What It All Means: AFC Draft Breakdowns

Andy Benoit
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New England Patriots

Jimmy Garoppolo could be Tom Brady’s heir apparent, or just another future trade chip for the Pats. (Paul Newton/AP)
Jimmy Garoppolo could be Tom Brady’s heir apparent, or just another future trade chip for the Pats. (Paul Newton/AP)

1.29 Dominique Easley, DL, Florida
2.30 Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
4.05 Bryan Stork, OC, Florida State
4.30 James White, RB, Wisconsin
4.40 Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
6.03 Jon Halapio, OG, Florida
6.22 Zach Moore, DE, Concordia-St. Paul
6.30 Jemea Thomas, DB, Georgia Tech
7.29 Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan

People are still recovering from the shock of the Patriots not trading up or down in the first round. They stood pat (or Pats) and filled an immediate need at defensive tackle. Whether Dominique Easley starts in Week 1 could be determined by whether veteran Tommy Kelly is fully recovered from the knee injury that wiped out his season last October. Vince Wilfork, coming off an October Achilles tear, figures to have the other defensive tackle job locked down; Bill Belichick would not have signed Wilfork to a new three-year, $22.5 million deal if he wasn’t on track to start in September.

Rumor is, the Patriots view Jimmy Garoppolo as a possible long-term replacement for Tom Brady. Recall that the man Brady unseated, Drew Bledsoe, was also ultimately replaced in Dallas by another young QB from Eastern Illinois. Like Tony Romo, Garoppolo has impressed scouts with his quick release and functional mobility. That said, it’s entirely possible that he is actually viewed as a developmental backup with some trade value down the road. There is zero evidence that Brady, who turns 37 in August, is slowing down. Brady has said he wants to play until he’s 40, which means he could have another four years left. Good teams draft with “down the road” in mind, but not four years down the road.

New York Jets

1.18 Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
2.17 Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
3.16 Dexter McDougle, CB, Maryland
4.04 Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma
4.15 Shaq Evans, WR, UCLA
4.37 Dakota Dozier, OG, Furman
5.14 Jeremiah George, LB, Iowa St.
6.33 Quincy Enunwa, WR, Nebraska
6.34 IK Enemkpali, LB, Louisiana Tech
6.37 Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
7.18 Trevor Reilly, LB, Utah

Everyone expected the Jets to go wide receiver in the early rounds, but that’s never been Rex Ryan’s M.O. The pick was actually GM John Idzik’s call, but Idzik’s ideology is likely in line with Ryan’s: the most important thing is to keep your strengths strong. For the Jets, that’s defense.

And it’s not that Calvin Pryor isn’t a value pick anyway. The need at safety was just as dire as the need at wide receiver. Incumbent Dawan Landry has been average, and while Antonio Allen overachieved at times last year it wasn’t always enough to keep former Eagles bust Jaiquawn Jarrett off the field. Ryan’s scheme uses a lot of three-safety packages, and they are key in his blitzes and disguises.

Sticking with the “building on strength” idea, the Jets also went defense in the third round with Dexter McDougle, who should compete right away for significant reps in this reeling cornerback corps (or, after the departure of Antonio Cromartie, cornerback corpse). One reason the Jets were comfortable passing on receivers in Round 1 is because they knew that this year’s rich receiver class would present quality prospects in the later rounds. Hence the selections of Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans in the fourth. And let’s not overlook Jace Amaro in Round 2. He was basically a slot receiver at Texas Tech.

Oakland Raiders

1.05 Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
2.04 Derek Carr, QB, Fresno St.
3.17 Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi St.
4.07 Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech
4.16 Keith McGill, CB, Utah
7.04 Travis Carrie, CB, Ohio
7.20 Shelby Harris, DE, Illinois State
7.32 Jonathan Dowling, S, Western Kentucky

It takes a pretty special player to be drafted at No. 5 and be considered a steal. The Raiders are hoping that’s what Khalil Mack is, but that could be tough initially. Playing in a rotation that features declining newcomers LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck, Mack might very well have to deal with regular chip-blocks and protection slides while transitioning to the NFL from the Mid-American Conference.

Derek Carr is a dicey pick for GM Reggie McKenzie because McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen could feel pressure from owner Mark Davis to play the rookie right away. McKenzie and his coaching staff are likely pining to play an experienced signal-caller. Davis is likely less eager to see Matt Schaub then he is to see Carr, potentially the new face of the franchise. The rest of Oakland’s picks addressed areas of need because, well, for this team every area was an area of need.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ryan Shazier will look to become the latest rookie to break into the Steelers’ starting lineup. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Ryan Shazier will look to become the latest rookie to break into the Steelers’ starting lineup. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

1.15 Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
2.14 Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame
3.33 Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State
4.18 Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
5.17 Shaquille Richardson, CB, Arizona
5.33 Wesley Johnson, OL, Vanderbilt
6.16 Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA
6.39 Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee
7.15 Rob Blanchflower, TE, Massachusetts

Historically, rookies haven’t played much in Dick LeBeau’s defense. The matchup-zone principles are too complex for a first-year player to master. Last season, however, the Steelers departed from that unwritten rule. First-round outside linebacker Jarvis Jones worked his way into the starting lineup and fourth-round safety Shamarko Thomas was used predominantly in their dime package. Sure enough, both players struggled enough to lose their jobs at some point. (Jones later recaptured his.)

