Second Year Spotlight: AFC East

Anthony Johnson – DT – Miami Dolphins Going into the 2014 NFL Draft, it was thought that Johnson had the talent to be a premium round draft choice. Because of some off field issues and an inconsistent motor on the field, Johnson didn’t get drafted and ended up an undrafted rookie free agent. Regardless, the talent is there and if Johnson decides he wants to play to his potential he can be a top player in the Dolphins' defense. He is big, strong and athletic and can both play the run and rush the passer. Granted, the Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh and drafted Jordan Phillips, but most clubs now are playing their defensive linemen in a rotation, and there will be plenty of reps for Johnson to show his ability. Having strong depth on the defensive front can help Miami challenge New England for AFC East supremacy. Cyrus Kouandjio – OT/OG – Buffalo Bills Before the 2014 Scouting Combine, the general consensus was that Kouandjio had a strong chance of being a first round draft choice. Medical testing at the Combine found that Cyrus had an arthritic knee, and that dropped him to the second round. Once camp opened in July, Kouandjio was not in the best of shape and was beaten out for the right tackle spot by seventh round pick Seantrel Henderson. Henderson played well at the right tackle position, and it is doubtful that Kouandjio can beat him out. Both of the guard positions are open, however. The Bills signed Ritchie Incognito to play on one side, but Kouandjio can and should challenge Kraig Urbik for the other position. Reportedly, Kouandjio has lost weight, is in top condition, and is looking good in the offseason program. If that is the case, he should put up a strong fight for one of the guard positions. The talent is there, does he want it? Dominique Easley – DT – New England Patriots Easley was the Patriots first round pick last year. He was a bit of a surprise pick in that he was coming off two ACL injuries while at Florida. As a rookie, Easley was still bothered by knee issues and only played in 11 games. This year, the Patriots are taking their time getting Easley ready, but all reports indicate that he will be 100% by training camp. If that is the case, the combination of Easley and rookie defensive tackle Malcom Brown will give New England a very quick and athletic pair of defensive tackles. The Patriots decided not to bring back perennial Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork, and while Easley doesn’t have Wilfork’s combination of bulk and power, he is far more athletic and will be able to do much more as an interior pass rusher. Jimmy Garoppolo – QB – New England Patriots Going into the appeal hearing of Tom Brady, it is not known if Brady’s suspension will be held up or reduced by a game or two. No matter, Garoppolo has to be ready to play as he will start some games this season. Garoppolo put up some huge numbers in college leading Eastern Illinois. In his little bit of play time in 2014, Garoppolo showed that he was ready to make the jump to the NFL. While he will never be the passer that Brady is, Garoppolo is far more athletic and gives the Patriots a player who has to be accounted for as both a runner and a passer. It will be interesting watching how he develops this year. Jace Amaro - TE – New York Jets Amaro didn’t play badly as a rookie, but he didn’t do quite as well as expected either. He finished the season with 38 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns. With his athleticism and natural talent, he should be able to almost double that output in 2015. Today’s offenses are designed for an athletic tight end to put up big numbers. Amaro can be almost like a big wide receiver and create some big time mismatches. His presence can help Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and rookie deep threat Devin Smith. If quarterback Geno Smith puts it together, the Jets passing attack can be something to be reckoned with. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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