The Fantasy Trenches-AFC East Edition

By Elliott Anderson (@darthpichi)

What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions the AFC East? Ok, Ok, besides Sexy Rexy(even though he’s not in the east anymore) or how this is going to be the year that Tannehill and the Dolphins make a huge leap towards contending for Tom and Bill’s crown. [Editor’s Note: This was written prior to the Tannehill injury but I was too lazy to get it posted.] We all know that the first thing that jumps into everyone’s mind is the New England Patriots and their complete dominance of this division over the past 15 years. [Editor’s Note: This is the smartest thing Peachy has ever written.] What most don’t associate with the AFC East is the dominate run game. Four of the top twelve running offenses in the league call the east home and this is due in large part to the quality of the offense line units in this division. There are some fantasy studs and some fantasy duds on the eastern seaboard, so let’s grab our sleeveless hoodies and explore how the hogs in the AFC East are going to make or break our fantasy squads this fall.

New England Patriots

Rush YPG: 117.0(7th)

Pass YPG: 269(4th)

Sacks Allowed: 24(5th)

Key Losses: None

Key Additions: Antonio Garcia (T) Troy 3rd round

The Pats are one of the most mysterious teams in the league.  The only constant is that they will be well coached and have a sound game plan for each opponent.  Bill Belichick is unarguably one of the greatest coaches in the history of the league so figuring out how he is going to dissect opposing defenses is not an easy task.  This makes start/sit questions involving the Pats players extremely challenging. There are some no brainers…start Brady [The Goat], check…start Gronk, check…but after that it’s anybody’s guess. New England’s offense is high powered to say the least but they are stacked at the skill positions.  This makes choosing who is going to have the hot hand for any given week a true test of your skill as a fantasy player. Last year was a huge bounce back year for the Patriots offensive line group who saw the return of Coach Dante Scarnecchia yield immediate results for more than one member of this unit.  They were top 10 in most metrics that rank offensive line play and efficiency. The one category that New England fell short in was stuff rate, where they ranked 19th, but this stat is skewed by the fact that many of those hits at or behind the LOS were in short yardage and goal line situations where Blount was the obvious ball carrier and they were playing against eight man fronts. Let’s not forget that regardless of a stuffed rate of 20%, LeGarrette Blount rushed for 18 TD’s last season. He has been replace with what many agree is a more talented back in Mike Gillislee who also excelled against eight man boxes in 2016. The good news for the Pats offense is that the O-line is intact for 2017 and the Patriots as a whole have seemed to get better, at least on paper. Tom Brady [The Goat] is extremely accurate when throwing short to intermediate routes which makes Brandin Cooks a lethal addition to this offense. He has the ability to catch slants and drags for short gains and turn them into explosive plays with his game changing speed. Edelman and Brady [The Goat] have an uncanny bond that establishes him as PPR monster.  Not to mention Gronk is a freak of nature that creates mismatches regardless of who attempts to defend him. New England is in position to make another run at the Lombardi Trophy behind this impressive line unit which brings a collective sigh from the rest of the league…can you hear it?

Buffalo Bills

Rush YPG: 164.4(1st)

Pass YPG: 190(30th)

Sacks Allowed: 46(29th)

