Reviewing the 2015 NFL Draft: AFC East

The completion of the 2015 NFL season was made official last Sunday after the Broncos defeated the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Every NFL team now has the 2015 season in their rearview mirror and are focusing on 2016 while preparing for NFL free agency and the draft. So what better time to take a quick peek back to examine how each team faired in last year’s draft. To see which rookie selection made the most impact, who surprised, and who needs to turn it up next year. This by no means am I casting judgement on the 2015 draft class, as I operate with the belief that it takes three full seasons to honestly grade a draft. Instead this is just a quick review of what each team received from this year’s crop of rookies. Here is a review of the AFC East Division: Buffalo Bills Biggest Impact – Ronald Darby, Cornerback - Florida State (2nd rd pick #50 Overall) With the Bills not having a first round pick heading into the draft they had to make sure their second round pick would be someone who could come in and contribute immediately. They accomplished just that with the selection of Darby from Florida State. The rookie corner started 15 games registering 68 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 21 passes defensed which was 5th highest in the league. Darby allowed only four touchdowns all season and was tabbed as the Defensive Rookie of the Year by ProFootballFocus. Darby teamed with Stephon Gilmore, and Leodis McKelvin give the Bills a nice compliment of corners heading into next season. Surprise Impact – Karlos Williams, Running Back - Florida State (5th rd pick #155 Overall) Coming into the 2015 season if we had predicted that a Bills running back would be tied for the overall team lead with nine touchdowns (7 rushing, 2 receiving) and his name was not LeSean McCoy most of you would have scoffed. That’s exactly what running back Karlos Williams did in his first season in Buffalo. Williams proved to be a terrific compliment to McCoy rushing for 517 yards averaging 5.6 yards a carry. Williams started three games for the Bills while McCoy sat due to various injuries. Williams also scored a touchdown in the first six games he saw action in, which tied a record set back in 1998 by former New England running back Robert Edwards. Williams and Edwards were the only two players to ever accomplish this feat. Least Impact – Nick O’Leary, Tight End - Florida State (6th rd pick #194 Overall) The former 2014 John Mackey Award winner and consensus All-American as a senior at Florida State got off to a rough start in his rookie year with the Bills. O’Leary saw limited action during training camp and the preseason and was subsequently cut at the tail end of camp and signed to the practice squad where he remained for most of the season. O’Leary was signed to the active roster for week 14 seeing action in four games catching one pass for just 37 yards. The All-Time FSU leader among tight ends with 114 receptions, 1,491 yards and 18 touchdowns will need to improve his inline blocking if he hopes to work his way into the Bills rotation at tight end next season and see significant playing time. Miami Dolphins Biggest Impact – DeVante Parker, Wide Receiver - Louisville (1st rd pick #14 Overall) Parker’s rookie season got off to a slow start after he had foot surgery in June and took longer than expected to get up to speed with the Dolphins playbook. In his first ten games Parker managed just four receptions for 49 yards. Parker picked up the production in the final six games of the season and especially after fellow wide out Rishard Matthews was lost for the season due to a rib injury. From week 12 through 17 Parker started four games and caught 22 passes for 445 yards and three touchdowns culminating in his week 17 performance versus the Patriots were he finished with 106 yards and a touchdown. During that span Parker was averaging 11.2 yards per target which was fourth-highest among wide receivers who saw 25 or more targets. Parker was one of the nation’s best deep threats his senior season at Louisville averaging 19.9 yards per reception. With the hiring of new head coach Adam Gase and his familiarity on how to use big receivers like Parker (i.e. Demaryius Thomas, Alshon Jeffery) look for his late season surge to continue into 2016. Surprise Impact – Jay Ajayi, Running Back - Boise State (5th rd pick #149 Overall) Ajayi was a highly rated running back coming out of Boise State prior to last year’s draft. Some evaluators had him ranked third behind Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon and if not for a medical test that showed he had no cartilage in his right knee Ajayi would have been selected higher than the 5th round. Unfortunately for Ajayi and the Dolphins he suffered a cracked rib in Miami’s preseason finale and was forced to start the season on Short-term Injured reserve causing him to miss the first seven games of the season. Ajayi was activated prior to week nine and in nine games had 49 carries for 187 yards and one touchdown. Although those are not eye-popping stats Ajayi, who was splitting carries with Lamar Miller, did show a powerful bruising running-style and the ability to sneak out of the backfield and catch passes. With Miller set to become a free agent this offseason and the new coaching staff’s preference on utilizing more than one back look for Ajayi to have a bigger impact role in the Dolphins backfield next season. Least Impact – Jordan Phillips, Defensive Tackle - Oklahoma (2nd rd pick #52 Overall) The former Sooner defensive lineman started four games last season and played in 443 snaps along the Dolphins defensive line. Phillips made little to no impact up front even though he was playing alongside one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles in Ndamukong Suh. Phillips registered his first career sack in week one and ended the season with just two to along with his 19 tackles. Pro Football Focus rated Phillips as the 105th defensive