With the first part of free agency over and the majority of big names signed it’s time to take a look at what I think each team will do in the first round. This will still likely change before draft day with more players signed, rumors coming out from different teams and probably just with the mood I am in on any given day. This is a very deep draft and there are a lot of prospects whose value varies tremendously depending on who you talk to. There is no definite number one pick and that makes this whole mock thing that much more difficult to do. However, without further ado, here are my predictions for the first round picks of each AFC East team.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, Tight End, North Carolina
The Bills could go a few different ways with their first round pick. They could opt to bolster a defense that finished 10th in the league in yards per game or they could take an offensive lineman and strengthen the protection for E.J. Manuel. However, I think they need to continue to put weapons around Manuel and Eric Ebron is absolutely a weapon. Manuel was a raw quarterback coming out and is still growing and giving him a big time weapon like Ebron who can be a safety blanket for him as well as a downfield target would be a huge help.
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The Bills have a solid duo of running backs in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller as well as a solid duo of receivers in Steve Johnson and Robert Woods. They just re-signed Scott Chandler at the tight end position, but he isn’t a big time weapon. Ebron brings an element to his game that the Bills don’t have and would be a nightmare for every defense they play to cover. Along with Scott Chandler, the Bills have Tony Moeaki who had a very good rookie year in 2010 before he got injured. He played again in 2012, but didn’t play any in 2013. The Bills can’t count on him to be healthy, but if he is he gives the Bills a great trio of tight ends with Ebron and Chandler. Giving Manuel the best chance to succeed is a must and getting him a weapon as well as a security blanket in one player can do that.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, Wide Receiver, USC
The Jets absolutely need weapons for Geno Smith or Michael Vick to throw to next year. Yes, they did sign Eric Decker, but he can’t be the lone weapon on a team and that offense be expected to produce. Stephen Hill still hasn’t turned into a viable receiving option and can’t be depended on to be one next year. This is a deep receiver draft and the Jets could wait till later to address the receiver position, but a playmaker like Lee likely won’t be available later.
Lee was one of the best players in the country in 2012, being named a unanimous First-Team All-American, Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and the Biletnikoff Award winner for best receiver in the country. Lee had a down year in 2013, but that was due to injury and poor quarterback play. If you want to see the true Lee, watch his 2011 and 2012 tape when he had a competent quarterback behind center. Lee would bring playmaking ability to the Jets that they have lacked for a while now. He can go deep as well as catch a short pass and take it 80 yards to the house. He has had a few issues with drops, but it’s nothing that should scare a team away from taking him. Lee would be a weapon to grow with Geno Smith if they believe he is the quarterback of the future or a good piece to have in place when they draft a new quarterback.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, Offensive Tackle/Offensive Guard, Notre Dame
The Dolphins need help on their offensive line. They no longer need a left tackle with the signing of Brandon Albert, but they still have holes at guard and at the right tackle position. If the Dolphins want to have a chance of overtaking the Patriots in the AFC East they have to start protecting Ryan Tannehill better and running the ball better. Improved offensive line play can help both of those things. Enter Zack Martin.
Martin gives the Dolphins a lot of flexibility with who they want to bring in going forward. He has shown that he can be a good tackle, but many believe he can slide inside and be a fantastic guard as well. This gives the Dolphins the option of playing him at right tackle if they see a guard they want later in the draft or free agency or play him at guard if another tackle falls that they want. Martin is a smart, high-character guy who has shown good technique and good enough power to survive outside if the Dolphins want him there. He routinely shut down whoever he was up against at both tackle and guard at the Senior Bowl. He lacks elite athleticism, but he makes up for it with his technique, toughness and tenacity. Martin would be a huge addition to the Dolphins offensive line.
29 New England Patriots: Louis Nix III, Defensive Tackle, Notre Dame
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The Patriots have some holes on offense that they need to fill and I almost gave them a tight end here, but in the end with Vince Wilfork asking for his release I think the Patriots for a player to replace him. The Patriots have relied on Wilfork in the middle of that defense for a long time now and he has really been a consistent force in the middle. Replacing him and keeping that consistent force in the middle is a must for Belicheck this offseason.
Nix could have been a top 15 player if not for an injury his senior year. He is a huge man at 6’2” and 340 pounds. He moves well for a man his size and can absolutely dominate a game. He shows nimble feet and good agility to move with quickness in any direction to make a play. He keeps his eyes on the play and reads whether it is a run or a pass well, allowing him to rarely be in the wrong place. He can split a gap well with quickness, but also has multiple pass rush moves with a good arm-over swim move and a good bull rush. He needs to take on double teams better as a nose tackle in the NFL and needs to learn some counter moves. He plays with a high motor and is a high character kid that would fit in with what New England likes to do. This would be a match made in heaven for both player and team.