Farley’s Forecast- AFC East

Good to be back here on NTCF. I’ve been reading all of the great content however I haven’t done much to contribute. I want to get back into the mix here so i am introducing my first edition of Farley’s Forecast where the slogan i just made up is, I’m right more than your local weatherman (person for you sensitive types).

Its a very boring period in the NFL season (there is no off-season), OTA’s mean very little because its played in short and t shirts.¬†Pay no mind to local reports of who has impressed in OTA’s or minicamps. The main goal for coaches during this period is to get the rookies and newly acquired free agents acclimated to how practices will be run and what to expect from the coaching staff.

Allow me to delve into the AFC East and forecast how I see it playing out this season. Shocker here, New England wins the division. I’ll get to them later, though. I’ll start at the bottom and work my way up.

New York Jets

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Now, when the most newsworthy story for your team is that the butt fumble has been #1 on the not top ten for half of the year, there are some problems with your franchise.¬† The New York Jets are in a world of trouble folks. They just traded away the best player on their already talent-starved roster, and while Revis may never reurn to form its still isn’t a smart football decision. Which, if you’re keeping track at home occurs¬†about as often as Rex Ryan opting for a salad.¬†I can assure you that Dee Millner is not the second coming and what was a strength for them has become yet another problem area. The best quarterback¬†on that roster just retired due to injury and¬†the battle of Sanchez and Smith should be, well, irrelevant. Smith just doesn’t project as a solid NFL starter in my opinion and he had more weapons in West Virginia. I expect Sanchez to win the job is Rex has say, but I’m not so sure about that. I’m calling a 32nd ranked offense this season. Listen, if you think I’m bashing the Jets you’re right, but am I wrong?¬†With ¬†Rex in seemingly a lame duck period as the coach of this team and a questionable lockeroom to be kind, can you honestly see this team competing in this division? This team should come¬†apart by the halfway mark with all the great character in the locker room and the only thing to look forward to from them is the occaisonal meltdown in front of a microphone.

Win range- 2-6

Buffalo is a team that will be interesting to monitor leading¬†up to September. Did they draft EJ Manuel too high?¬†Of course they did, but I think he was the¬†most NFL ready quarterback in the draft and I’m not sure he will win the job right away. Say what you want about Kevin Kolb but the offensive line in Arizona will make every quarterback in the NFL¬†struggle. I think Kolb will be much improved in this new system and the change of scenery should serve him well. CJ Spiller will have a breakout year because he finally has a coach who believes in him being an every down back.¬†I think Buffalo’s offense will be exciting to watch this season and they will need to be to keep the Bills in the hunt this season. The best defensive addiiton the Bills made was reatining star safety Jaruis Byrd. Byrd will need more help this season and it starts in run support. The Bills allowed 5 yards per carry last season, thats just terrible. If they can make improvements in stopping the run they’ll be able to pin their ears back and maybe get something from their investment in Mario Williams. I can see the Bills having a similair season to years past where they show flashes of brilliance but ultimately fail to compete for a full 16 games.With a rookie head coach and too many holes to fill in one year i see them finishing third in the division this year.

Win Range- 4-9

Miami wins the Dan Snyder award for over-spending in the offseason. General Manager Jeff Ireland saw the writing on the wall and spared no expense revamping the mediocre roster he created in a final attempt to save his job. Alot of the moves Miami made make sense on paper but for now all they seem to be doing is blowing hot air down in south beach. The seventh ranked scoring defense seems to be improved¬† from last season. Miami¬†struggled to create turnovers in 2012¬†and that was the point of emphasis from the coaching staff when discussing the new look roster. Drafting Dion Jordan¬†should¬†help Cameron Wake on the opposite side of the line in passing situations however I don’t see him as an every down end just yet. He will have time to develop and fill out his thin frame while serving as a rush specialist early in his career similair to Bruce Irvin in Seattle. The secondary is still the biggest weakness for this team and when you play Tom Brady twice a year thats a problem. The offense also added alot of pieces but I would like to talk about one that was on the roster last season. Lamar Miller is set to take over for Reggie Bush and I love his potential. The offensive line needs to create more holes but if they do Miller can be a big surprise this season.Miami has made alot of moves but they won’t mean a thing if Ryan Tannehill doens’t take a significant step forward this year. He showed flashes and you one could point to the lack of¬†weapons, but that is no longer the case. The Miami Dolphins will go as Ryan Tannehill goes this season and that will determine where they end up this season.

