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AFC East projected starters for 2022 NFL season: Bills, Dolphins and Jets significantly improved

With the 2022 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams because that's his idea of fun. Check out the AFC East breakdowns below.

Table inside Article
QB Josh Allen DE Von Miller
RB James Cook DT Ed Oliver
WR Stefon Diggs DT Tim Settle
WR Gabriel Davis DE Greg Rousseau
WR Jamison Crowder LB Tremaine Edmunds
TE Dawson Knox LB Matt Milano
LT Dion Dawkins CB Tre'Davious White
LG Rodger Saffold CB Kaiir Elam
C Mitch Morse CB Taron Johnson
RG Ryan Bates S Jordan Poyer
RT Spencer Brown S Micah Hyde
  • What a successful offseason for Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott. The Bills didn't stand pat with a title-ready roster. It's clearly better now than it was when they lost to the Chiefs in a Divisional Round shootout.
  • The transformation begins at running back, where James Cook's ability on passing downs should eventually leave Devin Singletary in a backup role.
  • Replacing Cole Beasley with Jamison Crowder is a cap-saving, even trade. Buffalo still has a strong No. 4 wideout in Isaiah McKenzie.
  • The only risk among the pass catchers is expecting Gabriel Davis to step up to the No. 2 spot for a full season, but the Bills know him best and the upside is evident. (It doesn't get much higher than putting up 201 yards and four scores in a playoff game.)
  • I also loved the O.J. Howard signing. Small risk, huge reward for a tight end who can block and catch if he's healthy.
  • The offensive line just needs to be average. Rodger Saffold's addition could help the run blocking while hurting the group in pass protection. If there's a weakness on the roster, however, this is it.
  • McDermott knew his defense needed to be better after collapsing against the Chiefs. It starts with the defensive line, where DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle and Jordan Phillips all add depth to an interior group that was mediocre last year.
  • Ed Oliver quietly broke out in his third season, playing like the top-10 pick he was. He is even more important to this defense than Von Miller.
  • How could Buffalo go from fielding another good defense to featuring one of the best units in football? Oliver takes another step and the team's young outside pass rushers (Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham, A.J. Epenesa) continue to develop.
  • Even before Tre'Davious White tore his ACL last November, the cornerback wasn't playing at his usual Pro Bowl level. The Bills can only hope he returns to his old form -- and rookie Kaiir Elam has a similarly fast start to his career as White did back in 2017 in McDermott's first year.
  • Of course things could go wrong. The division is tougher, and the schedule is difficult. But the Bills have realistic expectations to field top-five units on offense and defense. That gives them plenty of margin for error.
Table inside Article
QB Tua Tagovailoa DE Emmanuel Ogbah
RB Chase Edmonds DT Christian Wilkins
WR Tyreek Hill DT Raekwon Davis
WR Jaylen Waddle OLB Jaelan Phillips
WR Cedrick Wilson LB Jerome Baker
TE Mike Gesicki OLB Andrew Van Ginkel
LT Terron Armstead CB Xavien Howard
LG Connor Williams CB Byron Jones
C Michael Deiter CB Nik Needham
RG Robert Hunt S Jevon Holland
RT Liam Eichenberg S Brandon Jones
  • Teddy Bridgewater's career arc is probably the median outcome of Tua Tagovailoa's next decade, so they make sense as a duo. Tua's timing and accuracy on quick stuff is already top shelf -- and he should make a jump in his third season, aided by the improved talent and coaching staff around him.
  • No matter how weird social media gets about Tua's deep ball, this offense still will be about getting the ball quickly to playmakers in space. It's how Mike McDaniel built it. In Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and Cedrick Wilson, the Dolphins have three receivers who can get open before Tagovailoa finishes dropping back to pass.
  • If Bridgewater has to step in, there probably won't be a big decline. He was a better player than Tua overall in 2021.
  • Look to the contracts to figure out Miami's crowded backfield. Chase Edmonds was guaranteed $6.1 million, compared to just $1 million for Raheem Mostert. Both players should have meaty roles, but Edmonds is going to play a lot.
  • The Dolphins can save $2.5 million against the cap by cutting Myles Gaskin, a move that seems more likely after the team signed Sony Michel.
  • No offensive line was worse than Miami's over the last two seasons. The unit looks a lot better with Terron Armstead and Connor Williams arriving in free agency, but I'm even more optimistic about the coaching staff. All this group needs to be is average, and Tua's life will change.
  • Right tackle is the one wide-open position. Recent first-round pick Austin Jackson is another option beyond Liam Eichenberg. Solomon Kindley could also play right guard, with Robert Hunt moving outside.
  • After Emmanuel Ogbah and Christian Wilkins, there isn't a clear third starter on the defensive line. The Dolphins have enough bodies to rotate plenty, but this isn't an area of strength.
  • Similarly, I struggled to pick a second inside linebacker alongside Jerome Baker. Elandon Roberts, rookie Channing Tindall and Duke Riley will all mix in for snaps. Tindall should eventually be an upgrade on Roberts.
  • It won't surprise me at all if recent pickup Melvin Ingram winds up out-playing and out-snapping either Jaelan Phillips or Andrew Van Ginkel. It's a fun group.
  • McDaniel wisely retained defensive coordinator Josh Boyer, so the team's vision in the secondary doesn't need an overhaul.
  • Xavien Howard and Byron Jones remain one of the best outside corner duos in football. Jevon Holland proved to be a steal of a second-round pick at safety during his rookie campaign. This should be an aggressive, playmaking group.
  • An adjustment period is natural, but this roster is better than the ones that finished 19-14 combined over the last two seasons. Anything less than a playoff spot would be a letdown.
Table inside Article
QB Mac Jones DE Deatrich Wise Jr.
RB Damien Harris DT Christian Barmore
WR Kendrick Bourne DE Lawrence Guy
