Four AFC East websites get together each week to discuss the AFC East. This week we discuss one player on offense and defense for each team to watch in training camp. See what Matt Barbato of New York Jet Fuel, Ian Logue of PatsFans.com, Steve Saslow of Bills Daily, and Luis Sung of Phin Maniacs has to say right here.
Matt Barbato (@NewYorkJetFuel): Offensively, I’m going with Eric Decker. This may not be exactly a breakout candidate, since he led the Jets in receptions last season, but I think Decker could exceed expectations this season. People may have been disappointed by Decker’s inaugural season in New York. He caught 74 passes for 962 yards and five touchdowns. Many people doubt his ability as a number-one receiver, but he doesn’t have to be that anymore.
Brandon Marshall will draw the best coverage, which allows Decker to settle back into his number-two role, a role he thrived in with the Denver Broncos. In two seasons alongside Demaryius Thomas, Decker caught 172 passes for 2,352 yards and 24 touchdowns. Also, keep in mind that Decker is a 6-foot-3 target who should always posed as a red zone threat with the Broncos. He didn’t cash in as much with the Jets simply because teams keyed on him in the passing game. With Marshall in town, Decker should be able to get a couple more scores.
There’s no doubt Decker can get back to 80 catches and 1,000 yards even with Marshall getting more targets. Of course, this all depends on whether Geno Smith can finally develop into a competent starting quarterback.
Defensively, Quinton Coples is a prime candidate to surprise some people. He goes unmentioned when discussing the vaunted Jets defense because of bigger names such as Darrelle Revis, Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson.
Originally drafted as a defensive end, Coples plays primarily as an outside rusher in the 3-4 defense. He recorded 6.5 sacks in his second season at his new position.
The Jets have the defensive line and secondary to wreak havoc, but with Calvin Pace entering his 13th season, the onus will be on Coples to keep improving. The situation is perfect for Coples, he just has to continue his development.
Patriots WR Aaron Dobson has already stood out early on in training camp.
Ian Logue (@PatsFans): Heading into 2015, there are a couple of Patriots players that fans outside of New England may want to be concerned with this season.
This is a team that on the offensive side of the football may surprise people this year, and one of the main reasons could ultimately end up coming from wide receiver Aaron Dobson. Dobson, who was a second-round pick in 2013, had a productive rookie year two seasons ago but a foot injury ended his first season early. Offseason surgery set him back and kept him from really ever getting started in 2014, which saw the second-year wideout end up on injured reserve following an apparent hamstring injury against Green Bay that made him a spectator during the team’s championship run.
But Dobson showed a lot of promise in his first year, catching 37 passes for 519 yards, the second-most catches of any rookie wide receiver in Bill Belichick’s tenure behind Deion Branch’s 43 in 2002. The former Marshall standout is a player that has the physical tools. He’s a big receiver at 6’3″, which is something the Patriots have been lacking in past years. In an offense that has two big targets for Tom Brady with a 6’5″ Rob Gronkowski and a 6’7″ Scott Chandler, Dobson potentially provides another big target down in the red area. With Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola, they’re already returning their entire receiving core from their championship season. If Dobson can return to form, Brady and the offense could be even more dangerous this season.
On defense, Logan Ryan is a player that was a forgotten man playing behind a secondary that featured Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner last season. With both players now with new teams, Ryan will have an opportunity to have a bigger role in New England’s defense in 2015 and that could work out pretty well. Ryan’s a solid player, and one of the things that has really stood out about him since the Patriots took him out of Rutgers in 2013 are his terrific instincts. He has a tendency to be around the football, with Ryan even leading the Patriots in his rookie season with 5 interceptions.
He wasn’t as productive last year after getting less playing time, but for those who have watched Ryan, the more he played in his rookie year, the better he looked. He was a little shaky in a limited role in 2014, but having more reps should allow him to hopefully settle back in and become a playmaker in 2015. If that’s the case, it will be great news for a team that lost two of them this offseason. But overall, Ryan does a lot of things well and while he’s not a big name player, there’s a good chance that by the end of this season opposing teams might end up knowing who he is.
