AFC East and AFC West NFL Draft Grades
NFL

NFL Draft Part 1 Recap: AFC East/West & Props

The most fun offseason day in any sport is the draft. For the NFL, it has become an event, highlighting the mistakes of past drafts, and judgmental speculation of the current draft. This year’s NFL Draft had more fanfare than any draft we’ve seen before.

Despite the current pandemic, the NFL said, “screw it; we’re going to pretend like we weren’t fining players for violating protocol just a few months ago, and we’ll have the Commissioner up on stage just pulling his mask down, kissing babies, and shaking every fan’s hand.”

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In this recap, we are focusing on the opening round picks and not so much the rounds after — unless it’s noteworthy — because who really knows with the later round guys. So, buckle up, settle in, and don’t worry; we won’t be talking very much about the Houston Texans.

Here are some highlights from the draft:

  1. A few teams really crushed it (Bengals, Chargers, Dolphins, Vikings, Browns, Chiefs, Bears)
  2. The Raiders took the right positions but wrong guys (again)
  3. The league has been injected with heavy 1st round QB blood on a level not seen in some time
  4. Despite the revival of first-round running back picks, the landing spots weren’t good
  5. The trades and pre-draft trades were fun, even if the Giants got their first pick horribly wrong

This week, it’s all about the AFC East and West. Next week, we will go over the AFC North and South.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills (Pick 30)

The Bills are not a team synonymous with strong drafts. Sure, the Bills got Josh Allen a few years back, but it’s been fairly quiet in Western New York when it comes to the draft. Last season, the Bills traded their first-round pick for Stefon Diggs. Trading a late first for Diggs seems like a win, until you consider the fact the Vikings drafted Justin Jefferson with that pick.

This year, the Bills went a little out on a limb and took a defensive end, Greg Rousseau in the first. Rousseau sat out in 2020 but showed upside in 2019. The Bills are a little hard to evaluate overall, but I thought they could’ve gone with a guy more NFL-ready (especially for a team on the brink of greatness).

Grade: C

New England Patriots (Pick 15)

The Patriots may have finally done the right thing in the opening round of a draft. For all the praise the Patriots get as a whole, the organization has been horrendous in the first round of drafts in recent years.

This season, the Patriots played the patient game, and everything fell into place. For all the talk pre-draft about the Patriots trading up to get a QB, they liked Mac Jones and thought there was a chance they could get him if the Niners passed.

Sure enough, Jones fell and the other teams in front of them opted to go with mainly the best players available. Realistically, it seems the Patriots probably thought any attempt to jump the Niners and take Jones early would’ve been far too costly.

I’m pretty sure it would’ve taken a King’s ransom to move either the Jaguars or Jets out of their draft positions anyway. After Jones, the Patriots took defensive tackle, Christian Barmore, in the second round. Barmore should serve well to reinforce the Patriot’s defensive line while also offering upside in pass rushing.

Based on the patience the Patriots displayed, and the need-based picks, I think they had a solid early draft this year.

Grade: B+

New York Jets (Picks 2 & 14)

The J-E-T-S are back! Before we talk about their draft, which appears to have gone well, I have to talk about the Sam Darnold situation. Sam Darnold had his development shattered, fragmented, partially rebuilt, and then shattered again. The man has been through hell.

Instead of electing to stick with Darnold and rebuilding around him by way of an offensive line, the Jets decided to move on. The problem with that is two-fold. For one, you’re trading away your quarterback you have put in the worst developmental situation possible. The second part is the value.

Sure, you essentially get a contract reset with a new guy, but you also forfeit the opportunity to use your first pick on an offensive lineman (which you could’ve used to protect Darnold). Instead, you burn your top pick on a quarterback, still struggling to provide him a strong environment by which he could succeed.

In the end, the Jets took Wilson from BYU, who profiles similarly to Darnold, drafted a great offensive lineman with pick 14, and then took one of the most productive receivers in college football history (Elijah Moore, Ole Miss).

After that, the Jets drafted Michael Carter in Round 4. Carter is nothing special, but could serve as a nice change of pace for Lamical Perine. I like what the Jets did overall. Clearly, they felt Darnold was either too damaged or just not the right guy for them, and I can’t judge them too harshly on that, even if it’s 100% their own fault for ruining Darnold.

Grade: C+

Miami Dolphins (Picks 6 & 18)

Can we just grade the Dolphins by what they did prior to the draft instead of during it? I didn’t dislike what the Dolphins did during the draft. It just seemed underwhelming since they crushed it so hard in the weeks leading up to the draft.

I’m fairly sure the Dolphins weren’t completely sold on Jamar Chase being a better receiver than Jaylen Waddle. The beauty of them trading back from 3 to 6 is that they still get their choice between Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle to pair up with their old college QB.

