2022 NFL Season Preview: AFC East
By: Logan Lepiscopo
Bills Mafia! The 2022-23 season should be one worth diving through a foldable team, and the free agency period for Buffalo started the offseason off right with the addition of now two-time Super Bowl champion Von Miller. The Bills also added defensive tackle DaQuan Jones to pair up with Ed Oliver on the interior part of the defensive line. The Bills also addressed a need on the offensive side of the ball, picking up Rodger Saffold off the free agency market after the Titans let him go. But the Bills addressing big needs did not stop in free agency; first-round pick Kaiir Elam will find a role in the Bills cornerback room early, now former Georgia running back James Cook will look to make an immediate impact after a slow 2021-22 season for Zack Moss, and Devin Singletary who has not been stellar is now on a contract year. Wide receiver Khalil Shakir out of Boise State has been stellar in Bills training camp and has worked his way up to be the Bills wide receiver five, with potential to hop Jamison Crowder to get that number four spot.
Strengths: The Buffalo Bills are another team that has little to no holes on all sides of the ball. On offense Josh Allen has an absolute rocket of an arm and has shown some serious growth from year one to what was year four last season. At wide receiver you have Stefon Diggs, one of the best receivers in the NFL, Gabriel Davis who has blossomed into a true fan favorite after his playoff performance versus the Chiefs this past postseason, Isaiah McKenzie has also earned a name for himself by taking that number three receiver spot from long time veteran Jamison Crowder. Dawson Knox is a fine tight end, not a strength but also not a weakness. On defense there is a lot to love; but it all starts from the back of the defense with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Only one safety duo combined for a higher grade than these two-gentleman last season and those two men are Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker of the Tennessee Titans. Also when it comes to the rest of the defense there is Tre’Davious White, Ed Oliver, Greg Rousseau, Tremaine Edmunds, and Matt Milano, also did I forget to mention newly acquired Von Miller.
Weaknesses: It is hard to find a weak point in the Buffalo Bills roster but one that I think is very clear is the offensive line. It is not one of the worst in the league, but it is certainly a weak point of the Bills. Also on the offensive side of the ball, the running back position is lacking talent; Devin Singletary has been enough to somewhat establish a running game, despite averaging just over 50 rushing yards a game. Zack Moss was supposed to be the guy to take Singletary’s spot and now he is losing his backup job to rookie James Cook. Hopefully Cook can change things around here in Buffalo and make this offense virtually unstoppable. Defensively I cannot think of any weak point, the Bills allowed the fewest passing yards per game last season and that was with their star cornerback Tre’Davious White missing six games.
New England Patriots
Congratulations on the bounce-back season Patriots fans, after missing the 2020-21 postseason the Patriots made an appearance in the 2021-22 postseason but when faced with the Buffalo Bills it was too much to handle. This offseason was a quiet one in New England, with the only major moves being a trade for DeVante Parker and bringing back Trent Brown and Ja’whaun Bentley. The Patriots took an interesting approach to start off their 2022 draft class selecting Chattanooga guard Cole Strange in the first round, Strange to most draft analysts was valued as a second to third round pick. In the second round New England selected speedster Tyquan Thornton out of Baylor, Thornton has been electric in training camp and even caught a touchdown in his first preseason game. The Patriots had several other draft picks that should serve as backups right now but with the potential to move into a starting role in the near future.
Strengths: I will start with the running back room; it is not stellar but Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are more than capable of setting the tone on offense with a running game. The tight end position is another strength, whether it be Hunter Henry as a redzone weapon or Jonnu Smith’s speed to break open a big play, New England is home to the best tight end duo in the NFL. The offensive line in New England should open plenty of holes for Harris and Stevenson, but also give Mac Jones time in the pocket to make big plays. Obviously no longer having Shaq Mason at left guard is a big hit and having rookie Cole Strange thrown in immediately to start at such an important position isn’t ideal but the rest of the offensive line can and will make up for the loss of Mason.
Weaknesses: I am not sure if I am just underestimating the New England defense or not on paper it looks incredibly weak. Matthew Judon is coming off a down year, the interior defensive line was average at best last season, and the cornerback room is absolutely horrific. Kyle Dugger and Devin McCourty are the only two players on the defense I believe can be counted on to consistently make plays, and hopefully Matthew Judon if he can get out of that slump, he had last season. Nothing else on the Patriots team comes off as a weakness, the wide receiver group is not a weakness it is full of several mediocre players that will have to do.
