As coaches and general managers prepare to make potentially franchise-altering decisions in the 2015 NFL Draft, now is the perfect time to look back and see how the choices made last year played out on the field. Bucky Brooks is reviewing and grading each team's rookie class from 2014, as well as highlighting what organizations should hone in on at this month's NFL Scouting Combine -- continuing with the AFC East below. CLICK HERE FOR THE OTHER DIVISIONAL BREAKDOWNS.
The Bills boldly moved up a few spots in the 2014 NFL Draft to pluck Sammy Watkins with the fourth overall pick -- and the rookie pass catcher didn't disappoint, posting 982 receiving yards and six touchdowns as Buffalo's designated playmaker. Although critics would suggest the team could've stayed at its original position (No. 9) and still landed a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver (see: Odell Beckham, who went to the Giants at No. 12), the fact that the Bills identified their guy and got positive results from him should earn them a solid review. They also received better-than-anticipated production from linebacker Preston Brown and offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson when they were pressed into action due to injuries and inconsistent play by those above them. Offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio is an unknown commodity at this point, but if he develops into a serviceable starter, this class could play a pivotal role in Buffalo's re-emergence as a playoff participant under a new regime. Grade: B
Combine focus: The lack of a first-round pick in 2015 -- it was surrendered to the Cleveland Browns in the deal that resulted in Watkins -- prevents the Bills from addressing their quarterback situation in the draft. Still, the team can add a few pieces to enhance an offense that's on the cusp of leading a playoff run. The offensive line needs some work along the interior, meaning Buffalo should take an extensive look at guys like Duke's Laken Tomlinson, South Carolina's A.J. Cann and Florida State's Tre' Jackson. Additionally, the Bills could explore the possibility of adding a dynamic tight end, like Minnesota's Maxx Williams or Miami's Clive Walford.
The Dolphins landed a couple of key contributors with their first two selections in the 2014 draft. Ja'Wuan James filled a huge need at right tackle and delivered a solid performance as a first-year starter. Jarvis Landry is a standout possession receiver with strong hands and grit. After playing a key role as the WR3, Landry could work into the starting lineup as a second-year pro. Miami didn't get much from North Dakota State's Billy Turner, but the former small-school standout could develop into a serviceable starter down the road. Grade: C+
Combine focus: The Dolphins must shore up their defense down the middle, particularly at defensive tackle and inside linebacker. Thus, coach Joe Philbin and staff will spend a lot of time assessing the football character and athleticism of rugged run stoppers like Washington DT Danny Shelton, Texas NT Malcom Brown and Oklahoma DT Jordan Phillips or kick the tires on an athletic three-technique like Florida State DT Eddie Goldman. At inside linebacker, Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney will garner serious interest as the top Mike linebacker on the board, but Miami's Denzel Perryman and UCLA's Eric Kendricks will be in play, as well.
New England Patriots
The reigning Super Bowl champions are driven by a veteran-led roster featuring some of the best players in the game at their respective positions. The spectacular play of quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Darrelle Revis allowed rookies to work in anonymity for the Patriots. Though defensive tackle Dominique Easley and backup signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo barely saw the field as first-year pros, both offer enticing potential. Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming helped shore up the offensive line as key role players down the stretch. Cornerback Malcolm Butler didn't get a lot of action during the regular season, but his contributions in the Super Bowl -- including that game-clinching pick -- suggested the undrafted rookie was groomed for his role through diligent work on the practice field. Despite the overall group's minimal impact early in the season, the unheralded trio of Stork, Fleming and Butler gave this team something to build off down the stretch. Grade: C+
Combine focus: Yes, they captured the Lombardi Trophy in impressive fashion -- but the Patriots need to add some playmakers on the perimeter. A speedy receiver like Ohio State's Devin Smith or Miami's Phillip Dorsett could command their attention, as might a versatile, big-bodied target like Stanford's Ty Montgomery (6-foot-2, 220 pounds). With New England also searching for an all-purpose back, Miami's Duke Johnson and Alabama's T.J. Yeldon could find themselves under New England's microscope.
New York Jets
The lack of chemistry between front office and coaching staff was certainly reflected in the Jets' 2014 rookie class. Safety Calvin Pryor was expected to act as the monster in the middle of the defense, but he suffered through an up-and-down season and recorded few splash plays. Tight end Jace Amaro gave Geno Smith and Michael Vick a big-bodied target to lean on in key moments, but he didn't provide the playmaking prowess needed to spark a sagging offense. The rest of the class offered scant contributions as backups, spot players and special teamers. This group clearly failed to live up to the expectations of the since-fired duo of coach Rex Ryan and GM John Idzik. Grade: D
Combine on NFL Network
In advance of the draft, Marcus Mariota and others will look to showcase their skills at the combine (Feb. 17-23), only on NFL Network. SCHEDULE
Combine focus: From the quarterback position to wide receiver to pass rusher, the Jets need a number of blue-chip players to compete with the elite teams in the AFC. Completing a thorough examination of the character and talents of Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston will be a top priority in Indianapolis, but team officials will also take extended looks at a pair of pass catchers (Alabama's Amari Cooper and West Virginia's Kevin White) and an intriguing pass rusher (Nebraska's Randy Gregory) to determine the best way to rebuild Gang Green.