Our trip around the NFL finally brings us the AFC. The winner of the East is considered a foregone conclusion by most. But the development of these rookies is an exciting plot point to monitor throughout the season and beyond. 

Buffalo Bills

RoundPickPlayerPositionCollege/UnivRoster Status
123Kaiir ElamCBFlorida 
263James CookRBGeorgia 
389Terrel BernardLBBaylor 
5148Khalil ShakirWRBoise St. 
6180Matt AraizaPSan Diego St.Cut/Waived
6185Christian BenfordCBVillanova 
6209Luke TenutaOLVirginia TechCut/Waived
7231Baylon SpectorLBClemson 

UDFA:

One of the most-talented rosters in the NFL got even better in April. CB Kaiir Elam has a good size/speed combo that’s effectively used in press-coverage. The methodical corner will have to hold down the fort while Tre’davious White returns from injury. Elam looks impressive with his innate sense for when to play physical and when to play with finesse. LB Terrel Bernard may have been considered a reach in April, but he’ll fit right into the Bills LB room. Bernard has good coverage skills as a twitched up linebacker that seems to be simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. If the staff can tame him, Bernard can be a real asset as a potential replacement for Milano or Edmunds down the line. While LB Baylon Spector doesn’t have the athleticism of Bernard, he does have experience as a converted safety in big games as a member of Clemson’s squad. His play recognition makes him an immediate backup, potentially being entrusted with spot duty over Bernard.

Courtesy of Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

RB James Cook has caught the attention of the fantasy community with his pass-catching ability from the backfield. The question remains as to whether he can be an every-down back at the next level despite never being asked to do so in college. He doesn’t have the speed or burst of his older brother, Dalvin, or the size you’d want to give 25 carries per game. What Cook does add to the team is immaculate footwork and a real route runner from the backfield. The backfield is likely a committee and Cook will play a big part in that. WR Khalil Shakir has his ardent supporters within the evaluation community. His athleticism is just sufficient, but what he can do as a route-runner gives him value no matter where on the depth chart he may sit for now. Varied timing and nuanced stems are difficult to teach younger players but Shakir comes in ready-to-play on that front.

Miami Dolphins

RoundPickPlayerPositionCollege/UnivRoster Status
3102Channing TindallLBGeorgia 
4125Erik EzukanmaWRTexas Tech 
7224Cameron GoodeEDGECaliforniaCut/Waived
7247Skylar ThompsonQBKansas St. 

UDFA: TE Tanner Conner, CB Kader Kohou

LB Channing Tindall was yet another Georgia defender drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Bulldogs featured many athletes last year that were deployed by Nakobe Dean: the brains of the operation. We’ll see if Tindall can continue to produce without his general pointing the way. Luckily, Jerome Baker and Elandon Roberts have seen their fair share of snaps at the pro level. Tindall runs fast and hits like he’s trying his best Kool-Aid impression, but his poor change-of-direction ability leads to bad coverage and makes him susceptible to misdirection. When you think of QB Skylar Thompson, think a more-athletic Tim Tebow. The quarterback had plenty of highlight performances in college, albeit without the championships, but lacks the accuracy to maintain a long NFL career. While it’s surprising he made it through roster cuts, he probably won’t stick for very long, especially with Teddy Bridgewater in front of him. WR Erik Ezukanma may have been a CFF darling but will have to work hard to get minutes on the Dolphins roster. Ezukanma is a deep-threat only due to his poor route running. However, his strength and high-point abilities will give him some use in relieving the trio of veteran starters in front of him or in long-ball situations.

New England Patriots

RoundPickPlayerPositionCollege/UnivRoster Status
129Cole StrangeOLChattanooga 
250Tyquan ThorntonWRBaylorPUP/NFI/IR
385Marcus JonesCBHouston 
4121Jack JonesCBArizona St. 
4127Pierre StrongRBSouth Dakota St. 
4137Bailey ZappeQBWestern Kentucky 
6183Kevin HarrisRBSouth CarolinaCut/Waived
6200Sam RobertsEDGENW Missouri St. 
6210Chasen HinesOLLSU 
7245Andrew StueberOLMichiganPUP/NFI/IR

