AFC East Offseason Review

Jamey Black

04/09/2016

AFC EAST

BUFFALO:  Without much cap space, the Bills have remained fairly stagnant this offseason. The only addition so far has been safety Robert Blanton who is likely just a role player that will provide depth and contribute on special teams. Not making noise isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Buffalo; they managed to keep their offensive line intact by resigning left guard Richie Incognito to a 3 year, $15.75M contract and franchised left tackle Cordy Glenn. Failing to match the Patriots offer sheet on restricted free agent WR Chris Hogan is hardly surprising for a Bills team lacking cap space and an offense that wants to run first and has Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods lining up at receiver. Releasing Mario Williams was inevitable after a terrible season in which his on the field woes and complete lack of effort extended off the field, becoming a distraction in the locker room. It’s also worth noting that dumping Williams freed up nearly $13M from a player who really didn’t fit well in Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme. LB Nigel Bradham, a 2014 breakout player, and CB Leodis McKelvin both leave the Bills to reunite with their 2014 defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in Philadelphia. Neither player was effective last season in Rex Ryan’s defense nor should either player be difficult to replace.

FANTASY IMPACT:  Retaining Incognito and Glenn should keep the door open for running backs LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams to be productive again this season. After fighting through injuries to begin last year, the Bills rested McCoy in weeks 4 and 5. Returning in week 6, McCoy scored double digit fantasy points 8 weeks in a row before a minor MCL tear cut his season short in week 15. McCoy was a top 5 RB during that 9 game stretch despite playing 6 times on the road and running into some of the NFL’s hottest defenses, including the Jets, Patriots, Chiefs and Houston. Williams started the year hot scoring a TD in each of his first 4 games as a pro and then cooled off once McCoy returned healthy. McCoy should be a RB1 again this season and Williams is a must own handcuff and has standalone value as a sleeper as well. Tyrod Taylor missed a couple of games but finished 8th in ppg at QB in most scoring systems. Sammy Watkins went over 1,000 yards in only 13 games and scored 9 TD’s in the process. TE Charles Clay had his season end after 13 games last year due a back injury. Clay is fully healthy and offers value as a TE2 with upside. It’s hard to believe, but the Buffalo Bills have viable weekly starters at QB, RB and WR this season. Taylor, McCoy and Watkins should all push for top 10 finishes at their respective positions if they remain healthy all year.

 

 

MIAMI:  Miami has been busy this offseason. We’ve seen big names both come and go as the Dolphins settle into another regime under new head coach Adam Gase. Miami lost 2 big names from their defensive front seven when they failed to retain 27 year old DE Derrick Shelby, a player on the rise and 25 year old DE Oliver Vernon, perhaps the most sought after free agent to hit the market this offseason. Former 16th overall pick in the 2012 draft defensive lineman Quinton Coples leaves town as well after failing to make an impact in Miami. In a trade with the Eagles, the Dolphins acquired the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft along with Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso in exchange for the number 8 overall pick in this year’s draft. I’m not sure that the trade makes sense as Miami was forced to release CB Brent Grimes (just a week after releasing CB Brice McCain) in order to absorb CB Byron Maxwell’s contract. It’s worth noting that Maxwell proved to be nothing more than average last season once removed from Seattle’s defense. Linebacker Kiko Alonso had a huge rookie year in 2013 recording 159 total tackles, 2 sacks and 4 INT’s playing for the Bills. Over the last 2 years however, Alonso has battled injuries missing the entire 2014 season and 5 games last year.  Both Maxwell and Alonso come with high risk, but high upside as well. The Dolphins acquired DE Mario Williams along with DE Andre Branch, both look to be starters but Branch will have to battle Cameron Wake for playing time. The acquisition of safety Isa Abdul-Quddus should help Miami’s secondary, especially if they can get a bounce back year from Byron Maxwell. On the offensive side of the ball, Miami failed to retain RB Lamar Miller, leaving 2nd year RB Jay Ajayi as the starter. Ajayi flashed at times last season but Miami will likely try to sign another RB as durability concerns have clouded Ajayi since the combine last year. The Dolphins also lose WR Rishard Matthews who will be replaced in the lineup by last year’s 14th overall draft pick WR DeVante Parker. Adding offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod provides depth and versatility from a guy who can play on the left or right side and he will compete for a starting job at guard or tackle. Kraig Urbik has a very comparable skillset to Bushrod and will compete at both guard positions as well as right tackle. Both guys provide solid depth at the very least.

