Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Optimist/Pessimist – AFC East Draft Class

Like we do every year, we'll be going division by division taking a look at both sides of the coin for each team's draft haul. Today, we go long on the division we love the most: The AFC East.




New England Patriots

OPTIMIST:

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Bill Belichick hasn’t lost a step. Coming off of a year in which his pass defense was exposed, the evil genius added a corner with the ability to immediately contribute as a third CB and a special teams threat in Devin McCourty. Dude is lightning fast, and could become part of a scary duo with CB Darius Butler across from him. Whether or not that pick proves to be the all things to all people choice New England wants him to be, it’s hard to dispute that the Patriots absolutely found their defensive fixes in Florida defenders Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes. Cunningham, an athletic DE at Florida, should transition to OLB for the Pats, who desperately need youth at the edges. Meanwhile, Spikes, who fell in the draft due to a slow 40 time, moves to the interior, where any speed woes should be masked by a proven knack for reading plays and sticking tackles in the box. Adding these two to Jerrod Mayo means that in one fell swoop the Pats may have completely reloaded their once fearsome pass rush. Finally, TE Rob Gronkowski out of Arizona is a solid pick, but don’t sleep on TE Aaron Hernandez being the real gem at this position of need. Hernandez is, in many ways, a perfect replacement for the recently departed Ben Watson, who never got his due respect in New England. With a similarly well attuned knack for finding the markers and exposing holes in coverages, Hernandez should find himself on the field for longer passing downs. Oh, and they also got Zac Robinson, one of the most athletic quarterbacks on the board and an underrated passer, in the seventh. People who doubt the cold, factory line mentality of players moving in and out of New England need to check this board and remember why this team’s BAD years involve them making the playoffs.

PESSIMIST:

Of the myriad reasons why I hate this team, their near-paranoia about bringing in any attitude to their offense has to be in the top three. Point at Randy Moss all you want, but remember that they ran him through DHS style interrogations before bringing him in, and as one of the most gifted receivers of all time, he’s something of an exception. After him, the whole system has been built on yeoman grunts who know their place and fulfill their limited roles. This year’s combination should include Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, and newly drafted WR Taylor Price, another player with solid gifts who shows very little in the way of dynamic ability. If this seems like an odd criticism to level at a team that has proven themselves so good for so long, remember that they looked at Dez Bryant, who could have given them a number of versatile talents at their second WR spot, eventually filling in for Moss as the top dog, and traded away to fill in another cog in the machine. That decision to stick with what they can predict instead of building around an undeniable talent embodies everything wrong with this team. Yes, they ran the most impressive offense in NFL history with their faceless army mentality, but it’s worth pointing out that they haven’t won the Super Bowl since ditching players like Corey Dillon and Deion Branch, players who brought some attitude to their roles, but who also could extend beyond their neatly defined positions. It’s a shame that, having spent so long in their new rigidity, the Patriots seem almost afraid to allow for a return to any of the edge that made them less precise, but still made them winners.


Miami Dolphins

OPTIMIST:

DT Jared Odrick is the perfect addition to Tony Sparano’s defense, and with Mike Nolan coming to town should find his relentless motor and underrated smart play at the center of a pass defense that couldn’t pressure opposing quarterbacks. For a team whose identity under Bill Parcells has been predicated on the idea of brutality in the trenches, Odrick is a great value pick late in the first round. Still, the world has to revolve around the addition of WR Brandon Marshall, who finally gives the team the legitimate number one receiver they’ve lacked since...um…maybe Wes Welker? Maybe? Marshall, a huge target with great hands and a willingness to extend himself for the catch, is going to work wonders for the questionable accuracy of Chad Henne, and could buy make the Miami run game even more impressive by keeping teams honest in the intermediate pass game. All in all, this draft was a great example of a team maintaining its identity while repairing obvious deficiencies.

PESSIMIST:

It wouldn’t be a Parcells team if it didn’t have the stink of system-think all over it. Ted Ginn Jr. was never going to be the dynamic offensive workhorse Cam Cameron stupidly tried to make him, but the old adage is still true; you can’t coach speed. While teams had always been able to bracket and safety-help Ginn into oblivion due to his small size and limited between-the-hashmarks ability, it was undeniable that there were flashes of Ginn’s physical gifts being able to contribute to a successful NFL team (particularly on special teams). So, after finally picking up Brandon Marshall to be the monstrous top dog through the air, why ship Ginn away for peanuts? Isn’t it worth seeing whether or not, finally freed from the spotlight, Ginn can contribute over the top of defenders in a way that no other WR on the roster, even Marshall, has the speed to contribute? Yes, he was a dumb pick in 2007, and he hasn’t proven himself to be a world-beater, but if he no longer has to be one, why punish him for that? Mistaking failure to meet unreasonable expectations for general failure is the mark of tunnel-vision, and is an unfortunate turn for the team that revolutionized the way we think an NFL offense works two years ago.


