The AFC East has essentially been run by the same team for over 15 years. The New England Patriots have dominated the division season after season, riding on the success of the most prolific quarterback this league has ever known and a head coach who always seems to be three steps ahead of the rest of the NFL.
That being said, each team in the division, the Patriots, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and our Miami Dolphins, have their strengths and weaknesses. Over the offseason, I’ll be giving an overview of each position on each team, and ranking them according to skill and depth. In this edition of the AFC East Position Power Rankings, we’ll review the tight end position.
4) New York Jets
Jason Vander Laan
Jordan Leggett (R)
Anthony Firkser (R)
Poor Jets, coming in at fourth place for a third consecutive position power rankings. The fact is, the Jets simply have a bottom three NFL roster, and their tight end position is no outlier. The best tight end on the team is Austin Seferian-Jenkins who, for a combination of injury and personality issues, fell out of favor with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The fourth year tight end has displayed talent on film, but has never played more than 9 games or earned more than 340 yards in a season.
The Jets drafted Jordan Leggett in the fifth round this past April to revive what has been one of their worst positions in recent years, and while he has talent as a pass catcher, Leggett’s route running and blocking abilities have been questioned by scouts. Behind Seferian-Jenkins and Leggett, the Jets have no one to excite at the position.
3) Buffalo Bills
Jason Croom (R)
Keith Towbridge (R)
The Bills signed Charles Clay away from Miami in 2015 with a contract so large, the Dolphins were unwilling to match it despite Clay’s success in South Florida. Unfortunately for the Bills, Clay has been limited to two underwhelming seasons, neither of which has seen him surpass 560 yards. As fellow Phinsider writer Craniator87 explained two weeks ago, the Bills were hoping Clay would be the missing piece to their almost playoff ready team, but that just hasn’t been the case.
Behind Clay sits Nick O’Leary who is more of a run-blocker than a consistent receiving threat, as well as pure backup Wes Saxton. Who knows, maybe the Bills will get a surprise from former Miami Dolphin and converted QB Logan Thomas. That doesn’t seem likely though.
2) Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are banking on Julius Thomas returning to pre-Jacksonville form in order to have major success at the tight end position, and so far, things are looking up in that regard. Not only is Thomas joining a team for which his former offensive coordinator Adam Gase is the head coach, but he is reportedly healthier than he’s been since becoming a star with the Denver Broncos three years ago. Thomas has gotten positive reports from fellow Dolphins players and coaches, and has himself expressed his high comfort level with his new team. If Gase can coax anywhere near the production out of Thomas that he had in Denver (1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns over two seasons), then Ryan Tannehill will definitely be gaining another strong weapon in the passing game.
After Thomas on the depth chart is premier blocking tight end and returning Miami Dolphin Anthony Fasano. If Fasano blocks like he did last year with the Titans, Jay Ajayi and the rest of Miami’s running game will benefit greatly.
MarQueis Gray is also returning this season after accumulating a career high 174 yards in spot work last season. Gray gave the Dolphins a few big plays last year, and the same production from the third string spot is certainly a possibility for 2017.
1) New England Patriots
Sam Cotton (R)
Jacob Hollister (R)
Boasting one of the best tight ends of this generation, the Patriots carry one of the top units at the position in the NFL. Provided Gronkowski stays healthy (which has proven elusive in the past), he’s one of the most dangerous weapons in the game. No matter how talented a defense is, with Brady throwing to him, Gronk is as close to the ultimate mismatch as you can get. In every season that he’s played at least 10 games, Gronkowski has scored at least 10 touchdowns. He’s also broken the 1,000 yard barrier in 2 of the past 3 seasons.
This offseason, the Patriots lost their premier Gronk insurance, Martellus Bennett, to the Green Bay Packers, but made sure to acquire a solid backup plan in Dwayne Allen. Allen himself has had injury issues in the past, but has still managed to score 15 touchdowns over the past three seasons. The 27 year-old has proven to be a talented pass catcher and will undoubtedly be a large part of the Patriots offense in 2017 when healthy.
The Patriots also retained the supremely large (6’7”, 270 lbs) Matt Lengel, who, given Belichick's reputation for developing players, could make contributions this season should he develop as a blocker.
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