AFC + EAST - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
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AFC + EAST

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MIAMI DOLPHINS10--6

PRIMARY NEED: TIGHT END

COACH ADAM GASE, one of the league's best offensive architects, has a favorite formation: an unbalanced 3-by-1, with all wide receivers on the 3 side and a tight end on the 1 side. This not only forces the defense to reveal man or zone coverage but also sets up the three-receiver route combinations and quick strikes that define Gase's designs. Just one problem: The Dolphins don't have a dangerous pass-catching tight end. In 2016 they aligned in their 3-by-1 set 170 times and threw to the tight end just 10. That won't do. Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims are both free agents, so a new tight end is needed regardless. Gase has to find someone with the flexibility to split out wide, the way Julius Thomas did so effectively for him in Denver.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 14--2

PRIMARY NEED: RUN DEFENDER

DEFENSIVE ENDS Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long, middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower and DT Alan Branch are free agents. The Patriots enter the off-season with more cap space than all but three teams, but their history says there's still little chance all four of these players will be retained. What Bill Belichick prioritizes above all else in run defense is someone to set the edge and force a ballcarrier to stay inside; that's where Sheard and Long are valuable. The 26-year-old Hightower, in particular, will be pricey, commanding top five stack 'backer money. Finding a thumping gap shooter like him, or a behemoth gap plugger like Branch, will be critical in maintaining a run D that tied for third in 2016.

NEW YORK JETS 5--11

PRIMARY NEED: OFFENSIVE TACKLE

UNLESS 2016 second-round pick Christian Hackenberg is the Guy (unlikely at this point), there's a spot to fill at quarterback. Whoever the Jets find will need protection. Ryan Clady (cap hit $10.5 million in '17) and Breno Giacomini (cap hit $5.1 million) are expensive for tackles in their 30s coming off injury-riddled seasons. Either could be replaced—and not internally, since so-so backup Ben Ijalana is now a free agent. What type of tackle New York finds depends on the system installed by first-time offensive coordinator John Morton (former Saints receivers coach). If it's run-heavy and built on deep drop-backs, the tackle will be pricier. If it's a quick-striking spread scheme, a middle-tier tackle will do.

BUFFALO BILLS 7--9

PRIMARY NEED: QUARTERBACK

UNTIL THIS team finds its quarterback, management will keep making shortsighted head-coaching hires every two or three years. Tyrod Taylor is not the solution. He's mobile—and that's it. He doesn't have the anticipatory instincts or accuracy to compensate for mediocre throwing velocity. Taylor's also not comfortable in the pocket, which leads to his breaking down before the pressure even arrives and renders him unable to see open receivers. If the Bills wind up riding Taylor one more year—unlikely, given they'd save $13 million in cap space by cutting him—then he'll need weapons. Every receiver except Sammy Watkins is now a free agent.