Buffalo Bills

OPTIMIST:

First off, don’t sleep on WR Marcus Easley in the 4th, who is a matchup nightmare out of the slot at 6’3” and has underrated downfield speed. But the real story, of course, is C.J. Spiller, the draft’s most electrifying player, and the new standard bearer for talent over system around these parts. Buffalo, in the face of obvious problems along the offensive line, serious questions under center, and a porous run defense, chose instead to add to proven commodities Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson another RB who, though thrilling, will not be on the field for most offensive snaps. Could they afford to take CJ Spiller? They couldn’t afford NOT to take Spiller. In a division in which the competition is engaged in an arms race, let’s applaud the Bills for refusing to surrender as a mid-market also ran. For all of the additions via free agency in the AFC East, there isn’t a single player in the division with Spiller’s potential for destruction. He can play WR, return kicks, and give a scary change of pace at RB. If the Bills can find a way to get him involved in the offense, are you really willing to bet against Spiller single handedly keeping his team competitive against better rosters on paper? As someone who watched Brian Westbrook and Leon Washington turn sub par offenses into playoff teams, I’m saying that Spiller is the kind of player who can do the same. Scared money don’t make money, and Buffalo, the knife in the AFC East gunfight, showed they’re set on cutting fools with this pick.

PESSIMIST:

The thing about Westbrook and Washington, however, is that they were taken in the 3rd and 4th round, respectively. They were fantastic surprises, but they were surprises nonetheless. Spiller, by contrast, is a first round pick; this isn’t a sneaky subversion, it’s a declaration of war. In the middle of a league leading playoff drought, with so little around Spiller to help, doesn’t this team run the risk of entering into the realm of spectacle, an arena the Raiders only recently escaped (Campbell at least shows they’re TRYING to build). Look, I want Spiller to succeed, and I respect the hell out of Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey for taking a risk on Spiller’s obvious potential for revolution, but this is a team that is in need of serious foundational work. As much as I want to see Spiller, and the Bills working around him, prove that an incredible talent can change the way the league works, I almost feel bad that this is the team that has decided to take that chance. Also, I’m all for local heroics, but Levi Brown?


New York Jets

OPTIMIST:

All flights grounded, people. CB Kyle Wilson is considered by most to be the best cover corner in the draft, and thanks to a continuing fascination with physicality over skill at corner (seriously, how many more Justin Miller and DeAngelo Hall clones do we need?) he fell to the Jets with the 29th pick of the draft. So in case you’re not keeping up, that’s three first round corners (two of whom have still proven to be top tier talents) in the Jets defensive backfield, pushing smart, but slow Dwight Lowery to the more manageable dime slot. If opponents thought it was difficult to deal with the Jets defense last year, this year they’ll be lucky if their quarterback doesn’t leave the game with PTSD. Meanwhile, for all the talk of the Jets being a “win now” team, the remainder of their draft showed remarkable foresight, picking up OG Vlad Ducasse to develop along the interior of the o-line, speedy RB Joe McKnight, whose fall was the result of NCAA issues (the dumbest reason for draft falls), and FB John “The Terminator” Conner, who will be groomed under the wind of Tony Richardson. Not always an option to build forward while participating in an arms race, but the Jets certainly came close this year.

PESSIMIST:

Did the Jets need to do Neon Leon like that? Few players in the league have Washington’s ability to contribute effectively at so many different spots on the field, and the Jets decided to let him loose for a 5th rounder that yielded them a FB. If I’m going to get upset when other teams jettison talent for the sake of systems, it seems only fair that I’ll have to take the Jets to task should Joe McKnight prove to be little more than a spot back, something Washington was only called by people who never watched him play (seriously, that 2006 season belonged to him and Pennington). Certainly, every pick the Jets made was a great value selection, but if I see Danny Woodhead lined up in the backfield on even one third down I’m going to revisit the decision to ship away a player who was our C.J. Spiller before there was a C.J. Spiller for the sake of cementing an offensive system and saving a couple of bucks. Whether or not this is a case of moving on for value or a team getting wishboned between the future and the present will make the difference.

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