AFC East Fillability Index

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 06, 2007

By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts contributor
We start today with what should be the NFL's power division in 2007: the AFC East. It posted the best out-of-division record in the NFL in 2006 (23-17) and, for the most part, its teams look they'll be even better in 2007.
BUFFALO (last year's record: 7-9)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
G Derrick Dockery (Washington)
T Langston Walker (Oakland)
C Jason Whittle (Minnesota)
RB Willis McGahee (Baltimore)
WR Andre Davis (Houston)
LB London Fletcher (Washington)
LB Takeo Spikes (Philadelphia) 
CB Nate Clements (San Francisco)
Draft choices:
1 (12) Marshawn Lynch, rb, California.
2 (34) Paul Posluszny, lb, Penn St.
3 (92) Trent Edwards, qb, Stanford.
4 (111) Dwayne Wright, rb, Fresno St.
6 (184) John Wendling, db, Wyoming.
7 (222) Derek Schouman, te, Boise St.
7 (239) C.J. Ah You, de, Oklahoma.
Like many good teams in the NFL, Buffalo kept the status quo during the offseason, adding players to fill holes left by departure.
One problem.
The Bills are not a good team. And judging by the way they've acted so far 2007, they're not likely to be any time soon.
The Bills were a respectable 7-9 last year, but did it on the strength of Bendability (7th in the NFL) and Scoreability (6th), our measures of defensive and offensive efficiency. Translated, they were a team that made some big plays in the passing game and in the defensive red zone, but got crushed in the trenches. Not a great recipe for success.
Buffalo's offensive and defensive lines, taken as a group, were the worst in football – they were 31st on the Offensive Hog Index and tied for 27th on the Defensive Hog Index.
Yet they ignored the defensive line completely in free agency and the draft. Worse, they lost their two best players in the front seven (Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher) and all they've added in their place is rookie LB Paul Posluszny.
The offensive line did get some attention, with Redskin starter Derrick Dockery and a pair of veterans, but other teams with similar problems in 2006 expended more energy on fixing the problem. 
The Bills added RB Marshawn Lynch in the first round of the draft to replace Willis McGahee. But he'll need to be a hell of a lot better than McGahee in 2006 (3.8 YPA) to make an impact on this team. But running behind that offensive line it won't be easy. Expect a pretty rough introduction to the NFL for the potentially explosive rookie.
We love GM Marv Levy, perhaps the only World War II veteran still in a major management role in any sport. But that doesn't mean we love his moves.
Fillability grade: D
MIAMI (6-10)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
TE David Martin (Green Bay)
FB Cory Schlesinger (Detroit)
WR Az Hakim (San Diego)
T Mike Rosenthal (Minnesota)
G Chris Liwienski (Arizona)
LB Joey Porter (Pittsburgh)
S Cameron Worrell (Chicago)
K Jay Feely (N.Y. Giants)
QB Joey Harrington (Atlanta) 
RB Sammy Morris (New England)
FB Darian Barnes (N.Y. Jets)
RB Travis Minor (St. Louis)
WR Wes Welker (New England)
TE Randy McMichael (St. Louis)
G Toniu Fonoti (Atlanta)
G Damion McIntosh (Kansas City)
C Seth McKinney (Cleveland)
DE Kevin Carter (Tampa Bay)
DT David Bowens (N.Y. Jets)
DT Jeff Zgonina (Houston)
DT Dan Wilkinson (Denver) 
CB Eddie Jackson (New England) 
P Donnie Jones (St. Louis) 
K Olindo Mare (New Orleans) 
Draft choices:
1 (9) Ted Ginn Jr., wr, Ohio St.
2 (40) John Beck, qb, BYU.
2 (60) Samson Satele, g, Hawaii.
3 (71) Lorenzo Booker, rb, Florida State.
4 (108) Paul Soliai, dt, Utah.
6 (181) Reagan Mauia, rb, Hawaii.
6 (l99) Drew Mormino, c, Central Michigan.
7 (219) Kelvin Smith, lb, Syracuse.
7 (225) Brandon Fields, p, Michigan St.
7 (238) Abraham Wright, de, Colorado.
