Ranking the AFC East Rosters
Three months before the start of the 2020 regular season, it's apparent that the balance of power is ready to shift in the AFC East — at least when it comes to personnel.
The departures of Tom Brady and several other key members of the New England Patriots have left Bill Belichick's team more vulnerable than they have been in more than a decade.
Although anyone would agree it would be foolish to dismiss the Patriots, a look at the AFC East rosters reveal that the Buffalo Bills should be considered clear favorites to win the division.
We have ranked every position in the AFC East over the past several weeks, and the composite results show the Bills as having clearly the best roster in the division, with the Patriots and Miami Dolphins in the next tier, and the New York Jets clearly lagging.
Our rankings have the Bills with the No. 1 group in the AFC East at wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker, and second at quarterback, running back, defensive backs and special teams.
Based on a point system of 4 for a first-place ranking, 3 for second place and so forth, the Bills got 32 of a possible 45 points.
We had the Patriots second at 22 points, followed by the Dolphins at 21 points and the Jets with 15.
For the Dolphins, we had them first at quarterback and special teams; second at wide receiver and tight end; third at linebacker and defensive backs; and fourth at running back and on the offensive and defensive lines.
As a reminder, this is how we ranked each position, along with the rationale:
At this point, Josh Allen is the best quarterback in the division, though that could change if Jarrett Stidham proves the real deal in New England or if Tua Tagovailoa lights it up when he gets into the lineup the way he did at Alabama.
But Buffalo and the Jets do not have an ideal backup situation, and that factors in. Fair or unfair, Stidham gets a little bit of the benefit of the doubt because of Belichick's track record and the idea that if Stidham is good enough for him, that's gotta count for something.
But unless Tua absolutely can't play as a rookie because his hip isn't ready, there's no team in the division that can match the Dolphins' one-two setup.
Going by name recognition alone, Le'Veon Bell would have to rank as the best running back in the division, but he didn't play like it last season. The Jets also have to lose points for lack of depth because as much respect as we have for the ageless Gore, he averaged a mere 3.6 yards per carry last year and isn't nearly as effective as he once was.
There are a lot of solid running backs in this division, and there could be a lot of debate as to which team has the best front-line talent at the position.
But no team can match the depth that the Patriots possess, which is why they're a clear number 1 her Where to rank Buffalo depends on what your expectations are for Zack Moss.
With Rob Gronkowski out of the division, there really wasn't a dominant tight end in the AFC East last year, although Mike Gesicki did close with a strong finish.
The Patriots have intriguing potential with their two third-round picks, and Dawson Knox has the makings of an impact player for Buffalo.
This might be as difficult a position to rank in this division as there is because there's nobody who clearly stands out ... unless Gesicki can produce the whole season the way he did last December.
The two things that stand out in this division when it come to wide receivers is that Buffalo separated itself by acquiring Stefon Diggs and the Jets easily have the most suspect group because there's not one player in the group who's had a big year in the NFL.
The Dolphins and Patriots are comparable, though it could be argued that DeVante Parker was the best receiver in the division last year, the Dolphins have more depth and Julian Edelman won't be nearly as effective with Brady now in Tampa.
Maybe it's not a coincidence that the two teams expected to battle for the division title are the teams with the most established offensive lines.
While it's a tough call between the Bills and Patriots lines on talent alone, the X factor here will be the absence of Dante Scarnecchia.
The Dolphins have made up some ground since last year and the hope is that at some point in the near future, they'll move up in these rankings.
This type of ranking isn't always easy to do because teams use different defensive alignments and players are asked to do different things depending on whether they play in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.
It's not a coincidence that the sack leaders are either defensive linemen in a 4-3 schemes or outside linebackers in 3-4 schemes.
That said, it's pretty clear that the unit that looks the most impressive on paper in this division resides in the state of New York. And the second isn't that far away geographically.
As was the case with the defensive line, this isn't totally an apples-to-apples comparison because the Bills use a 4-3 alignment for the most part (or 4-2-5), while the other three teams often use only three linemen.
That said, New England was the standard at linebacker for many years, but they're going to have a hard time replacing the kind of production they got from Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.
This is starting to read familiar as we go through these AFC East rankings, but the best group just might reside in Buffalo, though the Jets have a lot of potential here if C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson come back to full form.
This actually is a pretty easy to call.
Simply put, the Patriots not only have the best secondary in the division, they have the best secondary in the league.
The offseason moves they made have put the Dolphins right up with the Bills, though the question marks with Bobby McCain as a safety and Xavien Howard's ability to bounce back give Buffalo the second position.
Things can change quickly from year to year when it comes to special teams, especially kickers, but there's still something to be said for continuity.
Besides having the advantage over their division opponents in that category, the Dolphins also have one of the best returners in the game in Jakeem Grant, though Buffalo's Andre Roberts also belongs in that conversation.
The one area where the Dolphins lagged last year was in kickoff coverage, but they look like the best group overall nonetheless.
Disagree with some, most or all of the rankings? Feel free to comment with your objections.
Alain Poupart has covered the Miami Dolphins on a full-time basis since 1989. You can follow him on Twitter at @apoupartFins.