tackle last season. After his rookie campaign Phillips echoed the sentiment that had been whispered around the organization, that he needed to improve his attention to detail and will have to do a better job of preparing during the week. New York Jets Biggest Impact – Leonard Williams, Defensive Tackle - USC (1st rd pick #6 Overall) Prior to last year’s draft Williams was often mentioned as a possibility to go anywhere between the second and fourth overall selections, the fact he lasted till the sixth pick was considered one of the surprises in the first round. Lucky for the Jets that Williams was indeed still on the board when their selection came up as later during the summer, right before training camp, they would find out that defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson would be suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season. Williams helped fill the void left by Richardson’s absence at the start of the season along the Jets defensive line. Williams had 63 tackles, 4 sacks, 19 quarterback hits, and 30 hurries playing in nearly 800 snaps. According to Pro Football Focus Williams was one of the better run defenders as he registered 35 tackles resulting in a defensive stop, which was 14th most of any interior defensive player last season. Heading into next season the coaches want Williams to become more of a factor on passing downs encouraging him to work on his technique and hand placement in hopes of generating a more consistent pass rush. Surprise Impact – Lorenzo Mauldin, Linebacker - Louisville (3rd rd pick #82 Overall) Mauldin played in 15 games his last season seeing action early on as a member of the special teams unit. It wasn’t until week eight versus Jacksonville, when he notched his first two sacks of his career, did Mauldin start receiving more snaps on defense. Against the Jaguars Mauldin displayed the ability to convert speed to power and provide consistent pressure on the quarterback. From then on Mauldin was predominately used as a rush specialist and ended up with 4 sacks, 19 quarterback hits and a forced fumble on the season. The Jets are expecting Mauldin to have a bigger role on the team next season, but first he will need to work on his run defense along with dropping into coverage before expanding his playing time. Least Impact – Devin Smith, Wide Receiver - Ohio State (2nd rd pick # 37 Overall) After selecting Smith in the second round the Jets expected him to bring the element of speed and big play ability to their offense. Smith was figured to be the perfect complement to starters Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Smith was coming off a senior season at Ohio State where he scored 12 touchdowns and averaged a whopping 28.2 yards per reception. Unfortunately Smith’s season started off bad when he suffered broken ribs and a partially punctured lung in training camp, costing him the preseason and the first two regular season games. Then it got worse as Smith tore the ACL in his right knee in week 14 versus the Titans. Smith did manage to play in ten games catching only nine balls for 115 yards and a touchdown. New England Patriots Biggest Impact – Malcom Brown, Defensive Tackle - Texas (1st rd pick #32 Overall) Malcom Brown dropping to the final pick of the first round was not something many expected to happen, in fact some had Brown projected going as high as the top ten. So when he fell to New England he was considered one of the steals of the first round. In New England Brown was looked upon to help fill the void left by the departure of defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. Brown had a solid rookie season coming on strong towards the end drawing praise from the coaches for his improvement in both fundamentals and technique. Brown started 12 games and finished with 48 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Starting in week 11 and on Brown played in over 50 % of the defensive snaps and towards the end of the season had emerged as the top defensive tackle on the team. Surprise Impact – Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson Guards (4th rd picks #131 & # 111 Overall) The Patriots dealt with a number of injuries along the offensive line this past season and had to rely heavily on these two fourth round picks. Mason and Jackson started a combined 19 games between them, and were part of a three-man rotation, along with Josh Kline, at guard for New England most of the season. Both Mason and Jackson are powerful at the point-of-contact, show good balance and can play with leverage. Mason is more athletic of the two, and is able to quickly get to the defenses second level. Mason also came from a run-heavy offense in Georgia Tech so his run blocking was a bit more advanced than Jackson’s. Jackson played in 54 % of the offensive snaps while Mason tallied about 66 %. Both players look to be long term starters on the inside of the Patriots offensive line come next season. Least Impact – Jordan Richards, Safety - Stanford (2nd rd pick #64 Overall) When the Patriots used the 64th overall selection on Stanford safety Jordan Richards, the feeling was they had reached on a player who many had a fourth to fifth round grade on. Although Richards played in 14 regular season games and made two starts, he had minimal impact in any games of consequence for the Pats. Richards was unable to find consistent playing time even though New England was dealing with a number of injuries to their defensive backfield. Praised by veteran teammates for his maturity, instincts, and speed Richards still has a chance to develop into a starting caliber player for New England. As for his rookie season though, he finished with just 14 tackles, two passes defensed and zero interceptions. Danny Shimon is a graduate of Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp.  Follow Danny on Twitter @dshimon56
Danny Shimon
NFPost Scouting 101 & Scouting Seminar Graduate. Bears writer for www.windy-citysport.com

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