Jan 1, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) and tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) watch from the sideline as they take on the Buffalo Bills in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Bill 49-21. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Like millions of Americans every year, I play Fantasy Football. Like most Fantasy Football players, I often avoid the AFC East like the plague. It doesn’t look like much will change this year. If anything, there are even more questions at each position this year than last.
Starting with quarterback, the only sure thing looks to be New England’s Tom Brady. After that, only Ryan Tannehill has nailed down what looks to be a starting job for the entire season. That said, I’d only consider Tannehill a low-end No.2 quarterback on any roster.
Dec 30, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) greets Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) after the game at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots defeated the Miami Dolphins 28-0. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
The quarterback situations in Buffalo and New York make it difficult to draft anyone from those two teams. In Buffalo, veteran Kevin Kolb is likely to be the Week 1 starter. Even then, all I hear from the Bills’ camp is how high they are on E.J. Manuel, which tells me Kolb is on the shortest of leashes. You have a similar situation going on with the Jets. Everyone considers Mark Sanchez a dead man walking with Geno Smith in camp. I don’t care what happens, I promise you neither of those guys will end up on my roster on draft day.
At running back, the AFC East is a microcosm of the recent platoon-back systems being implemented throughout the league. Many are high on C.J. Spiller heading into this season. From a pure talent standpoint, it’s tough to argue that he’s not a top-3 back in the league. From a fantasy standpoint, however, there are still questions about how he’ll be used in new head coach Doug Marrone’s system — not to mention the continued presence of Fred Jackson in Buffalo’s lockerroom.
Stevan Ridley had a breakout season in New England last year, but I still don’t trust Belichick to stick with one guy as his feature back — not with Shane Vereen, Leon Washington, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden all hanging around looking for touches. New York’s situation isn’t much better, as they don’t have a single back on their roster who has ever been a feature back in the NFL. Miami’s running back situation is a bit more clear, as we continue to hear how Lamar Miller has the top spot locked down in South Beach.
Dec 30, 2012; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller (28) stiff arms New York Jets free safety LaRon Landry (30) during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills beat the Jets 28-9. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Taking a look at the receivers in the AFC East, most project Danny Amendola to inherit the majority of Wes Welker’s production in New England. The rest of the depth chart is filled with guys who have never had any real fantasy impact. If you are drafting for a keeper league, I suppose Aaron Dobson might be someone you’d be interested in.
Buffalo has the same situation. Only Stevie Johnson has any sort of history as an impact player in fantasy. He’s surrounded by a cast of rookies and journeymen. Miami brings what appears to be a solid 1-2 punch to the table in Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, but how they work together and build a relationship with Tannehill has yet to be seen. In New York, you have a guy with big potential in Stephen Hill and a solid vet in Santonio Holmes coming off injury. Both could be challenged for their jobs by Jeremy Kerley.
The Patriots have boasted the most talent at tight end over the past few years, however, I’m not sure how comfortable I am drafting Rob Gronkowski early anymore. I’d likely take Aaron Hernandez over him due to durability and versatility heading into 2013. In Buffalo, it looks like Scott Chandler is your most dependable option, as there is not a lot of talented depth behind him.
It looks like the starter in New York is going to be Jeff Cumberland, who has limited experience. He’ll have minimal value in most leagues. Former Jet Dustin Keller looks to be the start in Miami. Keller is a savvy vet with success in the past, but he could be pushed by two young and talented players behind him: Dion Sims and Michael Egnew.
We’ll know more about the kicking situation in the AFC East as we get closer to the season. As of now, the only kicker in the division who looks like he has any sort of job security is New England’s Stephen Gostkowski. Miami, Buffalo and the Jets have three of the most prolific college kickers from a season ago in their camps in Caleb Sturgis, Dustin Hopkins and Brett Maher respectively. All three have a legitimate shot to unseat the veterans currently above them on the depth charts.
New England’s defense, contrary to popular belief, was actually a solid fantasy play in 2012 thanks to their takeaways. They should only improve with the addition of Adrian Wilson and another year of younger guys learning their roles. The Jets will always have a respectable unit as long as Rex Ryan is running the show, but I don’t see anything that compels me to draft the defenses of either Miami or Buffalo.
The thing to take away from all of this is that the AFC East — outside of Tom Brady and maybe and handful of players — isn’t the safest place for you to find solid and consistent contributors for your fantasy squad on draft day. I’d wait until the season gets rolling and see who from the division develops into a waiver-wire gem.