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Patriots, Bills get high marks for offseason moves

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff  May 29, 2012 10:28 AM

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USA Today has taken a division-by-division look at each NFL team's offseason moves and graded them based on free-agency pickups and losses, the draft and coaching changes.

Not surprisingly, the Patriots and Bills earned the highest grades for the AFC East. Both received an A-minus.

The Dolphins were given a B-minus and the Jets a C-minus.

Here's the opinion on the Patriots:

New England Patriots (A-): Bill Belichick's bunch was oh-so-close to its fourth Lombardi Trophy in 11 seasons. But the Pats have been busy since their four-point loss in Super Bowl XLVI. Six of their seven draft picks were devoted to a defense that finished last in the AFC. Rookie DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont'a Hightower should be impact players in short order, though second-round S Tavon Wilson was questioned by some as a reach. Much will be expected of Jones after the team chose not to re-sign Anderson and fellow DE Andre Carter, who combined for 20 sacks in 2011. Seventh-round CB Alfonzo Dennard has the talent to make a difference, and a secondary that still seems unsettled might need him.

A scoreboard-shattering offense said goodbye to longtime LT Matt Light, who retired, and steady RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Nate Solder, a first rounder in 2011, should thrive in Light's role while the tailback-by-committee approach promises to endure with Stevan Ridley taking a leading role with ex-Colt Joseph Addai in the mix. Watch a saturated receiver group. Wes Welker and free agent signee Brandon Lloyd, who knows offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' playbook well, should start. But it could be a spirited battle with Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Julian Edelman, Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Gonzalez, Donte' Stallworth and special teams ace Matthew Slater vying for jobs. Bottom line: New England is loaded for another Super run.

Buffalo got high marks for its "boldness" for signing top free agent, DE Mario Williams, and signing former New England pass-rusher Mark Anderson, who along with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams give the Bills "arguably the best defensive line in the AFC East."

The Dolphins' offseason was saved by a strong draft, writes Nate Davis, while the Jets, a team with "multiple deficiencies coming off a disastrous season" seemed focused primarily on quarterback, first extending Mark Sanchez and then acquiring Tim Tebow.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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