Win Range- 6-10

New England will win this division, but when you’re the Patriots, (at least in the last decade) winning the conference is the goal. The division shouldn’t be a struggle but the AFC looks to be tougher than in years past. The storyline with New England lately is how do they get back to the Super Bowl? Time and again they seem to have a let down in the playoffs and this post-postseason saw alot of players leave. Welker is the most noteworthy departure however as long as Amendola stays healthy (huge if) they will get more explosive plays from the slot this season. While the Gronk surgeries should cause some concern it won’t jeopordize training camp let alone the seaosn opener. While we are on the subject Gronk could miss the entire regular season and the offense would still be top ten. What New England needs is him to be healthy in the playoffs. The offense will always be in good hands so long as Tommy ballgame is under center. The defense needs to either get to the quarterback at a record pace, or change something up on the back end.¬†The Pats were middle of the road in the sack department tying for 15th in the league. The secondary however finished 29th in the league and therein lies the problem. Bill Belichick needs a new perspective for his schemes in the secondary. You can point to his super bowl trophies and say how completely ridiculous that statement is but after you settle down think back to those super bowls. When New England was winning super bowls they had at least one pro bowl corner on one side of the field.

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Free Agency Grades

I know I am not alone when I say that I am thrilled to have football back in my life. The last week has been great with all of the additions and subtractions teams have been making. I want to take a look at the AFC East and get you all up to speed on winners and losers within the division.

Winners:

New EnglandPatriots
Bellichik is at it again! The signing of Albert Haynesworth and the acquisition of Chad Ochocinco are two great moves. They address two major needs for this team and provide proven producers that seem to be already buying into ‚Äúthe patriot way‚ÄĚ. Don‚Äôt underestimate the importance of the resigning of mainstay Matt Light along the Pats offensive line. Bringing back Light allows them to develop Solder and also allows him to learn from a guy who they hope he will eclipse in the very short future. The only problem I have with the past week forNew England is that they haven‚Äôt addressed the pass rushing need enough in my opinion. Relying on a total rebirth of Big Al (that‚Äôs what I‚Äôm calling him) is a lot to ask for given his recent ‚Äútransgressions‚ÄĚ and I expect them to continue to turn over rocks to find another pass rusher. They brought in Matt Roth for a workout who is a former Brown and Dolphin who I believe would be another solid signing for them. The law firm has also been resigned and they could benefit by bringing in another back however their lack of movement leads me to believe they are going to give the draft picks a shot. Let‚Äôs not forget this team was 14-2 last year and it has improved its roster by a good amount.

Grade: A-

BuffaloBills

Dare I say they are on the right track? This is a young team that is still trying to find its identity. They made the transition from being a 4-3 defense to implementing the 3-4 (a good move). The personnel on the team was still a mix of guys that were either tweeners or didn’t fit. They bring in nick Barnett off of a season ending injury who is only two years removed from being a top 3 inside linebacker according to pro football focus. They retained talented corner Drayton Florence and also signed former wide receiver/kick returner (he is listed as a QB on the depth chart) Brad Smith from the Jets. Gailey also brought in Tyler Thigpen from the Dolphins whom he had while he was in KC and who was the 15th best QB (again according to pro football focus) in 2009. Are they there yet? Absolutely not, but they WILL win some games they aren’t supposed to this season.

Grade: B+

Losers

New YorkJets

Rex Ryan is never short on words and just recently he pleaded with the league for another team to beat the Patriots besides the Jets. I have a question for you Rex, who have you beaten in free agency? The answer to that would be very few teams, oh and your shin tattoo is gay….super gay. Resigning Santonio Holmes was no doubt crucial however you didn’t add any depth on the again over rated defensive line (I think the rookie DT they drafted is over rated) and your big move is Plaxico? Without a workout they have committed 3 million to a guy years removed form the NFL who wasn’t fast to begin with, and is a wrong club venue away from another suspension. On the other hand you let go Braylon Edward, another high character guy, who has proven to come up big in the playoffs the last two seasons for you. I’m sorry but I can’t give the Jets a great rating here.

Grade: C

MiamiDolphins

The Dolphins have been pretty busy in free agency and I want to preface this by stating that they actually addressed positions of need. However this rating will not be good for them. They cut Channing Crowder who was a one dimensional run stopper and could not play on 3rd down with Kevin Burnett fromSan Diego. Burnett is a very solid signing who is above average in coverage and has an all around better game than Crowder so an upgrade to an already strong defense. The next need for this time was help on the interior line. They drafted Pouncey who will start at Center and has impressed in camp so far.¬† They have recently signed formerBostonCollege standout Marc Colombo.Colombo is coming off a rough year last year from injury but has worked with Dolphins coach Sparano before. Vernon Carey (starting RT last 7 years) will move inside to RG and fulfill yet another need forMiami. The team needed more speed so they drafted Edmund Gates and traded for Reggie Bush. Gates will mostly be a special teams player returning punts and have a deep route here and there. Bush is supposed to be ‚Äúthe guy‚ÄĚ? This baffles me and while I fully anticipate rookie Daniel Thomas to develop into a solid running back, I don‚Äôt expect Bush to be the guy because quite frankly, he never has been. So why did they lose in my opinion you ask? They STILL do not have a quarterback. Balking on the Kyle Orton trade has the fan base chanting for him while Henne stinks it up at Dolphins practices. The team brought in Matt Moore, which would be the equivalent of trying to get revenge at your girlfriend by taking out a girl with a deformity.¬† This my friends is no an upgrade. So while the Dolphins have improved in need positions, it is a quarterback driven league and they have done nothing.

