Cleat Geeks

2018 NFL Drafting Needs; AFC East

Photo Credit: NFL.com

Nothing beats a bit of draft speculation straight after one of the best Superbowls of all time, right? I’ll be going through the draft needs of every NFL franchise, starting today with the AFC East (heck, may as well start by second-guessing Bill Belichick!). I’ll give my view on the top 3 positions of need, and who that player could be, and crucially, why.

New England Patriots – CB, DE, OLB

Something’s going on at Patriot Place. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t look pretty. Several stories have come out with varying credibility regarding Coach Belichick’s decision to give cornerback Malcolm Butler a whopping ZERO defensive snaps in Superbowl LII. The only consistent message in these stories is this: Butler’s days as a Patriot are numbered. Improvements must also be made at defensive end and at linebacker. The return of Dont’a Hightower and Shea McClellin will certainly be welcome, as well as 2017 3rd round rookie Derek Rivers but with James Harrison, Marquis Flowers and Geneo Grissom all out of contract depth will remain an issue. Many will comment that QB should be on this list, but I think the Patriots go deeper in the draft for a young quarterback. Brady wasn’t exactly first off the board, after all!

Potential picks:

31 – Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado

You couldn’t ask for a more prototypical cornerback. Size, speed, and arm length in abundance. He’s still raw, and will have to work on his game but if the Patriots can get him at 31 in the draft, their new DC should be very pleased. Oh, he can also return punts so that’s the versatility box ticked as well.

2017 stats – 10 games; 26 combined tackles; 13 passes deflected; 2 interceptions

43 – Harold Landry, DE/OLB, Boston College

It could take some good fortune for locally-based Landry to still be on the board at this point, given that many have a 1st round projection on him, but let’s say Arden Key doesn’t drop down the ranking due to his off-field issues for a second. Described by one NFC team pro personnel director as the next Vic Beasley, high praise indeed, Harold Landry is a little smaller than your average rusher but he is extremely quick and athletic. A ready-made pass rusher, the sky is the limit for Landry is he works on his technique throughout his NFL career.

2017 stats – 9 games; 38 combined tackles (8.5 for loss); 5 sacks

63 – Dorance Armstrong Jr., DE/OLB, Kansas

Highly skilled and despite playing on a poor Kansas team, and therefore shining less than perhaps his talent should allow him to, Armstrong is another versatile and athletic edge defender who could play in several positions on a Belichick defence. As a sophomore in 2016 he was a First-Team All-Big XII selection, and was touted at that point as highly as Harold Landry.

2017 stats – 12 games; 63 combined tackles (9 for loss); 1.5 sacks

Buffalo Bills – QB, DT, LB

Despite some heavy criticism early in 2017 for what seemed like bizarre at best, terrible at worst trade decisions, Sean McDermott quietly went about his business, acquiring picks and shaping his team in his own mould. They narrowly lost to the Jaguars in their first postseason game since 1999 and will come into the 2018 draft feeling confident that they are only a few pieces away from another postseason berth. The Nathan Peterman experiment is something they’d be keen to forget and I don’t believe it will be repeated. They also have several starters out of contract, including Kyle Williams, Preston Brown and EJ Gaines so some decisions will need to be made prior to the draft.

Potential picks:

21 – Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

Lamar Jackson is an elite playmaker and the quarterback I am most excited about in this year’s class, especially from a Fantasy Football perspective. I also believe he is the perfect fit for Buffalo and their play-action and run/pass option heavy offence. He’ll need to work on his decision-making as he is prone to turnovers, particularly in 2017. If he can do that, he’ll be an extremely productive NFL quarterback comparable to Michael Vick, or more recently, Deshaun Watson.

2017 stats – 13 games; 3660 passing yards; 27 TDs; 10 interceptions; 146.6 rating

1601 rushing yards; 18 TDs

22 – Taven Bryan, DT, Florida

Hugely athletic; Taven Bryan has the profile of a DT/DE hybrid. His speed allows him to beat his blocker and attack the quarterback. Physically speaking he’s All-Pro caliber and absolutely a starter in the NFL, however he still needs time to learn the game and develop the mental side of the game before he can fully unleash his undeniable talent.

2017 stats – 11 games; 40 combined tackles (6 for loss); 4 sacks

53 – Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina State

Another highly athletic prospect with an excellent mentality. Always motivated to improve himself, Leonard added around 50lbs in college which seems to have added that key amount of strength without jeopardizing his quickness, particular his very impressive straight-line speed. He’ll need to become a little more aggressive on an NFL field and work on his route efficiency in pursuit but with the right guidance could be an asset in a Bills jersey.