FANTASY IMPACT:  Losing Miller to Houston opens the door for running back Jay Ajayi. Ajayi is a talented 3 down running back who flashed at times last season and looked electric in college. He was a top-tier talent coming out of Boise State, but after a knee surgery in 2011 and a heavy college workload, many medical “experts” were (and are) concerned that Ajayi’s surgically repaired knee will not hold up. Until that happens though, Ajayi looks like a solid RB and if he is given the lion’s share of touches this season, he should make for a solid RB2 with RB1 upside. The departure of Matthews opens the door for 2nd year receiver Devante Parker. Parker was drafted to be the #1 WR in Miami, though I’m not sure that happens as Jarvis Landry has become QB Ryan Tannehill’s go to guy over the last 2 seasons, catching 195 passes. Landry will be a ppr machine again this year and Parker should settle in as the #2 option and big play threat as he averaged 19 yards per catch as a rookie. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on Parker as a low-end WR2/high-end WR3 with upside for more.  Adam Gase has been good for TE’s Julius Thomas, Martellus Bennett and Zach Miller over the last 3 seasons, so watch out for Jordan Cameron to finally come back to life this season. Cameron has always had TE1 potential and if he stays healthy and is given the opportunity, he should be productive in Adam Gase’s offense.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND:  The Patriots offseason has been a bit of a mixed bag. On defense, they traded away star DE Chandler Jones to Arizona for a late 2nd round pick and former 2013 number 7 overall pick, offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper. Losing Jones is going to hurt, but in typical Patriot fashion, Jones is a rising star playing in the last year of his rookie contract and will be looking for a huge payday (think Oliver Vernon – 5yrs/$85M) as one of the league’s best pass rushers, and New England doesn’t like to break the bank on their talent. If anyone can turn Jonathan Cooper’s career around it’s Belichick and the Pats. Cooper has the athleticism and talent to be a very good interior offensive lineman, which is exactly what New England needs. The Patriots managed to grab DE Chris Long on the cheap, added run stopper Terrance Knighton to their interior defensive line and signed LB Shea McClellin to a 3 year deal worth almost $9M. McClellin is another former 1st round pick who didn’t quite live up to his potential in Chicago. Still just 26 years old, the Patriots hope to turn his arrow back up after MLB Jerod Mayo retired a couple of months ago. Subsequent to releasing WR Brandon LaFell and TE Scott Chandler, then missing out on free agent WR Rishard Matthews, the Patriots made a trade for TE Martellus Bennett. This move makes a lot of sense for a creative New England offense that will lineup in plenty of “12” personnel formations, utilizing both TE’s. While LaGarrette Blount still remains an option lingering in free agency, the Pats signed another former 1st rounder in RB Donald Brown. With Brown, a turnaround probably won’t happen and he will likely fight to be active each week. The Patriots added 2 receivers to help on the outside, grabbing veteran Nate Washington and placing an offer sheet on restricted free agent Chris Hogan that Buffalo was unable to match.

FANTASY IMPACT:  New England is going to do what New England does well, and that’s play to their strengths. This should mean having 2 TE’s on the filed an awful lot this season, similar to what they did with Aaron Hernandez and Gronk during their 2010-2012 seasons. Bennett is not as versatile as Hernandez was, but the Pats will move their TE’s around and create mismatches. Look for Bennett to put up numbers similar to his body of work over the last 4 seasons. While he is very unlikely to catch the 90 passes he did in 2014, he should at least match his career high in TD’s (6) and be counted on as a strong TE2. With WR Chris Hogan also in the fold providing versatility as an inside/outside WR, the Pats have the diversity they have been lacking on offense since Aaron Hernandez’s departure in 2013. Brady should be a high-end QB1 for at least another year or two, though chances are good he will miss the first 4 games this season due to suspension. RB Dion Lewis returns healthy and should be a high-end RB2 with upside in ppr leagues. Keep an eye on WR Danny Amendola, if he isn’t willing to re-work his contract he might become expendable with Bennett and Hogan now on the roster.

 

NEW YORK JETS:  The daily headline in New York right now is whether or not the Jets are going to re-sign QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Until that happens, let’s focus on what the Jets have done. New York lost a power element to their running game when RB Chris Ivory signed with the Jags. The Jets did rebound by signing Matt Forte…the definition of versatility at running back, and also by bringing back Bilal Powell and adding Khiry Robinson as depth. The dynamic may have changed a bit, but with less money the Jets put together a solid backfield. Losing WR Jeremy Kerley and TE Jeff Cumberland are almost not worth mentioning and New York did a nice job retaining their run blocking TE Kellen Davis. The Jets also get pass catching TE Jace Amaro back from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the entire 2015 season. On defense, letting their run stopping nose tackle Damon Harrison escape across town to the Giants is going to hurt a bit, and the addition of nose tackle Steve McLendon and interior defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins aren’t likely to fill the void. Losing LB Demario Davis shouldn’t hurt, in fact, with the recent signing of Bruce Carter it’s not likely Davis will be missed. New York released CB Antonio Cromartie after a terrible season, opening up $8M in cap space and leaving behind no dead money.

FANTASY IMPACT:  The Jets may have lost some power to their running game when Ivory left town, but RB Matt Forte brings his own element to the Jets backfield and he is certainly still playing at a competitive level. Forte is on the wrong side of 30, but as a complete RB, Forte generates close to 1/3 of his annual production in the passing game. There’s a decent chance Khiry Robinson gets some goal line work and Bilal Powell steals some 3rd down work, but Forte should get the lion’s share and produce as a solid RB2 this season, especially in ppr formats. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker both finished in the top 10 at wide receiver last season in standard formats. Marshall had a career year and Decker came close. It’s highly unlikely these 2 WR’s combine for 26 TD receptions again, but if the Jets re-sign QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Marshall should have another top 10 finish this season. I’m not sure Fitzpatrick will have another career year, and Decker barely cracked the top 10 in 2015, so I do expect Eric Decker to slide just a bit, but still make for a strong WR2 with upside. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a great fit for this offense, and if the Jets can get him back under contract, while I do not foresee another career year, I do expect strong QB2 numbers and a high floor from him this season.

 

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