Adding a first-round pick by moving back three spots appeared to be an easy choice for the Dolphins. After Waddle, the Dolphins drafted for upside, taking Jaelen Phillips with the 18th pick. Phillips has a fairly frightening injury history, but the kind of insane upside to risk the opportunity.

From there, the Dolphins went with a tackle from Notre Dame and followed that by plugging all the small holes on their roster. Like most of the other teams at the top of the draft, this one could’ve really used a few upgrades to the O-Line.

The Jags, Bengals, and Jets all seemed to believe there was plenty of depth on the line, and it appears the Dolphins were also in that camp. Let’s hope Tua gets adequate protection this season to develop properly.

Grade: B+

AFC West

Denver Broncos (Pick 9)

The Broncos were the team everyone expected to make a big move in the draft. We expected they could trade for Aaron Rodgers or trade up and get a QB, or just stay put and get a QB. The Broncos surprised most of us and went ahead and drafted a corner.

Historically, this is a hit-and-miss position in Round 1. This year, the corner position has been widely debated. It’s considered a deep class, but not a tremendously top-heavy class. Regardless, it was a pick to address a moderate need the team had, so it’s not a pick we should criticize too much in the moment.

Overall, I think the Broncos did well with their next two picks, and that’s about it. Quinn Meinerz (OG) and Javonte Williams (RB) were both solid picks I feel could be solid contributors by 2022. After that, the Broncos went with two safeties, even though they’re deep at safety. I liked the direction they went early but wasn’t a fan past their third pick.

Grade: C+

Kansas City Chiefs (no 1st round pick)

The Chiefs had no first-round pick, but got really busy addressing their needs in round 2 with the selection of Nick Bolton (ILB from Missouri). I think Bolton could be an immediate contributor, but I’m more impressed with the offensive line selections.

In the third, the Chiefs took Oklahoma Center, Creed Humphrey. Humphrey was the second-ranked Center coming into the draft, so combining him with their other offseason acquisitions on the line will be a huge step-up to the unit we saw in the postseason.

Grade: B+

Las Vegas Raiders (Pick 17)

Sadly, it’s the same problem with the Raiders every year now. It’s actually not sad if you’re a fan of any of the other teams in the AFC West. The Raiders let most of their offensive line walk in the off-season, they’re locked into a decade of Jon Gruden, and they continue to draft the right position/wrong player in each first round.

Last year, the Raiders took a receiver first, which would’ve been nice had it been Jeudy, Lamb, Jefferson, or even Higgins. This year, they take Alex Leatherwood in the first, who they could’ve easily gotten in the second. It was befuddling but par for the course for the Raiders.

Grade: C

Los Angeles Chargers (Pick 13) 

The LA Chargers have been knocking it out of the park in the first round of recent drafts. Think about the Joey Bosa, Derwin James, and Justin Herbert picks for a minute. All three of them were able to immediately come in and produce at exceptionally high levels and only one was inside the top five (Bosa).

This time around, the Chargers got hot down the stretch and won their way into the 13th pick. Even if the Chargers were top five, as it was looking with just weeks to go in the season, their needs in the draft still wouldn’t have changed.

The Chargers did the smart thing and drafted an offensive lineman with their first pick. Many expected Slater would be gone before the Chargers, but the runs on QBs, CBs, and WRs allowed Slater to fall into the Chargers lap.

With Slater, the Chargers got an immediate contributor who should be a part of their long-term vision. After that, the Chargers did their best to address the rest of the holes on their roster. Asante Samuel Jr. in round 2 should be a decent cover corner who has a moderate impact early, while Josh Palmer (3rd round receiver out of Tennessee) looks like more of a long-term project at the position.

The Chargers came out of the draft with a solid group of players and addressed their team needs at the same time. That has to be considered a big win for them.

Grade: A-

Las Vegas Raiders to make the Playoffs: No -400

Before we wrap up this edition of the NFL Draft recap, we wanted to let you know about this line available in the DraftKings online sportsbook.

The Raiders didn’t make any improvements in the offseason. Regardless of their draft picks, it seems they may underestimate how valuable their offensive line was in 2020. Following the departure of some key players on the offensive line, the Raiders are going to have to deal with a whole new set of offensive hurdles in 2021.

Even if the defense has made some small upgrades (signing of Casey Hayward being the most notable), I expect this team to make no significant positive strides with a coach like Jon Gruden still at the helm. In a tough division, out-gunned, out-matched, and out-coached, it’s going to be a sad 2021 season for the Silver and Black.

Check back in a few days for Part 2: AFC North/South.

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