The Dolphins have hemorrhaged football players since Nick Saban flew the coop to henpeck players in Tuscaloosa. No less than 16 Miami veterans have departed and found jobs elsewhere – like college hoops players seeking transfer after getting sold a bill of goods by some upwardly mobile coach.
So the Dolphins are putting together a whole new football team for former Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Clearly, the Miami roster wasn't working as constructed despite plenty of veteran talent. So it's been completely remodeled, to the point that even Miami fans won't recognize the team that runs out of the tunnel at Washington on Sept. 9.
The Dolphins could not score touchdowns in 2006 (23 offensive TDs all season), marring what was otherwise a competitive season (Miami actually had a better record against Quality Opponents than both AFC East playoff teams, New England and New York).
They had a solid defense across the board, especially in the front seven (t6th in our Defensive Hog Index), and a respectable bunch of yardage gainers on offense. But they were 25th in TD passes (16) and 28th in yards per pass (5.20).
Hence the addition of Ohio State WR Ted Ginn Jr. When the Dolphins passed on Brady Quinn with the No. 9 pick in the draft, the "pundits" immediately labeled Miami as draft losers. (Note to Mel Kiper: college players aren't always what they appear to be.) Yet all the Fins were doing was filling their greatest need – someone capable of busting a game wide open on offense. And from all accounts, Ginn was among the biggest playmakers in the draft. On the downside, the last time we saw Ginn, he was limping around the sidelines as his Buckeyes were manhandled by Florida in the national title game.
Miami did draft a young QB (BYU's John Beck) in Round Two, and if they do go to training camp with a healthy Daunte Culpepper and/or Trent Green, they will have upgraded mightily over Joey Harrington. Beck could surprise, too. He throws the ball with plenty of zip (61.1 MPH, second best at the combine), while BYU has a pretty strong history of producing good quarterbacks ... and Miami fans don't have to look out of the division to find a less-heralded QB who turned into a franchise-maker.
Cameron inherits Miami's dynamic defensive duo of Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas, who are proving that there's life after 30 on the defensive side of the ball. Thomas, who turns 34 on Sept. 1, is consistently among the leading tacklers in the NFL (165 last year). Taylor (he turns 33 on Sept. 1) remains a devastating force at DE, as evidenced by his 25.5 sacks over the last two season and his 2 INT returns for TDs last year.
The Dolphins did lose four defensive contributors from their deep line, and didn't add anyone there in free agency or on Day One of the draft. They also ignored defense on the first day of the draft, something they've been getting away with since getting Thomas and Taylor a decade ago. Someday, this will catch up with them. 
But for 2007, the Dolphins seem to have patched up the holes on their leaky 2006 ship. Whether they can turn the ship around remains to be seen.
Fillability grade: B  
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
RB Sammy Morris (Miami)
TE Kyle Brady (Jacksonville)
WR Donte' Stallworth (Philadelphia)
WR Kelley Washington (Cincinnati)
WR Wes Welker (Miami)
WR Randy Moss (Oakland)
LB Adalius Thomas (Baltimore)
CB Tory James (Cincinnati)
CB Eddie Jackson (Miami)
RB Corey Dillon (released/retired)
TE Daniel Graham (Denver)
LB Tully Banta-Cain (San Francisco)
P Todd Sauerbrun (Denver) 
Draft choices:
1 (24) Brandon Meriweather, db, Miami.
4 (127) Kareem Brown, dt, Miami.
5 (171) Clint Oldenburg, ot, Colorado St.
6 (180) Justin Rogers, lb, SMU.
6 (202) Mike Richardson, db, Notre Dame.
6 (208) Justise Hairston, rb, Central Connecticut St.
6 (209) Corey Hilliard, ot, Oklahoma St.
7 (211) Oscar Lua, lb, Southern Cal.
7 (247) Mike Elgin, g, Iowa.
The Patriots have had a flashy offseason that masks the general solidity of the franchise. Their high-profile additions of Randy Moss, Donte' Stallworth and Wes Welker have been the talk of the league, and LB Adalius Thomas is a huge upgrade/multi-faceted tool for the defense.
For a veteran team that was one play away from the Super Bowl, and that (as the above rankings prove) was fairly solid in every aspect of the game, it was a rarely-seen addition of firepower.
