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Fantasy Files - AFC East Divisional Preview

The AFC East provides good Patriots and lots of question marks

NFL: New England Patriots at New York Jets
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

This is our second in a series of eight divisional previews. We will review all 32 teams via the 8 NFL divisions over the summer. Reviewing the league this way helps for a couple obvious reasons. Teams in the same division play essentially the same schedule and teams will many times be built in a way to try and win that division. Also, it’s easier to think of the league in 8 parts instead of 32. We’ll review each team, the players to consider, and finish it up with a best of divisional team. I use a variety of sources to build my analysis including DVOA from Football Outsiders, average draft position from Fantasy Football Calculator, and offensive line rankings from Pro Football Focus. As always, civil discourse is welcome. Our subject today, the AFC East, has three teams trying to find themselves and one pretty amazing squad. This division plays the NFC North and the AFC South this year.

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Kenyan Drake, bright spot or looming draft bust?
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Dolphins

2017 DVOA – 27th; Passing DVOA – 26th; Running DVOA – 23rd; Offensive Line – 29th

My, oh, my, what did Jay Cutler do to this team?! The Dolphins offense was absolutely dreadful last year and when they traded Jay Ajayi to the Eagles, all he did was take off and help Philly win a Super Bowl. The Dolphins did pull off a rather odd tag and trade for Jarvis Landry and then spent that money responsibly on went out and signed Albert Wilson for all the money. Yikes. It’s not a stretch to think this is a make or break year for this Dolphins regime and I’d be willing to wager that Adam Gase will be looking for work and the Dolphins will be taking their next QB of the future next April.

But let’s dive into what the Dolphins are offering this year. Ryan Tannehill returns from injury, allowing Jay Cutler to star in a reality TV show, probably the best thing for all parties involved. Tannehill showed steady improvement in years 1-3 and then sort of plateaued in year 4 before regressing in year 5. After missing all of last season, he’ll enter this year without his favorite safety blanket and an offensive line that leaves much to be desired. He’s basically free at the draft table so there is no risk if you want to take a flier on him. His best weapon is the magician DeVante Parker. His act includes tight rope walking along the sidelines and the always fan favorite – disappearing for long stretches. Kenny Stills will catch the occasional long ball but you’ve got to be in desperation mode to fire him up. The aforementioned Wilson will occupy the slot but he’s not much more than a WR5 in my opinion. Rookie Mike Gesicki will take over Tight End duties and will be counted on to immediately make an impact. He looks like an intriguing talent but I’ll probably wait until next year’s rookie is throwing to him.

The backfield is interesting, mostly because it looked like we had a good thing going with Kenyan Drake and then the Dolphins went out and signed Frank Gore. I love Frank Gore – total respect for his game and longevity. He’s no longer a viable fantasy asset, even if he wins a starting role, but I hope he’s just there to spell one of the few bright spots from last year in Drake. The current 4th round price tag for Drake makes sense unless you’re bullish on Gore. At that price, you’re drafting him as a RB2 and he’s got the talent upside to sneak into low RB1 territory if everything breaks right for him. However, remember you’re getting a poor offensive line and a QB coming off of injury.

NFL: Buffalo Bills-Minicamp
How long will it take to see Josh Allen on the field in 2018?
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Bills

2017 DVOA – 26th; Passing DVOA – 28th; Running DVOA – 28th; Offensive Line – 7th

I try to follow the entire league and track what every team is doing. I may not always agree with where a team thinks it is but if you look hard enough, you can usually figure out what the team is trying to do. I have zero idea what the Bills think they are and what they are trying to do. The Bills got rid of Tyrod Taylor, signed AJ McCarron in Free Agency, traded up pre-draft into the top 10, then took Josh Allen. If you didn’t follow the draft, Allen was the small school guy with tons of measurable and terrible accuracy. Some scouts stumped for him as the top QB and others had him as the 5th in the class. The Bills made him the 3rd QB drafted this year and history tells us that top 10 QBs usually find the field as rookies. Either way, that should give you pause on all Bills skill positions.

Kelvin Benjamin checks in as the WR1 in this offense and he can be had in the 10th round as the #43 WR off the board. Benjamin is a good fit for an inaccurate QB like Allen as he’s big and can jump, but he’s not much of a route runner. Second year man Zay Jones has had a weird off season – and I’m not just talking about knee surgery. I’ll let you google it. While there’s a little bit of buzz as a breakout candidate, I’m going to let someone else take the plunge. Charles Clay is a steady presence at TE and an offense run by either McCarron or Allen would benefit from a security blanket. You might use him to fill in a bye week.

