Let me start off by saying that all four AFC East teams are very evenly matched when it comes to their Defensive Ends. The Bills take a hit because of their lack of practice squad depth. Then again, how valuable is practice squad depth really? Anyways…
DE is the one position in the league that still allows players to become great, even if they are not well-rounded. Pass Rush Specialist, Gap Defender, etc. Bruce Smith did one thing great; got to the quarterback. Today, many teams are trying so much to develop great defenses, that individual players get lost in the shuffle. Many people forget that DE’s are only as good as their coaches allow them to be and in the AFC East, coaches have been struggling to establish any one player as extremely successful. Too many players switch within the defense, jumping from the line to linebacker. Versatility is important, but whatever happened to that one guy who could not be stopped and was guaranteed to get to your quarterback. I believe that trend is about to change with an influx of personnel, new coaching strategies and refined defensive schemes. With the fantastic recent success of players like Ndamakong Suh and Mario Williams, and remembering the impact of Dwight Freeney and Jared Allen, the DE position will become more emphasized this year as defensive coordinators struggle to smash quarterbacks faces in and stuff running backs in their tracks. The individual player will make a return in the AFC East this year.
AFC East #1 DE group: New England Patriots:
The Patriots have shown that they do not emphasize the DE position as essential in their plans for the future. Ever since trading away Richard Seymour, they have settled for role players who fill the gaps needed to let their DT’s and LB’s make the big plays. They picked up a guy off of waivers who will step in and change that for them. The Pats come in at #1 because of their overall talent and depth.
Marcus Stroud: 6’6, 310 lbs. I know, I know. I’m a Bills fan so I should be totally disappointed in Stroud’s performance as a Bill and should down him as much as possible. Mmmmm…. no, I just can’t do it. Stroud is a big dude with big talent who just can’t seem to find the right fit for his skills. He is not an all around player, but all he did in Buffalo was post 150 total tackles in three years/46 games. He is a very productive player, but needs other skill players around him and a much smarter defensive game plan than the Bills could give him in order to shine. Wait a minute, who is that head coach that has mastered designing game plans around his players individual talents? OH that’s right. Bellicheck will use Stroud to again show Bills fans that we need to play to our best players strengths and not try and fit them into whatever the coach thinks they should do. He will win the starting spot and will succeed this year. Plus he looked great in the Vintage Bills Uni.
Brandon Deaderick: 6’4, 305 lbs. Deaderick was able to get some playing time last year, but only recorded 10 total tackles in 10 games. With the Patriots management style, this does not bode well for Deaderick. He will be given a chance again this year, but had better show them something more in camp if he expects to have a spot on the team throughout the year.
Ty Warren: 6’5, 300 lbs. With two injuries in two years, Ty Warren has slowed down somewhat given how he started his career. In 2006, Warren had 84 total tackles over 15 games. Each year after that he has suffered injuries and seen lower production to the point where his numbers are cut in half (41 total tackles in 2008). Last year, Warren was placed on IR with a hip injury during training camp. Warren is at the tail end of his career and will need to stay healthy this year to stay on the roster. If he can do that, he might be able to find some time on the field with the Patriots. If not, look for Warren to be released at the beginning of next season.
Mike Wright: 6’4, 295 lbs. Wright has had a mediocre 6 year career with the Patriots. With only 133 total tackles over 80 games, Mike Wright is more of a role player, providing quality depth, but not really starter talent. Expect the Pats to hold onto Mike Wright for just that reason.
Darryl Richard: 6’4, 295 lbs. 2 year practice squad player who missed all of last year with a foot injury, Richard does not factor into the Pats’ long-term plans.
AFC East #2 DE group: Miami Dolphins
The dolphins are still a work in progress and actually have more talent in this are than any I’ve covered so far, but they have a lot of young guys who have a lot to prove. The presence of Kendall Langford elevates them above the other East teams coming in at #2. The DE position will be a very strong point for this team coming into this year.
Kendall Langford: 6’6, 290 lbs. Kendall Langford fits the mold of that productive 40-45 tackle a year player who will be the piece in the puzzle that Miami needs to build around. He can get to the quarterback, but does not do it a lot. He tackles, but is not overly productive. He is an NFL caliber player, but will never achieve greatness as an individual player. Expect Langford to be the #1 when the season rolls around.
