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2022 AFC East

Published 6/13/2022

Buffalo Bills

Head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier are now joined by newcomer offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, who gets the in-house promotion from his previous position of quarterback’s coach. The former quarterback will see his first stint as an offensive coordinator at any level.

The Bills spent four of their eight 2022 draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, including first round (23rd overall) cornerback Kaiir Elam, third round (89th overall) linebacker Terrel Bernard, sixth round (185th overall) cornerback Christian Benford, and seventh round (231st overall) linebacker Baylon Spector. Second round (63rd overall) running back James Cook is joined by fifth round (148th overall) wide receiver Khalil Shakir and sixth round (209th overall) offensive tackle Luke Tenuta on the offensive side of the ball. The Bills also spent a pick on special teams by selecting punter Matt Araiza with first pick of the sixth round (180th overall).

Major off-season personnel additions include slot wide receiver Jamison Crowder, left guard Rodger Saffold, tight end OJ Howard, and defensive end/edge Von Miller. The team saw wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders head to free agency and released slot wide receiver Cole Beasley, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, linebacker AJ Klein, and offensive lineman Jon Feliciano. 

Interpretation

Buffalo finished the 2021 season with a top five 11-personnel usage rate (71%), playing only a combined 18% of snaps from 12- and 21-personnel. They were also one of only three teams to incorporate four-wide sets heavily into their scheme. We should largely expect these trends to continue into 2022 with the in-house filling of their vacated offensive coordinator position, with a continued emphasis on providing an environment for their quarterback to succeed through layered route trees, an elevated pace of play (ninth fastest situation-neutral pace of play and second fastest pace of play with the score within six points in 2021), and a defense that led the league in scoring allowed (18.3 points per game) which provided their offense the ability to finish the year top five in average time of possession. The 66.3 plays per game this offense ran in 2021 ranked sixth in the league while the top-level passing rates appeared to take a hit at first glance. The truth of the matter is the Bills finished the year ranked 15th in overall pass rate but ranked second in pass rate with the score within seven points (66%), painting the hard-to-predict nature and small sample size of game script and flow as the most likely culprit. 

The combined 184 targets left behind through the departures of Sanders and Beasley are likely to be eaten up primarily by Gabriel Davis’ expanding role and newcomer slot-man Jamison Crowder. Isaiah McKenzie and Jake Kumerow are on hand to plug any holes due to missed games in addition to any four-wide sets the Bills run. Through the lens of season-long formats including best ball and redraft, Davis is more or less appropriately priced currently with an ADP of WR35 at the six-seven turn. I don’t see a large path to upside from there unless Stefon Diggs misses significant time. From a “cost vs weekly upside” perspective, I much prefer Jamison Crowder a full 100 picks later. The backfield flipped early in the season between lead back and timeshare but eventually settled into a backfield largely dominated by Devin Singletary. The team then brought in rookie running back James Cook through the use of a second-round pick in the draft. It remains to be seen how the staff will choose to utilize the running backs on hand, but the draft capital invested in Cook hints at the backfield devolving into a timeshare once more. Consider Singletary priced closer to his ceiling currently while there is value in Cook’s modest ADP. The biggest thing to note from this situation is the fact that the Bills targeted their running backs only 15.4% of the time last year, which ended the season as the third lowest rate. 

The additions of Von Miller and rookie corner Kaiir Elam mean we should once again expect this team to be one of the most difficult to pass on. Star Lotulelei combined with Tremaine Edmunds to form the backbone of the run-stopping core last year, with Frazier typically comfortable dedicating additional resources to the intermediate areas of the middle of the field and leaving those two to clog the running lanes. We should expect the defense to function in the same way moving forward, but with Ed Oliver and Daquan Jones charged with a larger responsibility inside. Either way you look at the departure of Lotulelei, the Bills should be easier to run on than pass on during the upcoming season. 

Miami Dolphins

Mike McDaniel leaves San Francisco’s offensive coordinator position to serve as the new head coach for the Dolphins. Josh Boyer enters his second season as the defensive coordinator while Frank Smith comes over from the Chargers’ run game coordinator to serve as the offensive coordinator. Big picture here is Kyle Shanahan’s roots run deep through Mike McDaniel, which gives us a good idea of how this offense will operate moving forward.

The Dolphins made a grand total of four selections in this year’s draft, with the first not coming until the third round. Linebacker Channing Tindall was the first selection off the board for Miami with pick 102 in the third round, followed by Wide Receiver Erik Ezukanma in the fourth (125th overall), linebacker Cameron Goode in the seventh (224th overall), and quarterback Skylar Thompson in the seventh (247th overall).

