Is New England still the class of the AFC East without Tom Brady? Scouts break down the Bills, Dolphins, Patriots and Jets
New England has dominated the AFC East for more than a decade but is a changing of the guard forthcoming? Tom Brady is now in Tampa Bay and some other key players departed via free agency, so this Patriots team will certainly look different. Bill Belichick is still around and will lean on his usually tough defense and hope for a bounce-back campaign from his new quarterback (likely Cam Newton) to maintain his team's supremacy in the division.
Buffalo, Miami and New York all made moves this offseason, but will it be enough for any of them to dethrone the team that has won 11 straight AFC East titles?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC East shapes up entering the 2020 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.
"Head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane have built an exciting culture, making the playoffs twice in three years, but can they take the next step and win in the playoffs?"
"Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has done a great job of putting QB Josh Allen in a position to thrive, using his strengths as a rusher and hitting intermediate throws off play action."
"This was the No. 8-ranked rushing offense with rookie playmaker RB Devin Singletary and old reliable RB Frank Gore. Besides Singletary, they drafted Zack Moss, Utah's all-time leading rusher, in the third round."
"The weakness was their passing attack, so they traded a first-round draft pick for star WR Stefon Diggs to pair with speedster John 'Smoky' Brown and slot WR Cole Beasley."
"The TE unit was serviceable, but expect more production from second-year TE Dawson Knox."
"Last offseason, they invested a lot of shares into the OL and saw immediate return on investment, but they must improve the OG spots."
"This was a top-three defensive unit, but the weakness was on the DL. Expect second-year DT Ed Oliver to have a breakout season due to the loss of sack leaders DT Jordan Phillips and DE Shaq Lawson in free agency. Expect ex-Panthers DT Vernon Butler and relentless DE Mario Addison to make an impact."
"LB Lorenzo Alexander retired, but they won't miss a beat with the emergence of LB Matt Milano and LB Tremaine Edmunds, who made his first Pro Bowl last season."
"They're lacking a true outside CB to pair with All-Pro CB Tre'Davious White and underrated nickel Taron Johnson but have one of the best safety units in the NFL with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde."
"The ceiling for this team will solely depend on Allen's improvement as a passer."
"Given the worst roster in the NFL, Brian Flores proved he could still find ways to win."
"The team showed resiliency, led by journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. With them drafting Tua Tagovailoa to be their QB of the future, what does this mean for Josh Rosen?"
"The team retooled their roster when they traded Pro Bowl LT Laremy Tunsil to the Texans for two years of top draft picks, but they made mistakes by trading away potential Defensive Player of the Year DB Minkah Fitzpatrick and dynamic RB Kenyan Drake."
"They signed power RB Jordan Howard and traded for RB Matt Breida to improve the league's worst rushing attack."
"After playing like a top-10 WR, DeVante Parker got a contract extension. They found a gem in undrafted WR Preston Williams, and with the emergence of TE Mike Gesicki, expect this to be a solid receiving unit this season."
"This is a bottom-three OL, and therefore they signed OG Ereck Flowers and drafted OT Austin Jackson in the first round."
"They're satisfied with DTs Davon Godchaux and Christian Wilkins, but due to the lack of edge rushers, they signed former division rivals Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy."
"They're excited with the young ILB duo of Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan, but someone will need to emerge as the leader of this defense."
"The addition of CB Byron Jones with top-five CB Xavien Howard makes this the highest-paid CB duo in the NFL."
"They converted nickel Bobby McCain and CB Eric Rowe to safety hoping they could become reliable starters."
"They found quality role players last season, with low expectations, but now their plan is in motion, and it's on GM Chris Grier to get it right and capitalize."
"Head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will try to prove the critics wrong who have already counted this team out."
"Expect QB Jarrett Stidham to be the starter, but QB Brian Hoyer was brought back for his third stint with the team for solid competition." [Editor's note: scouting report was submitted before New England signed Cam Newton in late June to a one-year contract.]
"They still have a reliable playmaker in RB James White, but the team's offensive philosophy will go through RB Sony Michel."
"The receivers were huge disappointments, with the only consistent option being WR Julian Edelman, but expect more production from WRs N'Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu Sr. and Jakobi Meyers moving forward."
"The retirement of iconic OL coach Dante Scarnecchia will be impactful, but overall, this is a top-10 group that brought back All-Pro OG Joe Thuney to keep this unit intact." [Editor's note: Starting right tackle Marcus Cannon has opted out of playing this season due to health-related concerns amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.]
"Statistically, the Patriots had the No. 1-ranked defense, a group that created 36 turnovers, but it trended downward the final two games."
"They lost Kyle Van Noy to the Dolphins, but expect a big year from relentless edge Chase Winovich. LB Dont'a Hightower struggled, and with Jamie Collins leaving in free agency, expect ILB Ja'Whaun Bentley to step up." [Editor's note: Hightower has opted out of playing this season.]
"This was the league's best overall DB unit, led by safety Devin McCourty and the Defensive Player of the Year, CB Stephon Gilmore."
"Overall, this organization still has a strong culture but a different vibe; it'll be an intriguing season for sure."
"The Jets faced adversity early on with a nightmare start, injuries to star players and constant displeasure from fans who wanted the team to fire head coach and play-caller Adam Gase, but they showed resiliency and finished the season strong."
"No doubt about the talent QB Sam Darnold possesses, but he must limit turnovers and play with consistency as he heads into Year Three."
"RB Le'Veon Bell was still effective, quietly amassing over 1,000 all-purpose yards."
"Slot WR Jamison Crowder led the team with 78 receptions, and with the additions of WRs Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims, they let WR Robby Anderson depart in free agency."
"While TE Chris Herndon basically rehabbed all last season, Ryan Griffin stepped up as a reliable veteran and earned a contract extension."
"They did a great job to revamp one of the worst OLs, signing athletic OT George Fant and versatile C Connor McGovern and drafting OT Mekhi Becton in the first round."
"Defensively, they play with a fast, aggressive and attacking tempo led by motivating defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and All-Pro safety Jamal Adams." [Editor's note: scouting report was submitted before Adams was traded to Seattle prior to the scheduled start of training camp.]
"Top-three ILB C.J. Mosley made an immediate impact before being slowed down by injuries."
"They have one of the worst starting CB units, but they found a bright spot with nickel Brian Poole and the additions of CBs Pierre Desir and Bryce Hall."
"They need more consistency on special teams with a murky kicking situation, but they added a weapon with punter Braden Mann."
"GM Joe Douglas and Gase will add more talent to help Darnold, but it's on him to take the next step and prove if he's really the franchise QB."