Luis Sung (@PhinManiacs): The Dolphins have a lot of young talent on both sides of the ball, but there isn’t a lot of respect being given to these kids from the national media, and even some of the fans are wary about putting faith in these young people due to the fact that the Dolphins have broken the hearts of fans over the past three years by falling apart at the end of the season.
With that said, I see a lot of potential for certain players on both sides of the ball to be great, and here’s who I have in mind for a serious breakout season.
Offense: RB Damien Williams
While the Miami Dolphins drafted running back Jay Ajayi, and his potential has a lot of fans excited. But not many remember that there was a surprise player out of training camp named Damien Williams, who as the year went on showed potential to be a very good player. He showed ability to be an excellent rusher as he fought to stay on his feet and never give up on a play, as well as his prowess as a receiver.
Most fans have already written off Williams in favor of the rookie Ajayi, but I for one am not willing to write off Williams just yet. I’ve often compared Damien Williams to Darren Sproles, in the sense that he would be more valuable to the Dolphins as a receiver coming out of the backfield than as an actual rusher. A weapon like Williams could be very valuable to the Dolphins, and I expect him to make a strong case this year that he deserves the number two spot behind Lamar Miller.
Defense: LB Chris McCain
Patriots fans will remember McCain as the one who blocked the punt and sacked Tom Brady in the first game of the 2014 season where the Dolphins upset the Patriots and gave the Dolphins fans worldwide a spark of hope. Of course, after that game, McCain’s playing time was severely limited despite the bright flashes he exhibited in that first game. Whether that was merely a choice of the coaching staff or a result of McCain’s self-admitted failure to fully understand the playbook is debatable.
However, with the departure of linebacker Philip Wheeler, McCain instantly became the favorite to win the starting job at SLB, and truth be told, the majority of Dolphins fans felt that McCain would’ve been an upgrade over Wheeler in his rookie year. Now he has a year of experience under his belt, and he has said that he now understands the playbook fully. His ability as a pass-rusher is excellent, and if his coverage skills improve as well, I believe McCain will be a star in the NFL, and with Suh and Wake and Vernon on the defensive line, anytime the Dolphins send a blitz, teams should be prepared for the battle of their lives.
Steve Saslow (@BillsDaily):
Offense: Tyrod Taylor: Rex Ryan loved the kid so much he tried to trade for him when he coached the Jets. Taylor spent four years behind Joe Flacco in Baltimore and has only 35 NFL passes under his belt to show for it. He got to learn from a solid quarterback and is considered one of the fastest quarterbacks in the league with an arm. Ryan says he has Russell Wilson type qualities.
Ryan has made it clear that the battle for the starting QB job is a three man competition with Taylor firmly in the discussion. He left a more lucrative offer from the Broncos on the table to sign with the Bills because he was promised he will have a chance to earn the starting spot. He said recently so far that has been the case.
While EJ Manuel was drafted by the former regime (with input from current GM Doug Whaley and current team President Russ Brandon), Ryan isn’t tied to him. This regime did bring in Matt Cassel in a trade with Minnesota for two low round picks. He would be the perfect choice for a game manager to get the ball in the hands of the abundant playmakers on offense while controlling the ball to allow the defense to win games for them. This was the formula Rex Ryan used to get to two straight AFC Championship games with Mark Sanchez at QB.
Cassel struggled in OTAs and isn’t a shoe-in to make the roster if he doesn’t win the starting job because of a high cap figure. This opens the door for Taylor who Ryan may favor and is likely the only one with a spot on the final 53 all but sewn up. If he performs well in camp people may be wondering who the new kid is leading the Bills offense on opening day.
Defense: Nickell Robey: Many people haven’t heard of the undersized nickel corner that packs a big punch. He has been the team’s slot corner for most of the two years he has been in the league after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He played much better in his rookie year than last year but that is because the defense used by former Ryan protégé Mike Pettine suited his skill set much better than the less aggressive Jim Schwartz defense of 2014.
Robey is the type of player Ryan loves and even though they drafted Ronald Darby in the 2nd round he will backup the outside starters of Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin. Robey will be the slot corner once again in 2015.