The truth is that the New England offense was better last year than most people gave it credit for: 7th in scoring (24.1 PPG) in 4th in Scoreability, our measure of offensive efficiency. But watching Tom Brady's passing game succeed despite the lack of front-line talent at receiver was like a magic show – surely they must have been using camera tricks!
Still, the passing attack was the only part of New England's game last year that approached a weakness. The Patriots ranked 12th in passing offense (212.5 YPG) and 12 in passing yards per attempt (6.12). Clearly, they've attacked this relative weakness in the off-season with great vengeance and furious anger. It's hard to envision a scenario where this passing attack won't improve.
The additions at receiver didn't come without a cost, however. The losses of RB Corey Dillon and TE/run-bloacker extraordinaire Daniel Graham – two very tough guys – will be felt in the running game. Plus, newly minted No. 1 back Laurence Maroney struggled late in his rookie campaign. Amid the excitement about the passing attack, the ground game remains a question mark until proven otherwise.
But Bill Belichick isn't afraid to change the focus of his offense (he does it week to week), and they will have to fill the potential gap in the running game with another dimension, and the off-season moves have made it pretty clearn what that dimension will be. The Patriots of 2007 won't look much like the Patriots of 2006 on offense.
The defense should look much the same – a very good thing, since it rebounded to Super Bowl-caliber form in 2006. The New England defense was among the league leaders in virtually every category. The secondary came under criticism, but it finished second in defensive passer rating and allowed just 10 passing TDs, easily the best in the league, while picking off 22 passes. 
Given that scenario, picking up a safety (Brandon Meriweather) with their first-round pick does not seem like the best move. But the secondary has been injury-plagued in recent years, particularly aging safety Rodney Harrison. Someone must be groomed to replace him. It's also another capable body in the secondary, which is always handy in December, when the Patriots are sticking street free agents and 35-year-old receivers back there.
The Patriots will be back in the Super Bowl mix in 2007, not because they added big-name stars, but because they continue to make sure they've got a well-balanced, multi-dimensional football team. 
Fillability grade: A-minus
N.Y. JETS (10-6)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
QB Marques Tuiasosopo (Oakland)
FB Darian Barnes (Miami)
RB Thomas Jones (Chicago) 
DE Kenyon Coleman (Dallas)
DE David Bowens (Miami)
RB B.J. Askew (Tampa Bay)
QB Patrick Ramsey (Denver)
DE Dave Ball (Carolina) 
Draft choices:
1 (14) Darrelle Revis, db, Pittsburgh.
2 (47) David Harris, lb, Michigan.
6 (177) Jacob Bender, ot, Nicholls St.
7 (235) Chansi Stuckey, wr, Clemson. 
Eric Mangini turned New York's roster upside down as a rookie head coach. He did it smartly last year, while facing down the pressure to make an immediate PR splash, by using the first two draft picks on offensive line. He was widely praised by the Cold, Hard Football Facts for the decisions, and the results were impressive: a six-game improvement from 2005 to 2006, a playoff berth, and an open challenge to New England's divisional supremacy.
The offseason approach has been much different in 2007, as the Jets have done only the mildest tinkering to the roster – they don't lose a regular starter on either side of the ball. It tells you that they like the direction the team is headed.
They made some attempt to improve their mediocre defensive line (19th in the Defensive Hog Index, 24th in total run defense) with the additions of Kenyon Coleman and David Bowens. And on the offensive side of the ball, RB Thomas Jones, one of the prize offensive acquisitions of 2007, should start for a team that finished 30th overall in yards per attempt (3.54) last year.
New York went defense with their only high picks, grabbing CB Darrelle Revis and LB David Harris, both of whom will at least contribute as rookies.
The Jets didn't address the offensive line (22nd in the Offensive Hog Index), but figure that their two first-round rookies in 2006 (T D'Brickashaw Ferguson, C Nick Mangold) are on the rise. The Jets were dead last on the Hog Index in 2005. So here on the offensive line, as it seems everywhere else in New York under Mangini, the direction is up.
With a lot of young talent, the Jets can expect that their intact core should take a step forward in 2007, and they've made some nice small moves to complement that group. Surpassing New England is a formidable challenge. But the Jets beat the divisional powerhouse once last year. And they only need to beat them once this year, too, to challenge for the divisional title.
Fillability grade: A

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