McDaniel wasted no time stamping his mark on this team through free agency as the team brought in running backs Chase Edmonds, Sony Michel, and Raheem Mostert to join Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed, wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson to join Jaylen Waddle, fullback Alec Ingold, and offensive lineman Connor Williams. 

Interpretation

Miami finished the 2021 season middle of the pack in total offense allowed, ceding the 17th most points, 16th most yards per game, and a 16th-ranked pass yards per game value. With a secondary consisting of Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Nik Needham, Jevon Holland, and Brandon Jones, expect overall passing success against to be more closely tied to the amount of pressure they are able to generate up front. Boyer saw success calling plays for this defensive unit in 2020, leading them to a second-ranked scoring unit on the season, but early reports from Dolphins’ camp indicates some defensive players were unhappy with his retention under McDaniel. This defensive unit will have to take a step forward in opponent third down conversion rate allowed if they are to limit opposing scoring like we thought they would prior to last season (they allowed a staggering 5.6 third down conversions per game last year).

Tua Tagovailoa comes into the season with the most dynamic supporting cast he’s had in his short career. It remains to be seen what the overall offense will look like, but we’re likely to see a dynamic outside zone run scheme with heavy fullback usage (21-personnel), a passing offense based around layered crossing routes and double moves, with a heavy emphasis on ball-out-quick mechanics to athletic specimens Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Mike Gesicki, and longer possessions. This should help to alleviate some pressure on their defense and tilt average time of possession more in their favor. Early reports from OTAs hint at a more downfield approach but I am confidently writing this off as “camp speak.” It simply doesn’t make sense based on the strengths of their quarterback and the coaching tree of their new head coach.

While we can’t say we know exactly how these running backs will be deployed, we get a bit of a hint via the contract situation. Chase Edmonds was signed away from Arizona through a lucrative two-year, $12.1 million deal, making him the 14th-highest paid running back in the league on a per-year basis. Expect Edmonds to operate in the lead back role, likely good for 12-16 weekly opportunities in an offense suited to his skillset. Behind Edmonds, look for fellow newcomers Sony Michel and Raheem Mostert to operate as two of the three additional backs active on game day, likely joined by Salvon Ahmed in a special teams role. San Francisco (where new head coach Mike McDaniel comes over to Miami from) led the league in 21-personnel rate in 2021 and I expect to see something similar out of the Dolphins this season. The final piece of the puzzle is Mike Gesicki, who was in a route on 67% of his offensive snaps in 2020 and is not known for his blocking acumen (graded out at 36.6 pass-blocking and 46.1 run-blocking in PFF’s 2021 blocking metrics – those rates combine to the fifth-worst blocking metrics amongst 93 qualified tight ends), meaning he might cede meaningful snaps to Durham Smythe and Adam Shaheen. Gesicki currently stands as a hard fade for me at ADP in all season-long formats. 

New England Patriots

Josh McDaniels finally made up his mind and departs New England’s offensive coordinator position to serve as the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, leaving offensive play calling duties to either head coach Bill Belichick or senior football advisor Matt Patricia. The Patriots don’t technically have either an offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator as son Steve Belichick (actually the outside linebackers coach) is likely responsible for defensive play calling duties. The Pats basically just make up positions and assign nebulous roles so it’s not as clear as with other teams at this time.

New England’s 2022 draft looked very Bill Belichickian. The team prioritized the “money-maker” positions, selecting guard Cole Strange with the 29th pick in the first, wide receiver Tyquan Thornton in the second (50th overall), cornerback Marcus Jones in the third (85th overall), cornerback Jack Jones in the fourth (121st overall), running back Pierre Strong in the fourth (127th overall), quarterback Bailey Zappe in the fourth (137th overall), running back Kevin Harris in the sixth (183rd overall), defensive tackle Sam Roberts in the sixth (200th overall), center Chasen Hines in the sixth (210th overall), and offensive tackle Andrew Stueber in the seventh (245th overall). Expect first round selection Cole Strange to immediately step into a starting role of need at right guard while the remaining selections provide valuable depth at key positions.

Major personnel moves this off-season include the release of linebacker Kyle Van Noy, trade of guard Shaq Mason, and signing of wide receiver DeVante Parker.

Interpretation

The Patriots predictably led the league in run rate with the score within seven points in 2021 while also playing only 56% of their offensive snaps from 11-personnel. The addition of DeVante Parker gives quarterback Mac Jones a capable body control perimeter wide receiver but isn’t enough to change the likely trajectory of this offense. In his only two healthy regular season games last year, running back James White saw target counts of seven and six and I would expect him to regain a significant role in this offense as a dynamic mismatch over the middle of the field, leaving Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson to split early down work. New England’s top five defensive unit, paired with a 2021 third down conversion rate that ranked seventh in the league, likely give this squad the ability to continue a ball control mindset on offense moving forward.

