AFC East Roster Holes: Optimal Landing Spots for the 2021 Rookie Class

Matthew Bevins looks at roster situations that could produce impactful rookies in 2021 fantasy football leagues.

The AFC East is littered with intrigue, as the division so often controlled entirely by the New England Patriots is now Tom Brady-free. What can this division do alongside two potential star quarterbacks leading teams in Josh Allen (talent almost entirely realized) and Tua Tagovailoa, while the Jets will almost surely draft a quarterback with their second pick overall and the Patriots find themselves in the midst of a massive free agency rebuild. With that in mind, let’s dive into who needs what to make their teams better overall, from a fantasy football perspective.

 

New York Jets: QB, RB

 

The New York Jets need a lot of things. It’s actually harder to say where this team is entirely content, as they’ve spent the last year or so essentially “tanking” to get their highest pick possible. At second overall, it’s almost a runaway guarantee that the team will take BYU prodigy Zack Wilson with their pick. It’s very much needed, as they’ve spent the past few years sandwiched between a quarterback known for a butt fumble, and a quarterback who “sees ghosts”. The Jets have lost out on talent from Sam Darnold and LeVeon Bell, and have squashed the talent of so many potentially great players, but the Jets have defensive-minded phenom coach Robert Saleh, and so the future is potentially bright for this team, for the first time in eons. Wilson is just shy of 6 foot five and can rip the ball, but also can hold the pocket with ease, and will have three able-bodied wide receivers alongside him from the get-go in Jamison CrowderDenzel Mims, and Corey Davis. 

Behind the name brand of Wilson and the potential high flying nature of two wide receivers with upside and Corey Davis on arrival from Tennessee, this team has question marks galore. Running back was absolutely shredded through last season, as the Jets carved through their squad at this position, and Bell was gone almost as quickly as he arrived. In the end they survived on the age-old knees of Frank Gore and a cobbled-together backup situation. Simply put, they need a running back that they can build upon. La’Michael Perine is intriguing, but not someone that this team wants to entirely center themselves around, theoretically. The likelihood would be the Jets would look to get both before pick 60 in the draft.

 

Buffalo Bills: WR2, RB1(2?)

 

For a division so deeply rooted to one team, the Bills were very quick to look like the mantle place team of old last year. Josh Allen threw for just over 4,500 yards in his third NFL season and connected with his new IRL best friend, Stefon Diggs, on 127 passes. This is absolutely incredible but also showcases just how absurd their connection was (he caught 12 more passes than the second place receiver last year, Davante Adams). The Bills had John Brown in 2020, but have lost him to free agency, and he also was marred by half of last season being injury-riddled. The Bills and Allen will make do without a premiere second receiver to toe alongside Diggs, but they would ultimately prefer not to if they want to have Diggs do this for any long period of time. Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, and Gabriel Davis could all ultimately be highlighted as a second wide receiver, but the expectation would be they look to stash away a receiver a bit later in the draft.

Just as much as the second receiver has been a sore spot for Buffalo, so has rushing. Devin Singletary played in every game last season and yet still didn’t pass 700 yards, so it’s very clear that just two seasons into his career, the bloom has come off the rose a bit. Would the Bills prefer to give Singletary another year to iron out his mistakes, after an amazing season last year for their squad, and ideally build at other positions other than going back to the well early at running back? Sure. With that said, running backs at premium levels can make or break so many teams. To have a runner in Singletary actually lose a hundred yards off their production from a rookie season is so incredibly disheartening, and shows that there is absolutely an opportunity to succeed here, and while it could be via the draft, Zack Moss could also take a large portion of the backfield from Singletary.

