Is New England still the class of the AFC East? Scouts break down the Bills, Dolphins, Patriots and Jets
The New England Patriots are still basking in the glow of their sixth Super Bowl victory, adding to their resume as the NFL's team of the 21st century. The future Hall of Fame head coach/quarterback pairing of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady also has owned the AFC East during this stretch, as their teams have won 10 straight division titles and 15 of the last 16. Let those numbers sink in for a minute.
And while the Patriots will have to deal with some significant roster turnover this season, they are still the class of the AFC East. Consider that the Dolphins, Bills and Jets went a collective 17-31 in 2018 with each team getting outscored by at least 105 points. That's why Miami and New York both went and hired new head coaches, albeit familiar faces, this offseason — Brian Flores (New England's defensive coordinator last season) and Adam Gase (went 23-25 as Miami's head coach from 2016-18), respectively.
But even with coaching changes and headline-making personnel moves (such as the Jets signing Le'Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley in free agency), does anyone really think this is the year the Patriots come back to the rest of the pack in the AFC East? In case you have forgotten already, it's been a decade since New England wasn't atop the division standings at season's end.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC East shapes up entering the 2019 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Bills, Dolphins, Patriots and Jets.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
"Making an unexpected playoff appearance in 2017 bought GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott some collateral, but they knew last year would be a difficult, take-a-step-back kind of campaign in advance of their roster rebuild."
"QB Josh Allen flashed his big arm and surprising athleticism; however, two things are required in 2019: They have to increase the ability around him, and he has to be more accurate on short to intermediate passes."
"In free agency, they signed center Mitch Morse and two wide receivers with different skills sets in vertical threat John Brown and chain-mover Cole Beasley."
"The heart and soul of the Buffalo defense departed with the retirement of tackle Kyle Williams. But, in the draft, Ed Oliver fell in their laps at No. 9, and he is an ideal fit as a super-quick 3-technique. Harrison Phillips is cut from the same cloth as Williams, so this will be a huge year for him."
"Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds had an impressive rookie campaign, and Lorenzo Alexander is returning for what will be his final season of pro football."
"Despite finishing second in total defense (294.1 ypg), the Bills were 26th in sacks with 36, so they are hoping Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy and Shaq Lawson can increase their production."
"When you start to dig on this team, they are closer than one would expect, but everything hinges on the growth of Allen as their QB. This looks like a sub-.500 team, but not by much, and with cap space available, plus the addition of a young group of core players, better days are indeed ahead for the Bills."
"With no apparent philosophical thread through this roster, they opted to try and solve their QB riddle by executing a trade for Josh Rosen, who should win the job over Ryan Fitzpatrick."
"No unit this side of the quarterback position defines the Dolphins more than the offensive line. Ja'Wuan James left for Denver in free agency, and Laremy Tunsil, while he has outstanding natural ability, has just been okay in his first two years."
"They asked Kenyan Drake to bulk up for 2018, and he responded with a solid year and is certainly good enough to be a big piece of the backfield puzzle."
"They need more from tight ends Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe, while DeVante Parker gets one more shot to prove that he can be a No. 1 wide receiver. Kenny Stills gives them a nice vertical threat."
"They don't have a name-brand defender in the front seven, so they picked Christian Wilkins out of Clemson in the first round, and former top choice Charles Harris must show up in 2019 after a one-sack season."
"The linebackers are below average and will stay that way."
"Safety Reshad Jones is the most under-valued defensive back in the division and, along with Minkah Fitzpatrick and Pro Bowl corner Xavien Howard, gives them a solid starting point in the back end."
"New coach Brian Flores' biggest job will be giving Miami a clearly defined direction in schemes and personnel, while it will be the job of GM Chris Grier to find the right players. There will be growing pains as they try to establish a foundation before moving forward in 2020."
"While the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady combination seems unbeatable and never-ending, the 2018 season did show a number of cracks in their armor. They had a 1-2 start, got blown out by the Titans mid-year and then absorbed two December losses — yet Brady and his teammates saved their best for last during the playoff run."
"Brady looked mortal at times, but the offensive line allowed only 21 sacks all season. Trent Brown signed with the Raiders, so much will be expected of Isaiah Wynn."
"Sony Michel (931 rushing yards) and James White (87 receptions) provide a nifty backfield combo, but a huge hole exists with the retirement of Rob Gronkowski."
"Demaryius Thomas was added to the wide receiver mix that is headlined by Julian Edelman and will include rookie N'Keal Harry and Phillip Dorsett."
"Trey Flowers left for Detroit, so they traded for Michael Bennett and are banking on Deatrich Wise (4.5 sacks) to increase his production with more playing time."
"Kyle Van Noy is another rags-to-riches example of scheme fit and coaching really making a difference for a player."
"Dont'a Hightower took a step back in 2018, but Elandon Roberts has been an excellent find for their scouting staff."
"The Patriots have an older secondary, but Stephon Gilmore is an elite matchup corner, while the McCourty twins, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon are better as a collective unit than their individual talents would indicate."
"It's still the Patriots' world, and we are living in it for at least another year."
"In a very unusual move, GM Mike Maccagnan and ownership tabbed a failed divisional rival's coach as their new leader in the Dolphins' Adam Gase. He has much to prove as a communicator to the entire team and media, but the idea is that he can elevate the play of franchise QB hopeful Sam Darnold." [Editor's note: Maccagnan was fired by the Jets in mid-May. A few weeks later, the Jets hired Joe Douglas, the Philadelphia Eagles' former vice president of player personnel, to be their new GM.]
"In 13 starts, Darnold flashed his potential, but still only hit 57.7 percent while tossing 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions."
"They aggressively paid Le'Veon Bell, and he fills a huge need for them as a runner and receiver. He has never played behind an offensive line this suspect, so that is something to watch."
"Chris Herndon jumped out as a rookie tight end with 39 catches."
"Robby Anderson is their vertical threat, and after a quiet offseason, should increase his production. They lost Andre Roberts to the Bills in free agency after he earned All-Pro honors as a punt and kickoff returner."
"Gase hired Gregg Williams as DC, so expect them to be more disruptive in the front, meaning more freedom for Leonard Williams to get upfield. Henry Anderson is as solid as you can find as a five-technique end. They wisely stayed at No. 3 in the draft and chose Quinnen Williams."
"Maccagnan spent a fortune on C.J. Mosley and made him the highest-paid inside linebacker in league history at $17 million per season."
"Jamal Adams earned a Pro Bowl spot with 115 tackles and should only raise his profile in 2019."
"If Gase can maximize Darnold's assets and reduce his turnovers, this team has a chance to reach .500 with an eye towards the playoffs in 2020."