AFC East 2022 NFL Draft Preview: Team needs, top draft targets, prospects to watch, and more

Our NFL Draft preview for the AFC East explores team needs and intriguing prospects for the Dolphins, Jets, Patriots, and Bills.

As our NFL Draft preview series rolls on, we take a closer look at the AFC East, which could be sneaky good this year with three talented rosters and a fourth on the rise. Ahead of the NFL Draft, we explore team needs and draft prospects that make sense in our AFC East draft preview.

AFC East 2022 NFL Draft Preview

The AFC East has one team that will largely control the NFL Draft (the Jets) and another that basically punted on the draft altogether (the Dolphins). And it has two 2021 playoff teams (the Bills and Patriots) hoping to improve on an already good thing.

Buffalo Bills: Team needs, draft targets, salary cap, and prospects to watch

Cap Space (as of April 5): $287,000
2022 NFL Draft Picks: 1-25, 2-57, 3-89, 4-130, 5-168, 6-185, 6-203, 7-231

The Bills might have been Super Bowl champs had they simply gotten one stop late against the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the 2021 AFC playoffs. Instead, they gave up 16 points in a little over six minutes of game time to lose in OT.

Did that failure prompt Brandon Beane to hand out nearly $150 million in contracts to defensive linemen in free agency? Perhaps. But either way, the pass rush should be much improved in 2022 with Von Miller, DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle, and Jordan Phillips aboard.

Not all of Buffalo’s needs were filled in free agency, however. Running back J.D. McKissic’s decision to back out of an agreement to join the Bills and instead return to Washington means Buffalo still has unfinished business in the offensive backfield. Beyond running back, the Bills’ needs include cornerback, defensive tackle, tight end, and offensive tackle.

The good news? There should be plenty of options at all of those spots at 25.

True believers of analytics would crush the Bills for taking a running back in Round 1, but it would certainly make sense. They’d probably have their pick of a group led by Kenneth Walker III (Michigan State) and Breece Hall (Iowa State).

Cornerbacks potentially available in that range include Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson), Trent McDuffie (Washington), and Roger McCreary (Auburn).

As for the trenches? Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt, Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning, and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross all make some sense if by chance they’re available.

New England Patriots: Team needs, draft targets, salary cap, and prospects to watch

Cap Space (as of April 5): $5 million
2022 NFL Draft Picks: 1-21, 2-54, 3-85, 4-127, 5-158, 5-170, 6-200, 6-210

Free agency was by necessity quiet for the Patriots a year after they broke records for guaranteed spending. In fact, their roster is probably weaker now than it was three months ago, with cornerback J.C. Jackson and guard Ted Karras gone.

Last year, the Patriots did several out-of-character things, beginning with their free agency spending spree. (They also drafted a quarterback in Round 1, which hadn’t happened in decades.) But Bill Belichick is back in his comfort zone — drafting in the bottom 12 — and could return to his old trading ways. He’s executed more than 80 draft-day trades in his near quarter-century in New England, including seven in the first round.

If a quarterback or two slip out of the teens, expect him to take calls about the 21st pick, particularly after parting ways with a 2023 third in the DeVante Parker trade.

Whenever they first pick, the Patriots will have needs to address. They must find a replacement for Jackson, add depth at safety and linebacker, and could use an offensive tackle.

Booth, McDuffie, McCreary, and potentially Derek Stingley Jr. should he drop, would all garner consideration.

If you’re looking for players that fit a prototype, versatile linebackers Devin Lloyd (Utah) and Nakobe Dean (Georgia) are exactly the types of players that Belichick has coveted in years past.

Miami Dolphins: Team needs, draft targets, salary cap, and prospects to watch

Cap Space (as of April 5): $11.1 million
2022 NFL Draft Picks: 3-102, 4-125, 7-224, 7-247

Chris Grier, with major input from Mike McDaniel, has built the most talented Dolphins roster in recent memory. And as a result, the team has very few glaring needs. That’s good because the Dolphins don’t have any picks in the top 100 and just two in the top 200.

Talk about a dramatic shift in approach for a franchise that had 11 top-100 picks in the last two years. Grier’s approach suggests the Dolphins are in win-now mode (and that he doesn’t think too highly of this year’s draft class).

Grier instead was aggressive in free agency, making more than two-dozen moves since the beginning of March. The biggest? Signing left tackle Terron Armstead and trading for (and extending) Tyreek Hill.

Basically, every starting spot either is spoken for or has good competition. That means they can take pretty much any position with their four picks. The Dolphins could still use added competition at center, edge defender, and linebacker.

Names to watch in Round 3 include centers Dylan Parham (Memphis) and Dohnovan West (Arizona State). So yeah, this won’t be an exciting weekend, Dolphins fans.

New York Jets: Team needs, draft targets, salary cap, and prospects to watch

Cap Space (as of April 5): $15.5 million
2022 NFL Draft Picks: 1-4, 1-10, 2-35, 2-38, 3-69, 4-111, 4-117, 5-146, 5-163

The future is now, Joe Douglas. Four years into his time as Jets GM, Douglas needs to start showing significant results.

His first drafts have been hit or miss, but he’s never had as many high-value assets (five picks in the top 70) as he does now. Douglas’ legacy (and potentially job security) depends on having a great weekend.

The Jets’ roster is improved, but it’s still a major work in progress. They have needs at premium positions — wide receiver, edge defender, and cornerback — and should use premium picks on them.

Given their many roster holes, we could list every top-20 prospect as an option in the first round.

There will be excellent players available when New York picks at 4 and 10. But who those players actually will be? It’s anyone’s guess, given the most unpredictable top 10 we can remember. The Jets will be at the mercy of the Jaguars, Lions, and Texans, but it’s entirely possible they’ll have their pick of the best non-trench player at 4.

This means Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner, Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, and Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson could all be in play at 4. As for 10? The possibilities are endless. Also, don’t discount a trade back from either of those spots if another team falls in love with a quarterback.

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