 

Dolphins: RB, WR2

 

The Miami Dolphins are on the upswing. Anyone who has seen this team over the last year has seen just how consistent and energized Brian Flores can make this team play. The defense crashes the line, and the offense has slowly started to mold itself an identity, thru the combination of Tua and Mike Gesecki, but ultimately was undone by sheer lack of rushing depth and inconsistent quarterback play as Tua attempted to become a pro-level quarterback. The team spent the better half of the year trying to push for a playoff run, so in some games, Tua was actually yanked for the Fitzmagic man himself, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The team is ultimately very much committed to their quarterback, but other than him and Gesecki, this team is as enigmatic as it is exciting.

In this draft, the Dolphins could tie into their youth, and give some more time to develop, or they could go entirely off-reservation and scorch earth everything but Tua. My expectation would be that the team will look to build upon a pretty surreal season last year for a team so young, and draft some running back depth. The good part about this draft is the immense amount of talent available at the strongest fantasy positions, able to take some overall volume off the plate for their current running backs, who are Lynn Bowden Jr. ( a quarterback turned wide receiver who can foray at running back), and Myles Gaskin (who nobody saw as a legitimate rusher but actually showed up when the team needed him most) among others.

The Dolphins offense also has the definition of “boom/bust” with the signing of Will Fuller in the offseason, to go across the hash marks from Devante Parker, just a year removed from being popped for peds. Fuller has always been an amazing player when on the field, but getting him on the field is always the biggest problem. With a quarterback that’s oft inconsistent and came into the draft with injury concerns and a backfield riddled with injury pasts, it’s a bit worrisome that Fuller has not eclipsed 13 games in his 5 season career. I would absolutely want a second wide receiver to get some depth just in case.

 

Patriots: QB, WR3

 

The Patriots spent this offseason. They spent an NFL free agency record 159.6 million dollars in guaranteed money after March 17th, per ESPN. So, to be quite honest, any free agency gaps that the draft may assist them with, they likely spent to get it resolved before they even got to the draft. The Pats spent in a metaphorical sense that looks like any of the “spending money” gifs you can find in your searches (guy walking around talking into a stack of hundreds, Leonardo Dicaprio throwing money off a boat). They needed a tight end something fierce. They stepped into free agency and signed Jonnu Smith (admittedly, one of my favorite young tight ends to watch, he reminds me somewhat of a bit less fast Antonio Gates). I really thought that would end it. They then long-distance called across the country and locked up Hunter Henry (one of Bill Belichick’s heartthrobs of old).

Spending money has often been one of the toughest things to watch as a local Patriots fan, as no unsexy free agents were ever signed, continuous trading down in the draft board to pickup someone serviceable that would have no direct impact on an actual fantasy roster. Then we watched as the checkbook was torn from end to end. With that, they then brought Cam Newton back on a one-year team deal, potentially as a way to bring in a rookie quarterback and build him into the system with some tutelage. I’m all for it, as Cam showcased to be a pretty solid leader and mentor, even while his talents are clearly deteriorating. The assumption would be the Patriots may take some of their depth in picks, and trade up to get a top-five college quarterback, and that could possibly be the most exciting draft move they’ve done in ages. A young quarterback to build into the system would likely be with the expectation they’d want a young, and an athletic quarterback who is mobile and able to react and get out of the pocket if need be.

To cap off the expectations they spent a large amount to ratchet up the offense, bringing back James White and signing Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agoholor. Bourne has settled in as a defacto low-end #2 or high-end #3 in San Fran, filling in plugged gaps and injury needs, and always performing admirably, while not necessarily doing any of it for any consistent period of time. Agoholor showcased last season that he has the immense upside to show flashes of WR1 potential, but can disappear for 2-3 game stretches of time. The expectation may not be that the team would spend a high pick on a wide receiver, but an end of the draft wide receiver with some upside may not be the worst idea, as Jakobi Meyers showed what he could potentially be with an offense of actual talent around him, but there’s no Julian Edelman to speak of, thus leaving not a single number one wide receiver to speak of. Agoholor and Bourne can melt themselves down into a potential number two, but with the expectation that Meyers will continue his ascension, the best thing to do would be drafting young rookie talent to come into the system with their shiny new quarterback, in tow.

 

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire)

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