WR Jakobi Meyers OLB Matthew Judon
WR Nelson Agholor LB Ja'Whaun Bentley
TE Hunter Henry OLB Josh Uche
LT Isaiah Wynn CB Jalen Mills
LG Mike Onwenu CB Jonathan Jones
C David Andrews S Devin McCourty
RG Cole Strange S Kyle Dugger
RT Trent Brown S Adrian Phillips
  • The concern about Mac Jones' weapons is overstated. This group makes up for in depth and options what it lacks in top-end athleticism.
  • The new coaching setup is a concern, but otherwise, Jones has a sneaky-high ceiling as this generation's Philip Rivers. The No. 15 overall pick showed next-level traits as a rookie and could climb to a top-10 quarterback starting this season.
  • Running back goes four deep, wideout goes five deep and the Patriots have two capable tight ends. The top-end talent isn't there, but it's a long way from the league-worst group Cam Newton played with in 2020.
  • My guess is that Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor and DeVante Parker split time evenly, with no true No. 1 wideout. Meyers is reliable and Bourne showed the best chemistry with Jones, so they should be the most consistent.
  • I'm not sure Agholor would be on the team if not for his guaranteed money. Parker could be an upgrade on the outside, but his career has been extremely up and down. Parker's presence could free up Agholor to play more in the slot.
  • Then again, the Patriots have a lot of guys who can play in the slot. That includes tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, the latter of whom had a disastrous first year in New England. Smith and Agholor "getting" the Patriots offense in Year 2 would be as big as any 2022 pickup.
  • One of those pickups, second-round wideout Tyquan Thornton, is the X-factor of the receiver group. He's faster than any Patriots wideout since Bethel Johnson.
  • The RB room is similarly deep. Damien Harris profiles as a true RB1, yet the rest of the backs (Rhamondre Stevenson, James White, rookie Pierre Strong) are too versatile to sit around.
  • New England's starting offensive line looks solid, even if the unit underperformed last year when Trent Brown was out. There is less depth than previous years, something Bill Belichick tries to avoid.
  • Belichick doesn't have a swing tackle behind two injury-prone starters and is expecting a rookie from Chattanooga to start at guard. More veterans should be added.
  • It's remarkable how quickly New England's defense has decayed since a great 2018-19 run. This looks like the worst Patriots Week 1 group on paper in about a decade.
  • I projected three safeties to start because they are all so versatile. They could be the key to the defense. I also projected three safeties to start because the Pats' second outside corner is Malcolm Butler, coming off a year away from the league. It's a problem.
  • Christian Barmore could be the best Patriots defensive draft pick since Chandler Jones. He needs help rushing the passer from Josh Uche, who has often flashed in a limited role.
  • Matthew Judon faded hard at the end of last season, sometimes playing out of structure. If he bounces back, the Patriots' pass rush could be good enough to make up for the lack of speed at linebacker and overall lack of talent at defensive end and cornerback.
  • It wasn't a great offseason, but the Patriots just made the playoffs with a rookie quarterback. This could easily be a top-10 offense. All the doom and gloom in Boston feels typically overwrought.
Table inside Article
QB Zach Wilson DE Carl Lawson
RB Breece Hall DT Quinnen Williams
WR Corey Davis DT Sheldon Rankins
WR Garrett Wilson DE John Franklin-Myers
WR Elijah Moore LB C.J. Mosley
TE C.J. Uzomah LB Quincy Williams
LT George Fant CB Sauce Gardner
LG Laken Tomlinson CB D.J. Reed
C Connor McGovern CB Michael Carter II
RG Alijah Vera-Tucker S Jordan Whitehead
RT Mekhi Becton S Lamarcus Joyner
  • Joe Flacco and Mike White are behind Zach Wilson. If the Jets have to consider playing either backup, something will have gone seriously wrong with Wilson again.
  • Improving to average is the goal for New York's second-year signal-caller. Other high picks with ugly rookie seasons like Eli Manning and Alex Smith did just that in Year 2, stabilizing their respective careers.
  • Michael Carter backing up rookie Breece Hall is part of a trend on the Jets' roster of quality players getting pushed down the depth chart. That's a great sign of progress.
  • This is a fun starting wideout trio. Braxton Berrios is a high-quality No. 4. Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore and Corey Davis all have different skill sets, so there doesn't need to be a true No. 1. They could all pop off in any given game.
  • Tight end might be the most improved position on the roster. Backup Tyler Conklin could wind up with more receiving yards than projected starter C.J. Uzomah, who is steadier and a better blocker.
  • The offensive line looks good on paper. It is surprising they are going to move Alijah Vera-Tucker to the right side, but the main question is whether Mekhi Becton can control his weight well enough to play football. If nothing else, the Jets got used to playing without him last year.
  • If the line is average like last year, the Jets will be fine. It has a chance to be better than that, however, which would raise their ceiling.
  • Rookie Jermaine Johnson II and veterans Jacob Martin and Solomon Thomas are part of the defensive line reserves. Robert Saleh is trying to build a 49ers-like line that rotates quality eight deep.
  • Carl Lawson and Quinnen Williams are keys. Both have star potential, but Williams took a step back last season and Lawson is coming off a major injury.
  • The improved roster can best be seen in the secondary. New York found three starters in the draft and free agency. D.J. Reed and Jordan Whitehead were quality pickups at reasonable prices.
  • Perhaps the most obvious hole on the roster heading into camp is at free safety, where Lamarcus Joyner is slotted. There are still decent free agents available.
  • This is only Saleh's second year, but general manager Joe Douglas was hired in June 2019. This roster is Douglas' vision fulfilled, in its best shape in years, with few obvious holes. The Jets just need Wilson to pan out.

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