The play of Jones and Thomas wasn’t enough of a problem to keep coaches from bending that “no rookies” rule again this year. Like Lawrence Timmons, also drafted 15th overall, Ryan Shazier is a limber, athletic linebacker who can play a number of spots. He might be asked to play inside where, in this system, he would assume more duties in space and coverage. Last year’s starter, Vince Williams—a sixth-round pick in 2013 who also wound up being a rookie starter thanks to Larry Foote’s injury—is not a viable every-down player, so Shazier already has the beat on a starting job. Stephon Tuitt will compete for first-string reps at defensive end, where Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood were not re-signed.

San Diego Chargers

1.25 Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
2.18 Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
3.25 Chris Watt, OG, Notre Dame
5.25 Ryan Carrethers, DT, Arkansas St.
6.25 Marion Grice, RB, Arizona St.
7.25 Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor

The Chargers surprised no one by going with a cornerback in the first round. They needed an upgrade over the trio of Richard Marshall, Steve Williams and an improving but still flawed Shareece Wright. Jason Verrett should be in the starting lineup when the season opens.


Andy Benoit's breakdown of NFC teams' drafts.


Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback look back at the draft. FULL STORY


Robert Klemko on Michael Sam’s giant leap. 


Ten later-round picks who could have a big impact. 


Richard Deitsch on how ESPN almost missed the Michael Sam moment. FULL STORY


Josh Gordon’s potential suspension casts a pall on Manziel Mania in Cleveland. FULL STORY


Jenny Vrentas on first round’s wild ride. FULL STORY


Greg Bedard’s first-round breakdown. FULL STORY

Jeremiah Attaochu will not start in Week 1, as Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram are too good on first and second down to supplant. But the edge-rushing rookie could see regular snaps in coordinator John Pagano’s sub-packages, depending on how outside linebacker Dwight Freeney recovers from the torn quad that wiped out most of his 2013 season. At the very least, Attaochu’s arrival should bring an end to the underwhelming Larry English era—an era that, incredibly, lasted five years and two different management regimes. Chris Watt’s best chance at a starting gig is on the left side, where Chad Rinehart currently resides.

Tennessee Titans

1.11 Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
2.22 Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
4.12 DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
4.22 Marqueston Huff, CB, Wyoming
5.11 Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky
6.02 Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU

By now you’ve probably heard more than one person say that Taylor Lewan is a guy you can plug in and have as your left tackle for 10 years. Who decided that all first-round left tackles can be expected to start for 10 years? And why just the left tackle position? Can wide receivers or, say, linebackers not be “plugged in” for 10 years?

This ridiculous generalization comes from the Orlando Pace/Walter Jones/Jonathan Ogden era, which means the first prospect people regularly touted as a “10-year left tackle” was Robert Gallery in 2004. Maybe Lewan will play 10 years for the Titans, or maybe he’ll go the Branden Albert/Shawn Andrews/Jammal Brown/Alex Barron/Levi Brown/Chris Williams/Jason Smith/Andre Smith/Eugene Monroe/Michael Oher/Bryan Bulaga route and not. Time will tell.

To be fair to the cliché artists, there have been several left tackles who have lasted maybe not 10 years, but at least a quality seven or eight. One of those tackles is the man whose job Lewan is chasing: soon-to-be 32-year-old Michael Roos. Rounding out the top of this group, Bishop Sankey doesn’t have to chase Chris Johnson’s job, he already has it. DaQuan Jones and Marqueston Huff will likely just bring depth to the defense, while Zach Mettenberger projects as a hopeful long-term backup and nothing more.



Mr. Benoit, to say Brady shows no signs of decline befuddles me. I'm a Pats fan since 1974 and have seen them all come and go. The Brady of old rarely missed wide open receivers downfield and consistently threw the ball to the proper side enabling yards after the catch, the current Brady fails to consistently do this. He's also developed a habit of ducking in anticipation of fantom rushers and has lost the little bit of mobility he once had. I wouldn't be surprised if this is Toms' last season as the starter for the Pats. Belicheck has often said its better to let a player go a year early than a year late and is not sentimental when making decisions for his team. The list of fan favorites he has let go is a long one.


Both Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are coming off injuries. Wilfork's deal has only one year guaranteed; the other two years are club options. A healthy Easley (he also has an injury history while at Florida) could just as likely be the long-term successor to Wilfork as Kelly's short-term replacement.  


"At 6-6-6 and 300 pounds..."

So, Schofield will be a beast then?


Hear ya on the Chiefs draft. Hope that's not Andy making the same mistake he made with McNabb, not getting him a flat-out playmaking stud WR. It's why the Eagles and McNabb never won the SB. Arena League talent at WR. 


"...or maybe he’ll go the Branden Albert/Shawn Andrews/Jammal Brown/Alex Barron/Levi Brown/Chris Williams/Jason Smith/Andre Smith/Eugene Monroe/Michael Oher/Bryan Bulaga route and not."

Andre Smith just got a new contract with the team who drafted him: the Bengals. 


In the wake of free agency and the 2014 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos remain the best team in the AFC.The Patriots are No. 2 and the Colts are No. 3, ahead of the Chiefs, Ravens, and Bengals.“The Hoodie” must give Brady & Co. more reliable offensive weapons if New England is to overtake Denver.


@Jason1988  ...and last i checked bryan bulaga is still holding strong with the packers.

but his point is taken. few projected "plug and play 10 year tackles" turn out to be that. 


@Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan The more that HOU and JAX improve, the less likely it is that IND will remain at #3.

The big fear is that Brady is going to start breaking down; I can see him finishing up his career someplace else. The old cliché is that its better to trade a player like that one year too early than one year too late. Garoppolo and Mallet will be starter and backup soon; its just a matter of which player is which.