Tony McDaniel: 6’7, 310 lbs. With 36 total tackles last year, but only four career starts McDaniel is at that point in his career where he needs to make huge waves if he wants to earn that mid-career high level contract. He wants to earn a starting position, but will not get the chance to do it on this defensive line. He has the size and ability to start for another team, but just does not mesh with the Phins. Expect free agency to wash this dolphin onto dry land.
Phillip Merling: 6’4, 295 lbs. Merling had a promising start to his career, but injuries always seem to get in his way. As a rookie, a sports hernia kept him from participating in the combine, so he dropped into the second round. After two productive early years, he tore his Achilles in 2010, giving the spot to someone else. He’ll have to work hard and show that he is a better player, but then also stay healthy if he wants to be a part of the future in Miami.
Randy Starks: 6’3, 305 lbs. With three sacks last year and 30 total tackles, Randy Starks is the kind of rush the edge, get to the quarterback sort of player that the dolphins need. He has had problems with the law in the past though and will need to stay clean. Right now he is trying to get back into football shape after gaining 15 unwanted lbs and is kickboxing to get back into shape. The dolphins indicated at the beginning of the year that Randy Starks will split time with Paul Soliai at the Nose, but I don’t expect this to stay the case for a long time as Starks has been very effective getting to the quarterback over his career and does not seem to have the right body type for a 3-4 nose. Expect to see him on the end and pulling in as the second tackle on nickel and dime packages.
Ryan Baker: 6’5, 295 lbs. After a very successful collegiate career with Purdue, Baker is struggling to make an impact with the dolphins, getting in on only 4 tackles last year. He seems to be resigned to the practice squad.
Jared Odrick: 6’5, 294 lbs. Drafted high as a pass rusher and broke his foot last year, missing essentially the whole season. He still has a lot to prove in the NFL.
Robert Rose: 6’4, 297 lbs. Signed for depth and served all last year on the practice squad. Expect more of the same for Rose in the future.
AFC East #3 DE group: NY Jets
The Jets come in at #3, because of their overall talent and production. One of these young guys will have the chance to step up to try and find some time on the nickel/dime packages that the Jets infrequently use. But the true passing of the torch will happen with the Jets do not re-sign one of their biggest FA and promote MD to number one.
Mike DeVito: 6’3, 305 lbs. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Maine University in 2007, Mike DeVito has really begun to make a name for himself. Getting in on 116 tackles in 54 games, Mike Devito is the real deal. With good size and speed, able to pull in on stunts and still have the speed to get outside, he looks to be the heir apparent for Shaun Ellis. If he could develop the moves to get to the quarterback, Mike DeVito could become a real force to be reckoned with. He is the number one option and has the potential to explode for the Jets in 2011.
Shaun Ellis: 6’5, 295lbs. Getting in on 553 tackles over 170 games in his 11 year career with the Jets, Ellis is a fantastic DE who might be at the turning point in his career. The Jets did not extend his contract and have plenty of other free agents to worry about. With career low production last year in tackles, the Jets will most likely look to get younger and reserve cap room from a player who is not 33 years old. With 36 total tackles and 4.5 sacks, Ellis will be a welcome addition to a team, just not the Jets.
Trevor Pryce: 6’5, 290 lbs. Great career, but he’s 36 and couldn’t find a d-line to play on last year. When the Ravens cut him last year to make room for Ken Hamlin (with the promise of Terrence Cody as the future), the opportunistic Jets swooped in and picked him up, but then failed to use him as other guys got the limelight. He will likely be retained to provide depth and experience to the position, but could find himself looking for a new job next year.
Ropati Pitoitua: 6’8, 315 lbs. An Achilles injury cut his rookie season short, but let’s be honest, with 3 total tackles, he was not going to have much opportunity anyways. Pitoitua is a MONSTER who could probably take on Shaq in a sumo wrestling match. Whether he can play football remains to be seen. With Washington State, he was bitten by the injury bug often and finished his career with lower numbers than expected. Picked up as an undrafted rookie, the Jets found a mammoth, quick DE who lacked fundamentals and high levels of skill. With the departure of Shaun Ellis, this is a big opportunity for Ropati going into training camp and possibly earn a spot on the team, but he’s got a lot to prove, and not a lot of time to prove it.
Marcus Dixon: 6’4, 295 lbs. With one sack and four tackles, Marcus Dixon will have a difficult time making the roster this year and will probably be signed to the practice squad once again.
Jarron Gilbert: 6’5, 285 lbs. With one tackle over five career games, Gilbert is in danger of being released altogether.