2017 stats – 10 games; 114 combined tackles (12 for loss); 8.5 sacks; 2 interceptions

Miami Dolphins – OG, LB, QB

I think it will likely take more than one year to put together a team capable of challenging for a playoff spot; but Adam Gase showed flashes of potential last year, including in a win over the New England Patriots. Ryan Tannehill has suffered successive nasty injuries, and I don’t see Jay Cutler being asked to return. Guard and linebacker requires additional talent also. Jarvis Landry is also coming to the end of his contract so an extension will surely boost their chances.

Potential picks:

11 – Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

This guy is an absolute beast – 6’5” and 329lbs of beast in fact. But don’t let the numbers fool you, this is no fat boy. It’s unlikely he’ll be beaten on power alone. Blocks opposing rushers regularly and creates great space for runners. There is no reason why he can’t become one of the best guards in the game. There is a tendancy to take his eyes off his target which he’ll need to work on but under an NFL coaching scheme this shouldn’t take long. Kenyan Drake could feast with Quenton Nelson looking after him.

2017 team stats – 13 games; 3501 rushing yards; 35 TDs (6.25 yards per carry)

42 – Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

Coming off the back of an injury which ended his 2016 season early, Leighton Vander Esch has catapulted himself into the forefront of many draft conversations. Crucially, he is a three-down linebacker who has great instincts both inside and outside, and is confident in his ability to make plays in any situation. He’s definitely not the finished article, as on many occasions in 2017 he found himself lacking in deeper coverage, allowing receivers to pass him but if utilized the right way, would be a potential game-changer week in, week out.

2017 stats – 14 games; 141 combined tackles (8.5 for loss); 4 passes deflected; 4 sacks; 3 interceptions

73 – Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond

You’ll learn that I’m not afraid to make a bold call! Many would have Miami drafting a quarterback in the 1st round, and they may be right, but I’m going to make the case for leaving it a little while. Kyle Lauletta is a natural leader who was MVP in the 2017 Senior Bowl, impressing many scouts along the way. Comes across to me as a good game-manager, albeit not someone who can take a game by the scruff of the neck with multiple deep shots. He’s very good at deceiving opposing linebackers with his body language on slant and curl routes. Arm strength is a major concern, as he could become prone to throwing interceptions at the NFL level but his performance at the Combine will allow scouts to make a decision on that.

2017 stats – 11 games; 3737 passing yards; 28 TDs; 12 interceptions; 153.2 rating

90 rushing yards; 4 Tds

New York Jets – QB, RB, OT

Another team that is way off contention, but showing some promise on defense following very good rookie years from Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye at Safety. Resigning Demario Davis will be a priority given his high level of production in 2017, and there will be a decision to be made about Josh McCown who confounded any critics with consistently good quarterback play before his season-ending injury. Assuming he’s good to go, I’d like to see him back as starter for one more year with a rookie under his wing.

Potential picks:

6 – Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Almost enigmatic, Josh Allen is possibly one of the most frustrating and polarising members of this year’s quarterback class. Gifted with fantastic arm strength and the ability to make plays that no other quarterback in the college game could play, he is also guilty of regularly missing the mark, through either inaccuracy or simply poor decision-making. This is why I’d like to see Josh McCown back for 2018. Allen could learn a lot from him around the mental side of the game. The ultimate boom-or-bust player this year, but one I think Gang Green could take a chance on.

2017 stats – 11 games; 1812 passing yards; 16 TDs; 6 interceptions; 127.8 rating

204 rushing yards; 5 TDs

37 – Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Prior to a horrendous knee injury in 2015, Nick Chubb was something special. An elite talent. Sadly the special spark doesn’t appear to have returned, although he could be a solid, albeit unspectacular starter in the NFL. I don’t see him as a three-down back, but the Jets have Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire who are capable of playing in relief roles, or on third-down plays. Chubb offers a solid floor and potentially, a very high ceiling if he can return to his pre-injury form.

2017 stats – 15 games; 1345 yards rushing on 223 attempts (6.03 YPC); 15 Tds

30 yards on 4 receptions

49 – Connor Williams, OT, Texas

If you draft a running back with a horrible injury history, then you draft Connor Williams next. A natural leader, with exceptional run blocking skills, I fully expect him to return to his 2016 form a be a very good starting tackle in the NFL. 2017 wasn’t his best year as he seems to lose a bit of the spark he has the previous year but with NFL-level coaching I think this comes back.

*2017 stats from www.cfbstats.com

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