I'm rather new to Buffalo Rumblings, having wandered in out of the cold a month or so before the big draft this past Spring. I must say it's been fun reading the posts presented here, especially since work uprooted me from Buffalo many years ago and here in Chicago it's Bears or bust (and precious little Bills). I've enjoyed the position by position analysis (both the current roster as well as the all-decade team) and thought to myself, how about shining a spotlight at our twice yearly opponents in the AFC East in a similar manner? I'd like to take a stab at authoring an article with a slightly different angle. The following is the fruit of that line of thinking. I hope it sparks some solid discussion. Thanks for reading.
Divisional Opponents Overview:
In 2009 the AFC East was a rush heavy division. Miami and New York in particular were very successful at rushing the football (as Bills fans are all too aware) but all four teams finished in the top half of the league in terms of rushing yardage. As such the wide receiver position, outside of New England, was generally a poorly utilized weapon. To put things in perspective, if Wes Welker hadn't blown out his left knee early in the Pats regular season finale, he would have had a decent shot at finishing the year with more receptions than all of the New York Jets wide receivers put together. Welker's teammate Moss, when not being dismissed by opposing CBs for taking plays off, still managed to lead the AFC East in TD receptions with 13. This total was more than double the amount of TD receptions the entire Dolphin WR troupe hauled in (at 6). Miami and New York have since made bold moves to rectify their disadvantage but it remains to be seen if either club will come close to producing the kind of success New England's wide receivers have enjoyed under Tom Brady for the better part of a decade.
The Jets, behind a rookie QB and a reasonably conservative game-plan had the poorest receiving year, finishing dead last in the NFL in receptions at 210, only 134 of which came from the WR position. Still, New York made strides to improve the talent level at Sanchez's command, trading for Braylon Edwards who was been unable to duplicate his pro-bowl numbers from 2007 while in Cleveland. Edwards didn't exactly set the world on fire after the change of scenery. Since then NY acquired embattled receiver Santonio Holmes whose off the field issues are a serious threat to compromise a very promising career. The Jets most consistent performer might be Jerricho Cotchery, especially if Edwards hands and Holmes's inability to stay on the field continue to hinder the development of Sanchez's deep ball. Clowney provides solid depth should injury, ineffectiveness or the NYPD intercede further amongst the Jets starting wide receivers. Brad Smith remains more of a gimmick player but his athleticism is worth noting even if his poor run blocking and route running limit his playing time.
Davone Bess quietly emerged for Miami last year grabbing 76 passes while playing the roll of an over-the-middle receiver. Ginn Jr underwhelmed his way out of town with only 38 receptions. Brian Hartline and Greg Camarillo outperformed the 2007 first round pick but are perhaps best suited as role players down the line for Chad Henne and company. The Brass appeared to think so as Miami continued the fine AFC East tradition of signing extremely talented me-first wide receivers in Brandon Marshall. The explosive play-maker will certainly help the Phins red zone production through the air where in 2009 they were downright awful. Some are already prognosticating a breakout season for Dolphins signal-caller Chad Henne. Talent at the WR position will not be an excuse should he fail to deliver.
If you've read anything about the Patriots recently the media is convinced New England is doomed and that Tom Brady will cease to exist if he doesn't just pick a coast already. Certainly his continued dominance has a direct effect on New England wide receiver production, but they are not exactly trotting out stiffs. Julian Edelman will continue to cover for Welker until the pro-bowler rehabilitates and Randy Moss exerting effort every other play will lead to better results than many NFL receivers going all out all the time. In the Joey "Gallo-way," New England continues to be the place for pro-bowlers past their prime to be put to pasture as the Pats took on former Greatest Show on Turf star Torry Holt. Yes he of the most disturbingly concatenated middle finger in the world. He'll likely outproduce Galloway's anemic 2009 figures, but his best days are behind him.
Finally as a fan of lists and all things ranked, here is one NFL fan's attempt at ranking the AFC East's top ten WRs (Bill(s) included) in terms of 2010 production. Now this takes into account receptions, yards, TDs, suspensions, butterfingers, etc. Love to hear from you all in the comments about how 'divorced from reality' I may or may not be. All in good fun, right?
01. Brandon Marshall (6'4" 230 lbs 5 yrs exp.). A virtual lock for 100 receptions and 6-10 TDs and in the prime of his career. There are issues, God knows, but they appear to stem from a desire to be the best player in the world, coaching staffs be damned. If Tony Sparano and company can transmute his arrogance into production there are very few players better than Marshall at the position in the NFL let alone the AFC East.
02. Randy Moss (6'4" 210 lbs 13 yrs exp.). The future hall-of-famer's faults have all been diagnosed and discussed to death. Would he be succeeding as much in a different environment? His tenure in Oakland suggests no way, but that matters very little since he remains at the disposal of one the better QBs in the league.
03. Wes Welker (5'9" 185 lbs 7 yrs exp.). Even he doesn't see the field for a full season, I'd be surprised if he doesn't get the job done and then some. Unlike Moss and Marshall he is a significant injury risk, both from coming off the surgery and in style of play.
04. Jerricho Cotchery (6'0" 203 lbs 7 yrs exp.) Yep, that's right. I think it will be Cotchery who leads the Jets in receptions if not TDs. He will be more valuable to Sanchez than the 'studs' outside and certainly more consistent.
05. Lee Evans (5'10" 197 lbs 7 yrs exp) Evans is one of the hardest to pinpoint. It seems like he has been in the league longer than 7 years. If, and that's a huge if, a player emerges opposite Evans, or over the middle, his numbers will be decent if unspectacular.
06. Davone Bess (5'10" 190 lbs 3 yrs exp.) Will Bess benefit from the addition of Marshall? I'd say yes, but he still isn't a consideration around the goal-line. Bess will be a household name around the NFL in a year or two--if he isn't already.
07. Braylon Edwards (6'3" 215 lbs 6 yrs exp.) Edwards might be odd man out in New York this season. I don't expect the jets to abandon an excellent ground game, even with the departure of Thomas Jones.
08. Santonio Holmes (5'11" 192 lbs 5 yrs exp.) I'm going to come out now and give fodder to the 'guess what they said?' file and write that Holmes will be one of the biggest busts in the NFL next season. There are just too many things that can go wrong, coupled with a QB that, while displaying poise in last year's play-offs, still has a long way to go. Now bust is a relative term with this young man and might still mean 50 rec and a handful of TDs. But that is well below the former Superbowl MVP's ability.
09. Julian Edelman (6'0" 198 lbs 2 yrs exp) I'm guessing it's Edelman and not Holt who takes third place in NE's wide receiver derby this season.
10. Steve Johnson (6'2" 202 lbs 3 yrs exp.) The darkhorse of the bunch. Is this simply well wishing or does Johnson stand a decent chance of securing Buffalo's #2 WR?
Thanks for reading everyone. I had fun writing this and if it sparks any interest I'll be happy to delve into other positions, if only to educate myself a little better in our AFC East opponents.