Matt Kroul: 6’3, 300 lbs. With 3 tackles over 6 games, Kroulis just taking up space at this point.
Lorenzo Washington: 6’4, 296 lbs. Never making the active roster, Washington will find himself on the practice squad again this year.
AFC East #4 DE group: Buffalo Bills
The Bills have talented but only three ligit defensive ends to try and build a successful defensive line with. The two top guys may compete for time on the field, but the supremely talented DT’s may end up taking over the line completely. Listed below are the DEs I believe have the best chance to fight for the one open DE spot. The Bills rank at #4 simply because they have 2 decent players who will fill a gap but do not have any one stellar player that will shine for them.
Dwan Edwards: 6’3, 290 lbs. Edwards has continued to be as productive as he was in Baltimore, and in fact had more total tackles last year than he had ever seen before (57 over 11 games). Granted, this was probably because opponents kept running the ball down their throats and gave him more opportunity to tackle after the RB has gained about 4-5 yards. At this point, I’ll take his production, consistency and size and see what he can do this year with Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus. I see him playing a legit 5-technique and wouldn’t be surprised to see him rushing outside and inside, piling more sacks than ever before.
Spencer Johnson: 6’3, 286 lbs. Spencer Johnson is a viable candidate for the DE position. With 55 total tackles last year and 2 sacks, Johnson was just as effective as Dwan Edwards last year and got to the quarterback more often. If it hadn’t been for a knee injury in 2006, Johnson might still be a starter for the Minnesota Vikings to this day. As it is, he will have every opportunity to compete for the starting job and has the skills to win it or at least provide excellent depth at this position. He’s either #1 or #2 on the depth chart, but my gut tells me #2.
Alex Carrington: 6’5, 284 lbs. With only 8 tackles in 9 games last year, Carrington was a big disappointment to Bills fans. Drafted out of Arkansas State, Carrington had a mediocre collegiate career and was only drafted because he got to the quarterback fairly often… in the Sun Belt… against the harrowing Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee. I could have gotten 12 sacks a year and I’m 6’2, 180. Ok so I’m being a little hard on the guy. He would probably be a quality 4-3 DE where all he did was rush the QB. It looks like that’s all the Bills will be expecting him to do, out of the nickel. At this point, the third round pick seems like a bit of a waste, especially when there was so much other talent available (Bruce Campbell, Jacoby Ford, Colt McCoy and Aaron Hernandez come to mind rather quickly). Alex Carrington could be the next Aaron Maybin, except he weighs too much and will never get a chance at OLB. If the Bills never draft a “pass-specialist” again, it will be too soon.
The Bills Game Plan:
The Bills needs depth in the worst way. With only three legit defensive ends (not hybrid DT/DE), the Bills lack an abundance of personnel. Their starting talent is good but not great, and they need young guys who can stop the run for the future. I think the Bills did a lot in the 2011 draft to shore up the run defense and stop the bleeding, and may rely on their strong linebacking corps to get pressure on the QB. I do not expect them to pick up any FA defensive ends this year, but if they were going to, they should look hard and long and Mathias Kiwanuka as he could provide an element of the pass rush that the Bills desperately need. Expect 2012′s draft to be DE heavy.
Coming up next week (Tuesday, June 14th) I’ll break down the AFC East Wide Receivers and show why the Bills have the best depth and young talent in the East, if not the whole AFC.
Bruce Smith: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_JO2OK5G8gZI/SnubYh3sJdI/AAAAAAAABJ0/ty8fe1RlBKE/s400/Bruce-Smith.jpg
Marcus Stroud: http://kicksandthings.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/stroud.jpg
Mike DeVito: http://jetstwit.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/mike_devito-300×300.jpg
Dwan Edwards: http://cdn.bleacherreport.net/images_root/slides/photos/000/503/873/DwanEdwardsreturnINTvsLions_display_image.jpg?1289797721
Topics: Aaron Maybin, Alex Carrington, Brandon Deaderick, Bruce Smith, Darryl Richard, Dwan Edwards, Jared Odrick, Jarron Gilbert, Kendall Langford, Lorenzo Washington, Marcus Dixon, Marcus Stroud, Matt Kroul, Mike DeVito, Mike Wright, Phillip Merling, Randy Starks, Richard Seymour, Robert Rose, Ropati Pitoitua, Ryan Baker, Shaun Ellis, Spencer Johnson, Tony McDaniel, Trevor Pryce, Ty Warren