July 13, 2004
AFC East Has Runningback Talent
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
There's not enough room in this division for Willis McGahee.
Kidding, of course. But when you look at the AFC East on a position-by-position basis, you are struck by how much running back talent there is in this division. And you then might sit down and wonder if the owners should put on a John Wayne face and say something like "This town ain't big enough for the five of us!", given that you add McGahee to the likes of Corey Dillon, Ricky Williams, Curtis Martin and McGahee's teammate, Travis Henry.
McGahee has yet to play a down in the NFL, as he is coming off a horrific leg injury suffered in his final collegiate game at Miami of Florida. It is still rather puzzling why Buffalo drafted McGahee, given that it has Henry, who has put up some numbers of his own which relegates him to nobody's back seat. Like McGahee, Henry also comes up short in the longevity department when compared to the other three backs, as he has logged only three years in the league. If these two can somehow be able to play together and stay together, you'll then have the AFC's answer to Stephen Davis and DeShawn Foster down in Carolina.
Separately, these two fall short of their divisional counterparts. But together, they form something that, by the time Martin retires, could very well be the best rushing attack in the division, if not the entire conference. But for now, trying to sort out the backs in this division is like trying to figure out if you prefer a Lamborghini to a Ferrari.
Elsewhere by position in the division, it really isn't all that difficult. So, we'll save the running backs for last.
Quarterbacks: 1. New England 2. New York 3. Buffalo 4. Miami Chad Pennington may put up the better numbers of the four, but Tom Brady is the most consistent winner and best overall. Leaving his 6-0 postseason mark out of the picture, he is 34-12 as Patriot starting quarterback since 2001. Pennington needs to stay healthy for a whole season before making a complete judgment on his overall worth to the team. As always, Drew Bledsoe will go as far as his offensive line will take him, but he is likely past his prime. Miami's arguably most glaring weakness is quarterback, as neither Jay Fiedler nor A.J. Feeley are anything near top shelf for their position.
Receivers: 1. New England 2. New York 3. Miami 4. Buffalo The quartet of Deion Branch, David Givens, Bethel Johnson and Troy Brown make this position a slam dunk for the Patriots. But if David Boston can be more productive and less manchildish, the Dolphins will charge near the top of this category if Chris Chambers merely does his thing. For now, the addition of Justin McCareins to the existing tandem of Santana Moss and Wayne Chrebet makes the Jets number two. Josh Reed needs to produce to get Buffalo higher in this category, and to make all of Buffalo pine for Peerless Price no longer.
Offensive line: 1. Buffalo 2. Miami 3. New England 4. New York Buffalo has two stunning tackles in Mike Williams and Jonas Jennings, and now a top-flight coach in Jim McNally. Former Panther Jeno James and top draft pick Vernon Carey figure to perk up Miami's totally rebuilt offensive line. Can the Patriot lunchpail gang repeat the stunning success they had in the 2003 postseason? Bill Belichick may wish that he paid more attention to the line in the draft. The Jets are just plain old (Kevin Mawae is 33. Jason Fabini is 30) and nowhere near what they used to be.
Defensive end: 1. Miami 2. New England 3. New York 4. Buffalo Simply stated, Jason Taylor and Adewale Ogunleye are the best such tandem in the league. But if Richard Seymour gets a steady linemate, the Patriots may claim the top spot someday. If John Abraham can stay healthy, he and Bryan Thomas are as dangerous as anyone. Aaron Schobel and Ryan Denney do good work in Buffalo, but in this case they are merely overshadowed by better players.
Defensive tackle: 1. Buffalo 2. Miami 3. New York 4. New England Sam Adams and Pat Williams are a dynamite force in the middle for the Bills. Tim Bowens has been a fixture for many years for the Dolphins, while Dewayne Robertson is still a babe in diapers with nowhere to go but up. The Patriots had this position nailed until Ted Washington became a Raider, and Keith Traylor is a huge dropoff. Top draft pick Vince Wilfork is a plum, but he needs to be a quick learner.