Key Losses: None

Key Additions: Dion Dawkins (G) Temple 2nd round

The Bill’s offensive line unit is a down and dirty group lead by Richie Incognito who brings an invaluable toughness and grit to the trenches. If there is one thing Buffalo’s offense takes pride in, it’s running the rock.  This pride and a downright nastiness vaulted them into averaging over 164 YPG on the ground which earned them the number one rank in the NFL. It doesn’t hurt that Shady McCoy is perhaps the most elusive back in the league and has game breaking talent, but Mike Gillislee was a successful rusher behind this offensive line unit as well before jumping ship to New England. The issue in Buffalo is that they struggle to protect Tyrod Taylor who was pressured more often than any other QB in 2016. Some of the responsibility must be put on the shoulders of Taylor himself for the plain and simple fact that he held the ball longer than any other quarterback in the league. He also moves in the pocket in order to extend plays when his pass catchers are not getting open or finding the windows in the secondary.   This makes protecting the quarterback extremely difficult since the pocket the O-line is creating is constantly changing which leaves the QB vulnerable to opposing defense’s pass rush. The Bill’s receiving core should get a boost this season with the addition of second round pick Zay Jones out East Carolina. He is a great compliment to Sammy Watkins who is nearly back to 100% after battling a nagging foot injury for the better part of two years.  A healthy Watkins paired with the play making Jones will give Taylor weapons in the passing game that he lacked last season. He has built a rapport with Watkins that has been evident when Watkins is on the field and healthy. However, playing a full season with his number one target could create a balance in the offense that would result in more impressive numbers for McCoy and potentially yield a top five receiver in Watkins.        

New York Jets

Rush YPG: 112.6(12th)

Pass YPG: 217(27th)

Sacks Allowed: 35(Tied for 16th)

Key Losses: Breno Giacomini (T), Nick Mangold (C)

Key Additions: Kelvin Beachum (T) FA

The New York Jets struggled to be competitive in all facets of their offense and the line was no different. This group was average at best from guard to guard but really failed to compete at either of the tackle positions. Management addressed this glaring need in free agency by acquiring left tackle Kelvin Beachum, from Jacksonville, but it will end up being of little consolation considering that this team is in need of a complete rebuild.  The loss of Nick Mangold and his invaluable leadership will be a major hit for the cohesiveness of this line and offensive unit as a whole. On a positive note, the Jets possessed the ability to run the ball semi-effectively in 2016 and that trend looks to continue this season. Bilal Powell and Matt Forte both possess the ability to run between the tackles, as well as catch the ball out of the back field. The ability for this unit to control the ball on offense while having a reliable pass catching option at running back will be necessary in order for them to have any rhythm or success offensively.  The three headed monster of Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg, and Bryce Petty do not ooze confidence under center and along with the losses of Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall in the receiving core it looks to be a long season in the Meadowlands.

Miami Dolphins

Rush YPG: 114.0(9th)

Pass YPG: 219(26th)

Sacks Allowed: 30(10th)

Key Losses: None

Key Additions: Ted Larsen (G) FA

News Flash: the Miami Dolphins offense looks to break out in 2017!! Does this headline look familiar?  That’s because it has been an offseason battle cry for sports writers and fantasy analysts for the past few seasons. There is no question that the Miami offense is in good hands under offensive minded head coach Adam Gase and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen who has been a part of the Indianapolis Colts organization for the past fourteen years. He has held the position of wide receivers coach, quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. His experience mentoring Andrew Luck will pay immediate dividends in helping to mold Ryan Tannehill [Or Matt Moore, Colin Kapernick or most recently Jay Cutler] into the play caller he’s been envisioned to be since his career began almost six years ago. In regards to the Dolphin’s offensive line there is one key piece that makes this machine run smoothly and effectively and that piece is center, Mike Pouncey.  Things are looking good for Pouncey, he was cleared by team physicians in late July but the team is going to take things slowly in regards to their star center which is an intelligent decision for the organization as a whole. The offensive line struggled after the loss of Pouncey last season yielding a stuffed rated of 24%, but this number will most likely drop in 2017.  They’ll have a healthy anchor in place and a confident, talented back in Jay Ajayi carrying the bulk of the load. Ajayi showed what he was capable of last season but fantasy owners would like to see a more consistent showing out of the star running back in 2017 which is what they will most likely get with a healthy offensive line unit. Where this team looks to break out is in the passing game. While the passing yards per game were down last season, this offensive line proved that they could protect Tannehill. Miami ranked 10th in sacks last year giving up 30 QB tumbles over the course of the season, but this is also a number which should drop in 2017. The Dolphins have a talented wide receiving core in Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, and break out candidate DeVante Parker. Parker has been the talk of training camp so far and if he can play to his potential, defenses will be conflicted on how to defend Miami’s offensive attack.