2014 NFL Draft Grades: AFC East

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New England Patriots

The First Pick: The Patriots used their first round pick on Dominique Easley, a player whose injury history may have scared many teams. They do things differently in New England, though, and Easley, a top 10 pick if healthy, became the pick at number 29. If he is ready to go, he instantly improves an aging interior of the defensive line. He’ll play early and often.

The Question: Ryan Mallett was drafted a few years ago, and many fans saw him as the eventual replacement for Tom Brady. However, with Mallett’s rookie contract ending, the Pats went out and used a second round pick on Jimmy Garoppolo and his lightning quick release. Garoppolo doesn’t have the big arm and body of Mallett, so he’ll have a lot to prove to fans.

The Steal: Safety Jemea Thomas is a talented player who can play all over the secondary. Size was likely an issue for teams, as he stands at just 5’9”, but he has great range and excellent ball skills. The Patriots will give him a chance to win a starting job, but he’ll play early on.

The Reach: James White is a solid running back, as long as he’s part of a committee, but when they picked him, there was better value available. Lache Seastrunk, for one, was still on the board.

The Rest: The Patriots added some other talented players through the draft. Center Bryan Stork will be groomed to take over in the middle. They also added Jon Halapio and Cameron Fleming along the offensive line. Jeremy Gallon was added in round seven. He could be another great value pick.

The Grade: New England used several late round picks to add value, but their grade will be tied to Easley’s health and Garoppolo’s development. B-

New York Jets

The First Pick: Many fans expected the Jets to take an offensive weapon for Geno Smith early, but they went back to the defense and selected safety Calvin Pryor. Pryor is a hammer in the secondary, and will punish receivers over the middle. He could struggle in coverage if asked to go one-on-one, but he should grow in that area.

The Question: The Jets defense was terrific in 2013, but the offense wasn’t able to hold up their end of things. The additions of Jace Amaro, Shaq Evans, and Jalen Saunders are meant to add sizzle to that side of the ball, so it’s important that at least a few of those players are able to contribute right away.

The Steal: Concerns about his knee knocked linebacker Trevor Reilly from a potential day two pick to the end of round seven. He’s a versatile player who could see time early on in the defensive rotation as a pass rusher, but is also solid in other parts of the game.

The Reach: At 5’9” and just 165 lbs, Jalen Saunders might find it tough to regularly get onto the field. His speed and ability as a returner are intriguing, but he’ll probably be limited in playing time, more limited than a team may like from the first receiver they selected. Bruce Ellington, taken a few picks later, might have been a better pick for their slot receiver.

The Rest: Shaq Evans could wind up a real find for the Jets. He has good size, and is underrated. Dakota Dozier could also be a great mid-round selection. An interesting pick was Taj Boyd. The Clemson quarterback could put pressure on Geno Smith to perform, but he could be a quality backup. Dexter McDougle is a fearless cornerback who tackles like a safety.

The Grade: The Jets had a lot of picks, and definitely addressed the offense. They had some nice mid-round value as well on both sides of the ball. B

Miami Dolphins

The First Pick: It was pretty clear all along that the Dolphins were going to address the offensive line heavily in this draft, and they selected Ja’Wuan James with their first round pick. He rose up draft boards late with an ability to contribute in both the run and passing game.

The Question: The Miami offensive line is going to be a question all season. James, along with third round pick Billy Turner, will be counted on to contribute right away to facilitate the offense. If they can’t help, Ryan Tannehill is going to find it hard to get points on the scoreboard.

The Steal: Wide Receiver Jarvis Landry is as steady a player at his position as there is in the draft. With terrific hands, and the toughness to make plays over the middle, he could wind up being a great pick, and getting him at the very end of round two provides great value.

The Reach: With the top tackles already off the board when Miami picked in the first round, the Dolphins may have reached just a bit to fill a huge need at tackle. James was a fringe first round player who went at 19 because Miami desperately needed offensive line help.

The Rest: The Dolphins fleshed out some of the other positions with their later round picks. Arthur Lynch adds depth a tight end, while Jordan Tripp and Walt Aikens will compete at linebacker and cornerback respectively.

The Grade: Miami certainly addressed their biggest weakness in this draft, and added some talented players elsewhere, but may have reached just a bit for James in round one. They used their late round picks effectively. C+

Buffalo Bills

The First Pick: The Bills made one of the big moves of this year’s draft, trading up to the number four spot to select Sammy Watkins. Watkins is a dynamic playmaker who could become an elite NFL receiver. He was the best of his class.

The Question: Trading up for Watkins certainly adds an immensely talented receiver to the team, but was trading up worth it? In a very deep receiver class, they could have gotten a very good receiver at number nine, and saved their first round pick next year. They may have given up too much.

The Steal: Off-field concerns and injuries pushed the draft stock of Seantrel Henderson down and he lasted until the seventh round. If he is able to get it together, he could be a physically dominating tackle in the NFL, and make a bunch of teams look bad for passing on him.

The Reach: With several more highly ranked cornerbacks still on the board, the Bills selected Ross Cockrell early in round four. Aaron Colvin and Pierre Desir both went a little later in round four.

The Rest: The Bills went big, literally. Aside from the massive Henderson, they added Cyrus Kouandjio, another gigantic tackle, and Cyril Richardson, the big guard from Baylor. They also picked Preston Brown, who they hope can step in at middle linebacker.

The Grade: There’s no doubting the Bills wanted to upgrade the offense. They got the biggest playmaker in the draft, and then added some big bodies to protect EJ Manuel. A-

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