Speaking of that defense, the Patriots allowed only 19.4 points against per game in 2021 after allowing only 22.1 per game in 2020. They allowed a low 53.7% red zone touchdown rate a year ago. It will be interesting to see how this defensive unit handles the departure of the heart of their unit with the off-season departure of Kyle Van Noy, but I expect them to be just fine.

Mac Jones did as he was asked in 2021, completing the year with a hilarious set of game logs that included a 51 pass attempt game against the Saints early in the season and a three pass attempt game in the infamous Nor’easter game against the Bills. His 50.9 seasonal QBR ranked right in the middle of the pack at 16th overall and was basically as advertised. Expect things to remain vanilla moving forward. From both a season-long and DFS perspective, there isn’t much to get excited about from a team that looks to spread things around and slow things down. The one exception to that could be tight end Hunter Henry, who finished last season with nine touchdowns through a clear red zone role. The flipside to that argument was his lowly 75 targets over 16 healthy games, but that kind of red zone role is something to keep in mind depending on price. Not a ton of moving parts nor things to get excited about here.

New York Jets

Robert Saleh, Mike LaFleur, and Jeff Ulbrich enter year two as head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator, respectively. It will also be quarterback Zach Wilson’s second year both as a professional and with the team. The team brings in four new assistant coaches in Ben Wilkerson, Greg Scruggs, Nathaniel Willingham, and Dan Shamash. The most notable of those four is Shamash, who is set to serve as the situational football/game management coordinator, a position that highlights the team’s shift to a more analytical approach. 

The Jets used the number four pick in the 2022 NFL draft to address a gaping hole in the secondary, selecting cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner out of Cincinnati. They rounded out the first round with wide receiver Garrett Wilson with the 10th overall pick and defensive end Jermaine Johnson II with the 26th pick. Running back Breece Hall came off the board next for the Jets in the second round with the 36th pick, followed by tight end Jeremy Ruckert in the third (101st overall), offensive tackle Max Mitchell in the fourth (111th overall), and defensive end Michael Clemons in the fourth (117th overall).

The team didn’t make many major splashes through free agency, instead continuing to side with youth and internal development. Off-season additions include tight end C.J. Uzomah and kicker Greg Zuerlein. 

Interpretation

The youth movement is particularly robust on the offensive side of the ball, as newcomers Garrett Wilson (first round) and Breece Hall (second round) join quarterback Zach Wilson (2021 first), right tackle Mekhi Becton (2020 first), right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker (2021 first), and wide receiver Elijah Moore (2021 second) as projected offensive starters. Denzel Mims is set to serve as the WR4 after being selected in the second round of the 2020 draft. The biggest area needing improvement from this offense is early-down play selection, as a ridiculous 60% of first down plays were called as runs with the score within seven points a year ago. This led to a low 36.32% third down conversion rate, ahead of only the Bears, Lions, Saints, Panthers, and Jaguars in that metric. The addition of dynamic rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson should serve to open up the middle of the field, that is, if he is utilized properly. Either way, look for Elijah Moore to see more opportunities out of the slot after running “only” 266 of 472 snap from the slot a year ago, or about a 56% rate.

There were some questions as to how this coaching staff would choose to harness Zach Wilson’s borderline gunslinger tendencies, but it appears they intend to unleash that upside based on their selection of Wilson with the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft. Last year, the team split snaps at the running back position amongst fourth round rookie Michael Carter (427 snaps), Ty Johnson (388 snaps), and Tevin Coleman (54 snaps), typically running a 60/40 to 50/50 split in individual games. They then drafted Breece Hall in the early second round, who runs a blistering 4.39 40 at 217 pounds. It remains to be seen how they will deploy him this coming season, but my money is on Hall seeing 65%+ of the snaps and running back opportunities, making him an upside selection in the fifth round of early fantasy drafts.

The youth movement didn’t stop with the offensive side, and this Jets defense allowed a league-worst 29.6 points per game in 2020 and were near the bottom of the league against both the run and pass. Ineffective play on both sides of the ball led to the Jets averaging only 60.9 offensive plays per game, almost ten plays per game behind the league-leading Ravens. With a full season under the new coaching staff and improving play on both the offensive and defensive lines, there are reasons to be optimistic about a moderate boost to the amount of plays this team is able to run per game. 


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