Fins up Dolphins fans! It has been an amazing offseason for the Miami Dolphins trading for Tyreek Hill and signing former Saints left tackle Terron Armstead. The Dolphins also made some other key additions in free agency adding Cedrick Wilson, Connor Williams, Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Melvin Ingram, and even a simple addition at punter Thomas Morstead. The Dolphins did not pick until the third round of the 2022 draft and with the free agency additions I expect all of these rookies to sit at least a year and learn from the veterans.
Strengths: There is a lot to like about the new and improved Miami Dolphins team. WR duo Tyreek Hill and rookie phenom Jaylen Waddle are going to cause defenses to have their corners lined up 10 yards off the line of scrimmage to give them a chance at not getting burnt over the top. Along with two speedy wide receivers the Dolphins have two speedy running backs Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert. On defense it is hard to find something not to like, the defensive line is stout with Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis, Jaelan Phillips, Emmanuel Ogbah, and now backup Zach Sieler who achieved the third highest PFF grade for interior defenders. Cornerback position has two studs, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, and the free safety position is held by a young star in the making, Jevon Holland.
Weaknesses: Offensive line, yes, the team acquired Terron Armstead at left tackle and Connor Williams at center but with Tua being a left-handed quarterback the team lacks talent on the right side of the offensive line. Robert Hunt and Austin Jackson will be responsible for protecting Tua’s blind spot during the 2022-23 NFL season; Robert Hunt is home to the right side of the offensive line, but Austin Jackson has yet to take an NFL snap from the right tackle position, and new addition Connor Williams has only played at the left guard position with the Cowboys the past four seasons. Looking at the rest of the Miami roster there is not much to call weak about the team, the AFC is going to be as competitive as it ever has been this season, but I believe the Dolphins have the tools to get into the playoffs.
New York Jets
J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets! Talk about winning the offseason, the Laken Tomlinson, D.J. Reed, C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin at tight end, as well as Duane Brown, Jordan Whitehead, Solomon Thomas, and Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein. All those now Jet starters are just from free agency, I guess technically the New Jersey Jets continued to dominate the offseason in the 2022 NFL draft. The Jets added cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson, and edge rusher Jermaine Johnson all in the first round! But, that wasn’t enough for the Jets; second round pick running back Breece Hall, third round another tight end Jeremy Ruckert, and with the Jets finally two selections in the fourth round: offensive tackle Max Mitchell, and defensive end Michael Clemons. If I was a college professor the Jets would get an A+ for this offseason haul, no questions asked.
Strengths: Now let us get into what the strengths of the New York Jets are. My favorite part of the Jets team is being criminally underrated, and that is the defensive line. Carl Lawson, Solomon Thomas, Quinnen Williams, and John Franklin-Myers are a great front four. Lawson was out all of the 2021-22 season but is going to look to make a huge impact back in 2022, Franklin-Myers finished as a top 16 graded edge defender by PFF in 2021-22. On the interior, Quinnen Williams finished as the 37th ranked interior defender, and Solomon Thomas accumulated 3.5 sacks during the 2021-22 season without starting a single game. I’ll give it to the running back room for the Jets, Michael Carter was above average his rookie year and if Breece Hall can live up to his hype. This one two running back punch will open up a lot for the Jets offense, and Michael Carter should be more comfortable with a year to own the backfield versus his days back at UNC with Javonte Williams.
Weaknesses: I would say that the linebacker group for the Jets is its weakest point. Marcell Harris, C.J. Mosley, and Quincy Williams make up the three starting linebackers for New York and after last season’s performances the Jets might as well have eight players on the field playing defense. Harris, Mosley, and Williams all had run defense and coverage grades lower than 50, except for Mosley’s 50.2 coverage grade (PFF). Outside of the linebacker position I view every other part of the Jets roster as average. Some could argue the cornerbacks are weak, but D.J. Reed had a great season last year, Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner is projected to be the next best Jets corner. The Jets will likely be a top 10 pick again this season but I feel this team is very close to being competitive in the AFC East and the AFC conference overall.