The AFC East was full of surprises, twists and turns during the 2013 NFL draft. The first round had three trades involving division teams, and half of the AFC East drafted potential franchise quarterbacks amid controversy.
For the second year in a row, the New England Patriots were the only AFC East team to finish with a winning record in 2012. A significant gap between New England and everyone else remains, which is why this draft was so important.
Here is what stood out most in the AFC East:
Earlier in the week, I correctly predicted the Dolphins would trade up to the No. 3 overall pick by making a deal with the Oakland Raiders. But Miami made the move to select former Oregon defensive end and pass-rushing specialist Dion Jordan. It was a pleasant surprise for the Dolphins to get arguably the most dynamic defensive player in the draft, and it cost only an extra second-round pick. Most projected Miami to target a left tackle.
But Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland showed his aggressive nature this offseason. Ireland, first and foremost, wants to add playmakers. That explains Miami’s big free-agent acquisitions, such as wide receiver Mike Wallace, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and now the first-round pick of Jordan. These are difference-makers who can win games for Miami.
Jordan is arguably the best defensive player in this draft and has the potential to be a consistent double-digit sack performer. He will pair with Miami Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, who had a career-high 15 sacks in 2012, to make a dangerous tandem of defensive ends. I also like the addition of second-round cornerback Jamar Taylor, who could win the starting job or play the nickel.
Miami’s goal this year is to close the gap with the Patriots, who have dominated the AFC East for most of the past dozen years. With the additions of Jordan and Taylor on defense, the Dolphins drafted players who can potentially make life a little tougher for New England quarterback Tom Brady.
Buffalo will face plenty of criticism in the coming weeks and months for taking Manuel in the first round. ESPN draft expert Todd McShay, for example, called the move “a big mistake” and “a waste” of a first-round pick.
Manuel has a lot of physical tools but wasn’t able to put it together consistently at Florida State. Many view Manuel as a project, but the Bills believe he has the potential to become their long-term, franchise quarterback.
As the first quarterback off the board, Manuel will have a lot of pressure to become the best quarterback from the 2013 class. He will compete with Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson for Buffalo’s starting job in training camp.
MOST SURPRISING MOVE
It wasn’t surprising that the New York Jets drafted a quarterback. But it was shocking that Geno Smith, who was regarded by many as the top quarterback in the draft, fell into New York’s lap with the 39th overall pick in the second round.
The Jets reportedly liked Smith enough to consider him for the No. 13 overall pick. New York ended up taking former Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who was higher on its board. As luck would have it, New York’s top quarterback was still available on Day 2. The Jets made calls to try to move up, but that was unnecessary. Smith continued his surprising free fall until the Jets turned in their card at No. 39.
Not only is Smith New York’s quarterback of the future, but he could also be its quarterback of the present. The Jets could consider releasing incumbent starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, but I would be surprised given his guaranteed salary of $8.25 million and the potential cap hit of $17.15 million over the next two years.
FILE IT AWAY
The Patriots and coach Bill Belichick continued their trend of under-the-radar selections. New England filled its needs but with players you didn’t expect. After trading out of the first round, the Patriots took outside linebacker Jamie Collins in the second round. The Patriots passed over more well-known pass-rushers such as Margus Hunt and Arthur Brown to do so.
New England also made its most surprising pick in the third round in Rutgers safety Duron Harmon, who was projected to be a late-round pick. This move is reminiscent of the second-round pick of Tavon Wilson in 2012. Wilson also was a projected late-round pick and played well as a rookie with four interceptions. Keep an eye on how Belichick’s under-the-radar picks like Harmon and Collins develop in 2013.