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Key NFL Draft Picks To Fill AFC East Offensive, Defensive Holes

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(credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

(credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

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By Tony Meale

The 2013 NFL Draft will take place this week, so let’s take a look at which holes each team in the AFC East needs to fill to have a successful draft.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills rolled the quarterback dice in signing Kevin Kolb to a two-year, $13 million contract, which reduces the odds of them drafting Geno Smith or Matt Barkley with the eighth overall pick.

Assuming Buffalo doesn’t go quarterback early, Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack seems like an obvious selection, especially since the Bills lost guard Andy Levitre to the Tennessee Titans in free agency. Warmack would provide pass protection for Kolb and open up holes for a ball-control attack that features Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

Buffalo also needs help at wideout. Steve Johnson was steady last year – hauling in 79 catches for 1,046 yards and six touchdowns – but he had more than twice as many targets as any other teammate. In fact, Johnson almost equaled the production of the Bills’ next two top pass-catchers – tight end Scott Chandler and the aforementioned Spiller – combined. Tavon Austin should be given consideration, but the Bills will likely take a wait-and-see approach with this position and make a value pick later in the draft.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

Miami Dolphins

After shelling out $175 million this offseason to eight unrestricted free agents – including wide receiver Mike Wallace – Miami, which has made the playoffs just once in the last decade, appears committed to fielding a winner.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Dolphins don’t have holes to fill. Miami must replace former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long, who signed with the Rams, and Reggie Bush, who signed with the Lions.

The good news is, the Dolphins have 11 draft picks, including five in the top 82. They may decide to trade up – they currently select 12th overall – or stand pat and hope for an elite offensive tackle such as Alabama’s D.J. Fluker or Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson. Other options along the offensive line include North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper and Alabama’s Chance Warmack.

As for replacing Bush, the Dolphins might be content to rotate Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller, but they’d be wise to give Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor a look. No one is suggesting Taylor has Bush’s physical gifts – Taylor, in fact, had a poor showing at the combine, running a 4.7 40 – but he’s a competent pass-catcher with good vision, balance and shiftiness.

This team is probably several years away from being a legitimate contender, but after finishing 7-9 in three of the last four years, the Dolphins are a good draft or two away from a Wild Card berth.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

New England Patriots

Oddly enough, the Patriots enter 2013 with question marks on offense. But not just offense; passing offense.

New England parted ways with its two leading receivers, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, who last year combined for 192 catches, 2,265 yards and 10 touchdowns. Adding Danny Amendola helps, but expect the Patriots to draft a wideout at some point – possibly even in the first round. California wideout Kennan Allen or USC’s Robert Woods would be a solid value pick at 29.

Believe it or not, New England had a top-ten rush defense last year but was 29th against the pass, allowing more than 270 yards per game through the air. If Allen or Woods isn’t available at 29, the Patriots may opt for a cornerback (think Washington’s Desmond Trufant or Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes) or defensive end (think Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore). Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short is also an option.

In the end, the Patriots, who have won the AFC East all but two years since 2001, will again make the playoffs and again be a tough out once they get there.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

New York Jets

After back-to-back runs to the AFC Championship game, the Jets have lost their last three regular-season games and missed the playoffs in each of the last two years. While both sides of the ball need to improve, the offense – which was 30th in the league last year – has been dreadful.

New York hopes that hiring a new offensive coordinator (Marty Mornhinweg) and quarterbacks coach (David Lee) will help Mark Sanchez, but it’s clear he’s not the answer. In four regular seasons, Sanchez has more interceptions (69) than passing touchdowns (68) and last year was second-to-last in passer rating.

While the Jets are unlikely to draft Geno Smith, first-year general manager John Idzik should consider wide-out Tavon Austin, who was consistently electric and consistently productive at West Virginia. Only one Jets player – Jeremy Kerley – had more than 30 catches or 400 yards last year, and no player caught more than three touchdowns.

Defensively, New York was tied for 25th in the league in sacks last season and will likely use the ninth overall pick on a stud pass-rusher, especially if Darrelle Revis is dealt.

New faces may bring energy and optimism to the Jets this season, but as long as Sanchez is under center, this team figures to be a few games short of the playoffs once more.

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Cincinnati-based sportswriter Tony Meale is the author of The Chosen Ones: The Team That Beat LeBron and contributes to several outlets, including MLB.com and MaxPreps. He has a master’s in journalism from Ohio University and is available for guest-speaking engagements. Follow Tony Meale on Twitter @tonymeale.

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