UDFA: EDGE DaMarcus Mitchell, S Brenden Schooler

Bill Belichik marches to the beat of his own drum. This has been no more apparent than in the draft. Many teams were wary of drafting small-school prospect iOL Cole Strange. While some may consider the selection a poor value, there is merit to the ways Strange can help any team regardless of the draft capital required to acquire him. His nastiness to finish the blocks help to mask his deficiencies in play strength. Nevertheless, his strong showing against Kentucky last year has established Strange as a prospect more than capable of making the transition to a higher level of competition. RB Pierre Strong shares many similarities to his college mascot, the jackrabbits. He is swift on his feet and posted great jump numbers at the combine. However, Strong could stand to be …strong-er. His patience to wait for his blocks to develop may gain yards but will draw the ire of the coaches when he struggles to break yardage, limiting his short-term prospects for touches. QB Bailey Zappe threw for a mile last year in Western Kentucky’s air raid offense (Go Tops!). It’s not likely he sees any extended playing time barring injury, which is good as he will need to develop the ability to read the whole field. WR Tyquan Thornton has already received demerits from the coaching staff for his lack of durability. This doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who noticed his tiny hands measured at the combine. His legit trackspeed has shown to be insufficient in making him a downfield threat as he will need time to grow into a route-runner.

The rookie CB law firm of Jones & Jones will look to replace JC Jackson in the defensive secondary. CB Marcus Jones has one of the best mirror abilities in the draft class. He will drive WRs crazy with his gnat-like ability, a fitting comparison considering his tiny dimensions. Injuries have meant that he enters the league on the older side for a rookie, but he adds value as a returner on special teams. He’ll be competing for snaps in the slot from week 1. CB Jack Jones is also small but doesn’t quite have the skills that Marcus has. Jack is jittery but shows demonstrable effort instead of natural fluidity when matching receivers. While Marcus Jones was a steal in the third round, Jack Jones was a reach in the fourth. Bill Belichik strikes again.

New York Jets

RoundPickPlayerPositionCollege/UnivRoster Status
14Ahmad GardnerCBCincinnati 
110Garrett WilsonWROhio St. 
126Jermaine JohnsonEDGEFlorida St. 
236Breece HallRBIowa St. 
3101Jeremy RuckertTEOhio St. 
4111Max MitchellOLLouisiana 
4117Micheal ClemonsEDGETexas A&M 

UDFA: S Tony Adams, RB Zonovan Knight

Courtesy of Sporting News-Getty Images

The Jets went into the 2022 NFL Draft with the goal of adding talent from successful college teams. CB Sauce Gardner was part of the stingy defense that led Cincinnati to represent the G5 in the CFP. Gardner should start right away as a boundary corner in Robert Saleh’s system. Although his play doesn’t always look coordinated or smooth, Sauce has unreal agility for a DB taller than 6’2″. There will be some growing pains, but that’s to be expected with a young, physical corner. EDGE Jermaine Johnson’s best trait, and the reason he will start early, is his ability to set the edge as a run defender. In his one season at Florida State, he accumulated 70 tackles and a conference-leading 18 TFL. If he can coordinate his hand strikes with his footwork he can be a dangerous asset very early in his career. It’s a good thing the Jets aren’t expecting anything out of wild card EDGE Micheal Clemons, as they never know if he will be available or not due to injury or suspension. He was drafted simply because he has good dimensions and will only be called upon in a pinch.

WR Garrett Wilson has NFL-ready speed combined with a competitive streak at the catch point. Coming from the Ohio State offense, he’s already developed a knack for violating a DBs cushion and finding gaps in the secondary against man or zone. Paired with Elijah Moore, New York may have a new best WR corps. RB Breece Hall was arguably the best back in the class. He has all the characteristics of a power back yet the speed to break it when his excellent vision can identify the opportunity. The drawback to being the former focal point of the Iowa State offense is that Hall lacks experience in pass protection and could also improve his pass-catching ability from all alignments. TE Jeremy Ruckert lacked opportunity to post high-production numbers despite the high passing volume at Ohio State because CJ Stroud was too busy feeding the likes of the aforementioned Wilson, Chris Olave, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. But, Ruckert has the tools to develop into both a receiving threat and as a capable blocker. OT Max Mitchell will need to put on thickness to his whole body, but especially his lower half. His movement skills will earn him playing time while his football IQ will keep him on the field. 

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