3. Denzel Mims
  4. Jamison Crowder
  5. Mekhi Becton
  6. Quinnen Williams
  7. Marcus Maye
  8. C.J. Mosley
  9. Bryce Hall
  10. Ashtyn Davis

Whereas last week it was a matter of who do I leave out with the Ravens, this week is a matter of who do I leave in. The roster is full of players who are on second and third chances with this team as other teams have deemed them surplus to requirements.

Image Credit – The Comeback

I have gone with youth for the most part with one or two leaders as this offers upside in the future by banking on players to come good, some already having shown flashes, and leaving a large amount of cap space to play with. Although in our theoretical example we will not have a cap per se I am still approaching this as if I had one to stick to, to a certain extent.

Offense

Sam Darnold

I won’t lie, this is more about cap space than anything else. Even as a backup Darnold is cheapish and with a franchise rebuilding depth is key. If they draft a Quarterback with the second pick then he probably will not be a Week 1 starter so Darnold provides that bridge. It may be they want to ease the new guy in. If however they trade for Watson then Darnold is just a cheap backup for the year, either to be traded for picks or to go after his contract is up.

Chris Herndon

Image Credit – PFF

Under the stewardship of Adam Gase a lot of players are awful who then comes good when he leaves. DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki to name two in recent history. I am confident that Chris Herndon is a good Tight End and just needs a change of HC’nery to realise his potential. He is young with good hands and has shown flashes in his career to date. On a team with myriad other needs this is not a pressing one.

Denzel Mims

A 2020 second round pick who in his first season showed glimpses of why he was a taken as high as he was. Mims looks to be the best receiver on the outside this team has and if his college career is anything to go by the Jets have a good one here. Mims and my below selection Crowder are a good core to build the WR room around.

Jamison Crowder

Arguably the best slot receiver in the league at times, Crowder shows time and again how important he is to the Jets. He has sure hands and is looked too often for this reason. 9 times out of 10 he will deliver, and this is another position that can have depth sorted at a later date. One of the easier selections of this exercise.

Mekhi Becton

Image Credit – Jets Wire – USA Today

The hulking first round talent is on this team for one reason, for more comedy photos alongside Crowder. Ok, this is not the only reason but one of the best. Becton also showed last season that he has the ability to protect one end of the Jet’s line for years to come and coming into his second year he is cheap and will only continue to improve.

Defense

Quinnen Williams

After a very shaky 2019 Williams has blossomed into one of the league’s top interior defensive linemen. He leads the team in sacks last year and doubled his Quarterback pressure rate from 5.8% in 2019 to 10.2% this year. He is a foundational part of the Jets Defence and I will be keeping him around for as long as I can if I am the Jets hierarchy, Robert Saleh will love him.

Marcus Maye

Image Credit – Last Word on Sports

Arguably the only player on the Jets who can rival Williams for top defensive honours this year is Maye. A second-round selection from the Florida Gators in 2017, (somewhere Alex Buck has just uttered the phrase “Go Gators” and doesn’t realise why), Maye has become one of the first names onto the Jets team sheet. One of the league’s best downfield coverage guys Maye is approaching a new contract soon and I will be handing him one as quickly as I can.

C.J. Mosley

Mosley provides experience and leadership to a team that is very young. Although is first two season with the Jets have been nothing to write home about (season ending injury and then an opt-out) Ravens fans can attest to how immense a fully fit Mosley is and what he brings to the team. He will be here to nurture those around him and provide some strength to the middle of the linebacking position.

Bryce Hall

Image Credit – New York Jets

Bit of an outside the box pick as Hall was only fit for 8 games of his rookie season. When he was on the field however, he provided a spark to the secondary and seems to have the skills needed to excel at his position. It has been a couple of years since he was drafted but he is coming into his own and represents probably the best Corner the Jets have currently.

Ashtyn Davis

Another rookie in the secondary whose season was affected by injury, Davis looked to be improving week on week and generated quite the buzz whilst he was on the field. Alongside Maye in the secondary I would be comfortable retaining Davis to give the Jets first shot as he continues to improve.

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