The running game revolves around LeSean McCoy. It appears that McCoy might have some off field issues to deal with as of this writing, so this is definitely a story to keep tabs on. McCoy’s latest ADP has him at the start of the 2nd round and he has the unique talent to return on that investment. However, if he’s dealing with suspension issues, that would put Chris Ivory back into the fantasy spotlight. Ivory makes for an interesting speculation play. Overall, the Bills look like they might be in for a long year.

NFL: New York Jets-Minicamp
Is there a Franchise QB of the future in this picture?
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

New York Jets

2017 DVOA – 25th; Passing DVOA – 23rd; Running DVOA – 21st; Offensive Line – 30th

The Jets wanted to sign all the QBs this offseason. They brought back Josh McCown on a $10M deal. He’s the perfect mentor to whatever else the Jets were going to do so that move is a-okay by me. They then signed Teddy Bridgewater to a one year deal built on incentives. Then, they took USC’s Sam Darnold with the #3 pick. It’ll be interesting to see how the reps work out. Josh McCown probably doesn’t need to take too many snaps at this point but if you’re trying to create a trade market for Bridgewater or accelerate Darnold’s chances of seeing the field in 2018, they’ll both need work. Otherwise, it’s an interesting QB room but not one that you should invite into your fantasy squad in 2018.

The Jets signed Terrelle Pryor to join one of the more lackluster receiving units from last year. Robby Anderson was a useful player last year and is probably the only draftable asset in this receiving tree. Isaiah Crowell was signed to compete with Bilal Powell, which makes the backfield just as sad as the receivers. Honestly, I could see taking Anderson as a WR4/5 but I don’t want anything else on offering here. The best case scenario for the Jets this year would be to get value out of Bridgewater and trade him before the deadline and mentor Darnold along to get him game experience in the second half of the year. They can then invest in improving the offensive line and finding skill players to surround Darnold in 2019 like the Bears did this year.

NFL: Super Bowl LII-Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots
Still the most dominant TE in the league
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots

2017 DVOA – 1st; Passing DVOA – 1st; Running DVOA – 1st; Offensive Line – 3rd

You don’t need to read this article to know that the Patriots are really good at this football thing. They were absolutely dominant last year en route to another Super Bowl appearance. I am in awe of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady for their sustained dominance in this era of football. I do think that this is the last year of the ride – for Belichick, Brady, or both (my money is on Belichick leaving after this year with one more year of Brady to help McDaniels transition).

Tom Brady is currently the third QB off the board and why not? It’s easy money. Brady gets his favorite target in Julian Edelman back this year and with a healthy Rob Gronkowski , the numbers should open up for all involved in the offense. I’m not sure if the WR2 option is Chris Hogan or Malcolm Mitchell or Jordan Matthews or someone that is picked up from camp cuts, but I do think Edelman is the guy to own and worth every penny. Gronk is the first Patriot off the board in most drafts and the only problem with that is the injury risk. Last year they held Gronk out of some games in an attempt to save him for the playoffs. He sometimes looks broken out there – beware the Patriots are playing at a different level and might just give him games off against lesser opponents (I mean, look at this division) to rest up for bigger things.

The running game is always interesting. My general philosophy is to never trust a Patriots running back because Belichick will play with your emotions. After losing Dion Lewis to Free Agency, the Patriots did something curious – they drafted a running back in the first round. Sony Michel is currently the 25th RB off the board and that number is sure to go up as we get closer to the season. Again, I think this is Belichick’s last hurrah and he didn’t draft Michel to sit and learn. I think he’s in line for a lot of action and is an interesting gamble as a mid-tier RB2. Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, and Jeremy Hill are all on the roster right now, bringing a lot of different skill sets that could carve into Michel’s workload should he emerge as the alpha. As a general rule, hooking into an elite offense such as this is always a good idea. Find a way to get in and enjoy the points.

The All AFC East Squad

QB – Tom Brady, Patriots

RB – Sony Michel, Patriots

RB – LeSean McCoy, Bills

WR – Julian Edelman, Patriots

WR – DeVante Parker, Dolphins

WR – Robby Anderson, Jets

TE – Rob Gronkowski, Patriots

D – Patriots