In 2020, the AFC East saw a new divisional champion for the first time since 2008 and for just the second time since 2002. The Patriots’ AFC East domination seems to have come to an end as Buffalo and Miami have risen to a level of expected playoff contention. The Patriots are still aiming to compete with those teams after an offseason spending spree, meanwhile, the Jets are merely looking for improvement after a very disappointing 2-14 record in 2020. Buffalo has committed to Josh Allen with a huge 6-year, $258 million extension, while the Dolphins have shown a devotion to their QB, Tua Tagovailoa, allowing Ryan Fitzpatrick to leave in FA and surrounding him with new weapons. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, the Patriots and the Jets both drafted QBs in the 1st round of the draft, selecting Mac Jones (15th) and Zach Wilson (2nd) respectively. Both Jones and Wilson will be starting immediately with rebuilt supporting casts, following the Patriots’ surprising release of Cam Newton. In terms of the divisional race, the question seems to be: Will the Bills return to their highs of last season, or will they fall back to Earth enough to allow an opportunity for the rest of the AFC East?
Roster Moves through July 9th
- Overall Targets Returning: 85.5% (489/572) (12th)
- WR Targets Returning: 86.7% (370/427) (11th)
- TE Targets Returning: 67.6% (46/68) (20th)
- RB/FB Targets Returning: 94.7% (72/76) (9th)
The Bills lost both John Brown and Andre Roberts at the WR position, but return Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and Gabriel Davis to lead the group along with FA acquisition Emmanuel Sanders. Brown is still a sizable loss, even after an injury-plagued 2020 season, but bringing in Sanders, the Bills hope he fills that gap. Roberts isn’t exactly a significant loss at the WR position, but he was an excellent returner for the Bills that will be tough to replace. At the TE position, Tyler Kroft and Lee Smith both departed in FA, opening up a vacuum behind Dawson Knox at the position. Buffalo’s usage of TEs is low compared to the rest of the league, so the lack of depth at the position seems unlikely to be significant, but it could become important if injuries were to hit. The RB room has stayed mostly the same, with TJ Yeldon, last year’s RB3, as the only noteworthy exit, and Matt Breida being his replacement. Devin Singletary and Zack Moss will split most of the carries and targets in the backfield, with Moss expected to move into the RB1 role.
- Overall Targets Returning: 87% (476/547) (10th)
- WR Targets Returning: 84.8% (267/315) (15th)
- TE Targets Returning: 100% (136/136) (T-1st)
- RB/FB Targets Returning: 76.8% (73/95) (18th)
Miami has overhauled their WR group quite a bit this offseason in hopes to help develop Tagovailoa. Isaiah Ford and Antonio Callaway are the two losses with targets in 2020 but they will be replaced with huge additions in Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle. Miami had a very spread-out target distribution last season, but that shouldn’t be expected to be as extreme in 2021. Fuller, DeVante Parker, and Waddle should be expected to lead the position in targets, with Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, and Preston Williams behind them, supplying depth. At the TE position, Miami has only added to their depth, drafting Hunter Long in the 3rd round to join Mike Gesicki, Adam Shaheen, and Durham Smythe. At RB, Miami lost depth guys in Matt Breida, DeAndre Washington, Chandler Cox, and Jordan Howard, but still return Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, and Patrick Laird. They also added Malcolm Brown in FA, who will add depth behind Gaskin and possibly play a key role.
New England Patriots
- Overall Targets Returning: 59% (248/420) (29th)
- WR Targets Returning: 55.1% (145/263) (30th)
- TE Targets Returning: 36.4% (12/33) (28th)
- RB/FB Targets Returning: 73% (89/122) (21st)
New England didn’t have much of a passing attack in 2020, ranked 30th in passing yards. Their WR group was a huge part of that, as it wasn’t a very experienced group. From that group, Damiere Byrd, Julian Edelman, and Donte Moncrief have all departed, opening up a bunch of targets from an already pedestrian passing attack. Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne were both added in FA and should be expected to play big roles in the offense, but neither significantly improves the WR group. At TE, Ryan Izzo and Jordan Thomas are the departures from a group that really didn’t factor into the passing game much at all. Prized free-agent tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry were added with the hope that they become a key focus of the Patriots’ passing game. In the backfield, Rex Burkhead departed in FA and Sony Michel was recently traded away, opening up room for 4th round pick Rhamondre Stevenson and UDFA JJ Taylor. The Patriots have become known for their usage of backfield committees in recent years, so it wouldn’t be a surprise for that to occur yet again, but James White has to be expected to lead the position in targets.
New York Jets
- Overall Targets Returning: 74.3% (344/463) (18th)
- WR Targets Returning: 73.4% (240/327) (21st)
- TE Targets Returning: 0% (0/61) (T-32nd)
- RB/FB Targets Returning: 57.3% (43/75) (24th)
The Jets, who had the 2nd worst passing attack in 2020, lost Breshad Perriman, Chris Hogan, and Jaleel Scott this offseason. Corey Davis and Keelan Cole were added in FA while Elijah Moore was selected in the 2nd round of the draft to provide ample support for rookie QB Zach Wilson. They join Jamison Crowder and last year’s 2nd round pick Denzel Mims to form a much-improved WR group. At TE, the group which was led by a recently traded Chris Herndon, failed to impress in 2020. The team brought in Tyler Kroft at the position, but there is still no clear starter. Frank Gore, Le’Veon Bell, and Kalen Ballage all left in free agency but the Jets won’t miss them too much. 4th round pick Michael Carter and FA signing Tevin Coleman will replace them alongside Ty Johnson in what is likely to be a committee in the backfield. The Jets offense will look very different with a new system and new personnel.