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Grading the AFC East's first-round picks

Posted by Erik Frenz  April 26, 2013 12:40 AM

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The AFC East was one of the most active divisions in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. The Miami Dolphins traded up nine picks; the Buffalo Bills traded back eight picks; the New York Jets hung tight with their two first-round picks; the New England Patriots got four picks for the price of one in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings.

With two defensive linemen and a cornerback taken by AFC East rivals in the first round, the Patriots influence was felt heavily. You could even argue the Bills feel the pressure to put points on the board with an explosive offense to answer the high-scoring offense of the Patriots.

How did all four teams do? Here are my grades for each pick.

No. 3 -- Dolphins select Oregon DE Dion Jordan

The Dolphins traded the No. 12 and 42 selections to move up to the Raiders' No. 3 spot. They have a need at offensive tackle and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson was waiting for them on the board, but Jordan was the pick, and with good reason.

They lack a standout pass-rusher to put opposite left end Cameron Wake. They selected Jared Odrick in the first round of the 2010 draft, and although he played right end for the Dolphins last year, he is more natural as a five-technique or as a defensive tackle.

Jordan only logged 12.5 sacks for the Ducks over the past two years, but he was used in a variety of ways as a 3-4 outside linebacker, dropping into coverage at times as well as his duties at the line of scrimmage.

Jordan isn't as stout against the run, but their pass defense is a bigger concern. They gave up 60 pass plays of 20 yards or more, the fourth-most in the NFL. If the Dolphins' goal is to overtake the Patriots in the AFC East, they need to be able to get more pressure on the passer to stop those big plays. Jordan helps them do that.

Grade: A-

No. 9 -- Jets select Alabama CB Dee Milliner

From one shutdown cornerback to another.

First off, let's clear up a misconception: Milliner is not being drafted to replace Darrelle Revis. That responsibility falls on Antonio Cromartie, who will be covering a team's No. 1 wide receiver.

There are significant questions as to whether Kyle Wilson will ever evolve into a starting caliber cornerback. The clock is ticking for Wilson, with two years left on his rookie deal. Milliner should light a little fire under him to improve, and is a better outside corner prospect than Wilson.

Some college cornerbacks don't have a lot on their plate, but that's not the case at Alabama, where corners are often asked to do just as much or more than they would be in the NFL. Milliner has experience in man and zone coverage, and although his technique isn't always flawless, he has the size and speed to help him compensate.

Concerns over his injury history are overblown. Teams knew about the issues before the scouting combine, and according to Bleacher Report injury expert Will Carroll, the injury shouldn't cause Milliner any problems following training camp, as long as there are no hangups in his rehab. It should also be noted that the injuries he suffered throughout 2012 were not enough to keep him off the field, as he didn't miss a single game for the Crimson Tide.

Grade: B+

No. 13 -- Jets select Missouri DL Sheldon Richardson

Richardson, as a prospect, is a solid player. He is a great athlete on the defensive line, with the athleticism to really wreak havoc as a pass-rusher up the middle. His combination of size and speed will help him make a lot of plays, and his non-stop motor will help him make the rest.

He has disruptive capabilities, with 18.5 tackles for loss and six sacks over the past two years. His production even took a step up when Missouri joined the SEC in 2012.

For the Jets, though, the pick is confusing. Why, after drafting defensive linemen for their 3-4 front over the past two years (Muhammad Wilkerson in 2011 and Quinton Coples in 2012) did the Jets decide another first-round defensive linemen was in the cards?

Coples may be at his best as a five-technique; Wilkerson lined up primarily as a five-technique in 2012, but he is a bit more versatile. Richardson was primarily used as a three-technique at Missouri, and kicked outside in three-man fronts. Perhaps the Jets could work the three of them into a rotation, but that still leaves a question mark at nose tackle, where Kenrick Ellis may be asked to step up.

If the plan was to get after the quarterback with a solid push up the middle, the Jets hit a home run with this pick. The problem is, the Jets current group of defenders makes this less of a need than some other spots.

Grade: C+

No. 16 -- Bills select Florida State QB E.J. Manuel

The Bills traded down eight picks and gave up the 71st pick to the St. Louis Rams, adding the 16th, 46th, 78th and 222nd picks in the process.

Manuel is far from a pocket passer. He has the speed to make hay when running with the ball, and at 6'5" and 237 pounds, he has the size to take a beating in the NFL. The Bills would be wise to use him to his strengths, giving him opportunities to run with the ball and take advantage of his legs with misdirection. It would be shocking if the Bills don't incorporate the read-option heavily into their offense.

He was consistent in his production, improving each year in college. He ranks third all-time in Florida State history in passing yards, but he was not asked to do much as a pure pocket passer -- he was a one-read quarterback and was not asked to carry a heavy burden as a pocket passer.

There's a developmental aspect to Manuel, but given the success of mobile quarterbacks of late, the potential is there for Manuel to make an early impact.

Grade: C+

No. 29 -- Patriots trade for Nos. 52, 83, 102 and 229

Tell me you saw this coming. The Patriots have developed a reputation for trading down and collecting value, but this year set up perfectly for them to do just that.

With just five picks in this year's draft, the Patriots were in an unusual spot. They rectified the situation in one fell swoop, jumping from five to eight selections total with the trade.

In terms of talent and upside, the dropoff between the 25th and the 52nd prospects in this draft isn't necessarily that big. Now, with two picks in the second and third rounds and three in the seventh round, the Patriots have a good deal of mana to work with for the next two days.

Grade: A-


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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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