AFC East Notes: Dolphins, Jets, Patriots

     

Dolphins 

Two longtime former NFL executives and a former NFL scout offered insight on how the Dolphins measure up to the rest of the league on offense.

“To me, there’s no question they’ll go with Ryan Fitzpatrick,” one executive told Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. “He has years in Chan Gailey’s system and incumbents have such an advantage with no offseason program. There’s a lot to like about Tua Tagovailoa, but it’s [justified] to ask if he can healthy. I would play Josh Rosen a lot in preseason to try to trade him.”

Former NFL scout Matt Williamson believes the Dolphins’ future starter at running back is most likely still in college.

The two unnamed executives also commented on the team’s situation at running back.

“They’re below average there,” the first executive told Jackson. “They have nobody the quality of a Nick Chubb, an Ezekiel Elliott, a real bell cow.”

“That has a chance to be a good group,” the second league exec told Jackson.  “Howard is a good, physical runner and hopefully his hands improve. Breida is serviceable, a decent rotational guy.”

Jackson added that the second executive also said that the team lacks a high-end third-down back and wonders what RB Kalen Ballage would be able to do behind a better offensive line.

The trio also assessed the team’s situation at wide receiver with each having their own concerns about the speed, talent, and durability that is present among the group.

“I like them; DeVante Parker and Preston Williams are a very solid outside tandem with size,” Williamson told Jackson. Preston Williams has first-round traits. Parker played like a first-round receiver last season. I’m not sure who the dynamic slot guy is; there’s no one super shifty.”

The first executive noted that the group was average at best and considers TE Mike Gesicki to be “is essentially a big receiver.” The other executive was worried about the durability of receivers Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant, but also believes that Williams has the ability to be a long-term starter for the Dolphins.

Williamson also likes first-round OT Austin Jackson and second-round G Robert Hunt together on the Dolphins line.

“I like Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt,” Williamson said of the first-year linemen. “Jackson has a lot of upside. Hunt is a big, physical masher. I’m not sure I like Ereck Flowers for $10 million a year, but he’s an upgrade. Probably a wash at center with Ted Karras [replacing] Daniel Kilgore; maybe a slight improvement. They want to be extremely big and physical and bash you and they’re taking steps.”

Jets

Patriots

Patriots undrafted free agent WR Jeff Thomas might be one of the most intriguing rookies on the roster heading into 2020. Thomas’ talent is undeniable and equals some of the top receivers drafted this year, but off-field issues held him back from being picked alongside them. He had two major suspensions in college — the first coming in 2018 when he was kicked off Miami’s football team by then-HC Mark Richt, though Thomas called the decision mutual. After Thomas initially announced he was transferring to Illinois, new HC Manny Diaz talked him into returning for 2019. 

“I at least wanted to have the chance to talk to Jeff and let him know my vision for the program,” Diaz said via NESN’s Doug Kyed. “And then really see if he really wanted to leave, which at the end of the day, I think he wanted to stay, and that’s what ended up happening. … Obviously Jeff has some dynamic ability and you want to at least be able to lay out your discipline structure and see if it could be something where it felt like it could help him on and off the field.”

It didn’t quite all come together for Thomas, though. He was suspended two games in October for another violation of team rules, started just seven games and declared early for the draft. The word among scouts, per the Athletic’s Dane Brugler, was Thomas “likes to play football, but isn’t necessarily interested in all the work, practice and preparation that goes on between games.” Thomas has an opportunity to change that in New England, which has a history of taking chances on perceived character risks because of how strong the “Patriot Way” culture is. 

“I think being in a great culture like New England where the consistency of that program and being able to fit in through that structure — I think that’s what he needs,” Diaz said. “I think he just needs to be able to just allow himself to really focus on his on-the-field craft because there’s a lot of upside in that.”

The Patriots aren’t risking much by giving Thomas a chance. His $2,500 guaranteed is the smallest of all the team’s undrafted free agents. But if Thomas matures, he has the talent to jump-start the Patriots offense in the same way another talented-but-troubled receiver with Miami roots did for a game in 2019. Even if last year went differently than Diaz hoped, he still thinks Thomas has a chance. 

“Absolutely, everybody matures,” Diaz said. “Everybody looks back and sees things they would have loved to do differently. I think he’s got that opportunity to do that now.”

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