Outside linebacker: 1. New England 2. Buffalo 3. Miami 4. New York Mike Vrabel and ancient Willie McGinest are plenty, but if Rosevelt Colvin comes back all the way, he and Vrabel will wreak havoc on any quarterback they go up against. Takeo Spikes is the best singular player at this position in the division. Junior Seau is simply long in the tooth. The Jets are completely rebuilding their linebacker corps.
Inside linebacker: 1. New England 2. Miami 3. Buffalo 4. New York Zach Thomas' injury skews this deal. Tedy Bruschi and the aging Roman Phifer take the cake here, but Thomas remains one of the league's best. Ditto for London Fletcher. What helps New England in this category is the fact that they play a base 3-4 whereas Miami and Buffalo play 4-3. The Jets? See the previous category.
Cornerback: 1. Miami 2. New England 3. Buffalo 4. New York Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison form a fine duo. Keep your eye on what the Patriots do with the supreme-but-recalcitrant Ty Law and the good-but-sometimes-uneven Tyrone Poole. Sam Vincent replaces Antoine Winfield in Buffalo and makes a nice pairing with Nate Clements. It's Donnie Abraham and not much else in Joisey.
Safety: 1. New England 2. Buffalo 3. Miami 4. New York If Eugene Wilson stays at free safety, he and Rodney Harrison are the best tandem in the division. Lawyer Milloy and Izell Reese will also enjoy great years. But Miami got rid of Brock Marion and will be auditioning two new men at free safety. Reggie Tongue comes to the Jets as a serviceable, albeit aging, commodity.
Kicker: 1. New England 2. Miami 3. New York 4. Buffalo Adam Vinatieri is the best clutch kicker in the league, maybe in the history of the league. But like the quarterback position, postseason needs to be ignored and the South Dakotan still reigns supreme. Like Vinatieri, Olindo Mare had a subpar regular season in 2003, but could rebound and regain the ninety percent form he is capable of. Doug Brien is serviceable, Rian Lindell has no long range.
Punter: 1. Buffalo 2. Miami 3. New England 4. New York Brian Moorman leads a cast of mediocrity. But Josh Miller comes to New England from Pittsburgh needing only to improve on Ken Walter. Matt Turk (Miami) and Toby Gowin (Jets) are at best serviceable.
Coaching: 1. New England 2. New York 3. Miami 4. Buffalo Belichick is the best in the league, and the team's greatest on-field asset. Herman Edwards does very well with not a heck of a lot to work with. Dave Wannstedt cannot keep coming up short with the talent he has, and is lucky to still be coaching the Dolphins. Mike Mularkey is new and needs to show that he is an upgrade over the deposed Gregg Williams.
Well, we've held out long enough. Bring on them backs.
Running back: 1. New York 2. Miami 3. New England 4. Buffalo Martin has logged 1,000-yard seasons in every one of his nine NFL years. Sooner or later, age will catch up with this future Hall of Famer; for now, the smart thinking says later. Williams is the best physical specimen and his 2002 season was one of the finest ever, but he needs a good line to block for him. Dillon, who has the best yards per carry of the group, could explode to the top of this list if he shows that he is not an attitude problem and Charlie Weis decides to use him as a star and not a co-star. Henry simply needs more time in the league, but his future is bright and his heart is strong.
Add all this up on a 4-3-2-1 point basis and you get New England with 41 points, Miami with 35, Buffalo with 29, and New York with 25. This is pretty much how the regular season should play out if none of the teams have unforeseen catastrophic situations to deal with (read: major injuries).
The biggest X-factor in this whole scenario is whether or not Pennington can stay healthy for the Jets and play a full season. He has the ability to make his teammates play well around him, as his 2002 season will attest. It may not be enough to overcome the lack of talent in the Jet defensive back seven, but it bears watching.
As will the running backs. Whoever dies with the most toys wins. Whoever reaches 1,500 yards first wins. The latter may be more than t-shirt whimsy. It may be fact.
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