Projected as one of the most competitive divisions in the league with the arrival of Aaron Rodgers, there are going to be a lot of eyeballs on the AFC East in 2023. Buffalo is looking to get over the hump after continued playoffs woes. Miami is hoping to get a full season out of Tua Tagovailoa and continues to follow the Rams’ model of trading draft picks for proven players, acquiring Jalen Ramsey this offseason. New York, despite adding Rodgers, still feels a half step behind the contenders in the AFC and needs to close the gap. New England is staring down uncharted territory under Bill Belichick as the Patriots seem to be trying to keep pace with the rest of the division.
It as an eventful draft for all four of these teams. The draft grades for each team certainly vary. It is always so hard to look at these situations apple-to-apples. On one hand, the Patriots had a ton of capital and kept adding to it, making a whopping 12 selections. On the other hand, the Dolphins walked away with just four players selected. Those two rosters are in wildly different places as well. So in handing out draft grades, I try to take into account where these teams stand right now and what they really need.
Enough jabbering. Let’s assign some 2023 NFL draft grades for the AFC East.
2023 NFL Draft Grades: How did the AFC East fare?
Round 1, Pick 25: Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
Round 2, Pick 59: O’Cyrus Torrence, G, Florida
Round 3, Pick 91: Dorian Williams, LB, Tulane
Round 5, Pick 150: Justin Shorter, WR, Florida
Round 7, Pick 230: Nick Broeker, G, Ole Miss
Round 7, Pick 252: Alex Austin, CB, Oregon State
The Bills quietly cleaned up in this draft and addressed a number of needs in the process. Adding Dalton Kincaid gives Josh Allen another target. I would have opted for Mayer, who I think could have given the Bills a bit more attitude in the run game, something they have sorely lacked in recent years, while still offering good receiver play. O’Cyrus Torrence was a steal late in the second round and should shore up the interior of Buffalo’s offensive line.
Williams is an athletic linebacker with a nose for the football. He won’t replace Tremaine Edmunds, who exited in free agency, but he can offer a similar play style. Shorter offers some more depth at receiver with Isaiah McKenzie and Jameson Crowder both gone, though he was not my favorite option on the board. Broeker and Austin are 7th-round fliers at positions where the Bills could use some depth. I think Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane will walk away from this draft feeling very satisfied.
Round 2, Pick 51: Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
Round 3, Pick 84: Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M
Round 6, Pick 197: Elijah Higgins, TE, Stanford
Round 7, Pick 238: Ryan Hayes, OT, Michigan
It is tough to feel like you hit a home run when you only have four draft picks and one of them is not a first-round selection. Miami continues to invest heavily at corner back, taking Smith with their first selection. It was a bit surprising on a team that already features Xavien Howard, Jalen Ramsey and Kader Kahou. Smith figures to be at best the fourth corner on the roster. Achane is an exciting player, but he does not really do anything that Raheem Mostert does not already do.
Perhaps, he will be the successor for Mostert’s role, but this is a team that needs to win now. Higgins offers more depth at tight end with Mike Gesicki now in New England. He could fill a similar role as a receiver-tight end hybrid. Hayes lacks the length teams typically want in an offensive tackle, but he was a two-year starter at left tackle for Michigan. My biggest gripe here is that more was not done to bolster the offensive line earlier in the draft. With a quarterback that has as well-documented an injury history as Tua Tagovailoa, that should have been more of a priority.
New England Patriots
Round 1, Pick 17: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Round 2, Pick 46: Keion White, DE, Georgia Tech
Round 3, Pick 76: Marte Mapu, LB, Sacramento State
Round 4, Pick 107: Jake Andrews, C, Troy
Round 4, Pick 112: Chad Ryland, K, Maryland
Round 4, Pick 117: Sidy Sow, G, Eastern Michigan
Round 5, Pick 144: Atonio Mafi, G, UCLA
Round 6, Pick 187: Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU
Round 6, Pick 192: Bryce Baringer, P, Michigan State
Round 6, Pick 210: Demario Douglas, WR, Liberty
Round 6, Pick 214: Ameer Speed, DB, Michigan State
Round 7, Pick 245: Isaiah Bolden, CB, Jackson State
This has all the makings of a Bill Belichick draft class. Tons of selections on Day 3, a kicker and a punter both drafted and major offensive needs ignored until the later rounds. Give Belichick credit though. His trade back unquestionably hurt the Jets and he still managed to grab one of the top 4 corners on the board. Gonzalez is a great cover man who will need to get a bit stronger at the next level, but he will form a nice duo with Jack Jones on the outside. White is a solid addition as well in the middle of the second round. He is an ascending player still learning the position after starting his college career at tight end.
Things got a bit weird from Round 3 on. Mapu is a classic Belichick tweener pick. He plays linebacker, but is built like a safety, reminiscent of Kyle Dugger coming out of Lenoir-Rhyne. It will be interesting to see where he slots into New England’s defense. Andrews could be the long-term successor to David Andrews, but he is not overly athletic and there were better options at the position on the board. New England then traded up for a kicker, which would have made more headlines if the 49ers hadn’t done it in the third round.
The Patriots finally drafted a receiver, but not before adding two more interior offensive linemen. Boutte could wind up being a steal. Belichick has a good history of taking players with questionably character and getting the most out of them. Adding Speed and Bolden gives New England a few more developmental prospects in the defensive backfield. The Patriots always have a slightly different draft board than the rest of the league, but given how poorly they have drafted in recent years, it is time start questioning the methodology a bit.
New York Jets
Round 1, Pick 15: Will McDonald, DE, Iowa State
Round 2, Pick 43: Joe Tippmann, C, Wisconsin
Round 4, Pick 120: Carter Warren, OT, Pittsburgh
Round 5, Pick 143: Israel Abanikanda, RB, Pittsburgh
Round 6, Pick 184: Zaire Barnes, LB, Western Michigan
Round 6, Pick 204: Jarrick Bernard-Converse, CB, LSU
Round 7, Pick 220: Zack Kuntz, TE, Old Dominion
Let’s get this out of the way right off the top: I am a Jets fan. I promise I am trying to take the most objective view of this draft class possible. Trading down from 13 to 15 as part of the Aaron Rodgers deal ended up having a significant impact. Pittsburgh traded up and took Broderick Jones, the last offensive tackle most expected to go in the top half of the draft.
It is easy to say New York should have traded back, as I did on draft night, but it takes two to tango. If the Jets could not get the appropriate value to move back, it made sense to stay put. Taking McDonald was certainly an interesting use of the pick, given that the Jets are fairly deep at edge rusher. Carl Lawson and Bryce Huff are both in contract years, so this could be a move with an eye on the future.
New York rebounded nicely on Day 2 with Tippmann, who could be the team’s starting center in Week 1. Adding Warren, Abanikanda, Barne and Bernard-Converse gives the Jets depth at positions where they certainly lacked it entering the weekend. Kuntz could be a solid late-round flier. He is a great athlete with a 6’7″ frame.
New York found solid value and addressed needs on Day 3, which is always a great place to be. However, it is hard to envision any of them having big roles this season. The Jets have a two-year window at most to win with Rodgers. It would have been nice to find some more instant-impact players. They have already dipped into free agency twice this week to sign former Packers, and there could be more moves coming.