Grade: D

Position Rankings (OTA Edition): Safeties

Well, training camps are begginning today and what better time to close out my rankings.  Today I look at the last line of defense, the safeties.  A very demanding position the safety is asked to cover a large area.  Set back from the line of scrimmage, safties need to be able to diagnose plas and formations and communicate them to the rest of his secondary.  Some of the most notable defensive players in the league play the safety position.  Safties need to be able to do all tasks on the field. They need to be able to run with recievers as well as tight ends, come up to make tackles, or be responsible for a third or half of the field in deep zone coverage.  The AFC East hosts some very young budding stars at this position.

1) Buffalo Bills- OK, you can say whatever you want but I had to throw them a bone here. It may be the only thign they finish first in, unless you count losses of course.¬† The Bills have an extremely deep and very talented core of safties which is what warrants them the number one ranking here.¬† Jairus Byrd busted onto the scene last season with 9 interceptions! Donte Whitner has been a very solid Free Safety for this team for 5 season and his injury last season allowed Byrd to shine.¬† Whitner, a former first rounder out of Ohio State is a much better coverage guy back there than Byrd, but he lacks the play-making ability of the second year ballhawk.¬† It will be vey interesting to see what happens with this group, I predict Whitner is moved over to strong safety to start the season because Byrd was the lone bright spot in a forgettable 2009 season for the Bills.¬† The strong safety for the Bills last season was George Wilson, a 5 year vet out of Arkansas.¬† Wilson finished second on the team in tackles and contributed with four interceptions of his own last season.¬† Wilson saw his first season of serious playng time last year and played well.¬† If Whitner (my presumed starter) has trouble with his transition, Wilson will retain his duties thus making another Bills first round draft pick moot.¬† The main thing to know about this group for the Bills is that they have three starters, some teams in this division aren’t sure if they have one.

2) New England Patriots- New England couldv’e easily been ranked one with Brandon Meriweather alone.¬† After struggling with the schemes of the hoodie’s defense early in his career, Meriweather has quickly turned into a star at the position.¬† The game has started to slow down for the former Hurricane standout and allowed him to fly all over the field making plays.¬† He is also the reason that the pass defense has not suffered with all of the changes at the corner back slot.¬† Opposite Meriweather is a bit of a question mark.¬†¬† James Sanders started the first game of the season only to be demoted to reserve duty for most of the year.¬† He finished strong and started the last four games which gives him the edge on Brandon McGowan.¬† McGowan started 11 games for the Pats’ last season but played himself out of that role by week 14.¬† Both players have shown flashes of promise but whoever is most consistent during camp will liekly get the job.¬† No matter who wins the job, look to see both 6 yr vets see the field for New England.¬† The combination of these three talents gain them the two spot, but the inconsistent playat free safety¬†keeps them from top billing.¬†

3) New York Jets- The Jets are bringing in some new talent ofter the departure of Kerry Rhodes.¬† Rhodes made soem big plays for this defense during its playof push and his absence will hurt the unit.¬† Replacing Rhodes will be Brodney Pool who came over from the Browns this off-season.¬† Pool has good ball skils at the safety position and if I were to label him, he would fall into the; covers better than he tackles category.¬† Pool has 11 interceptions in his 5 season of play and with great corners on both sides, Pool should have a lot of opportunities to make plays in coverage.¬† The strong safety for this defense is Jim Leonhard.¬† Leonhard followed Rex Ryan to New York after becoming the starter during the 2008 season with the Ravens. Leonhard is a high motor guy who always seems to be around the pile.¬† Extremely undersized, the former badger from Wisconsin plays big.¬† He hits hard and throws his body around the field.¬† With Pool’s coverage skills, and Leonhard’s seemingly disregard for his body, this combination has a good chance to gel and be a very solid group for the gang green.¬† Backing up Pool and Leonhard will be Eric Smith.¬† Smith managed a few starts last season and has good size (6’1″) for the position, especially wen compard to Leonhard.

4) Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins find themselves in the four slot here due to them having no idea who will start at free safety.  Chris Clemons, Reshod Jones, Tyrone Culver, Jason Allen?  Two of those guys are nickle and dime corners in some sets.  Clemons, the second year man from Clemson, will get the first shot at the job in my opinion.  He has good coverage skills and great speed to cover ground.  He lacks physicality that is coveted by this coachign staff and his communication skils are a work in progress.  He showed some signs last season that he had what it takes in the NFl and this coaching staff is putting a lot of pressure on him to follow through.  Yerimiah Bell enjoyed his first Pro Bowl selection last season and is a very solid stonrg safety.  He hits a ton and  has great athleticism to cover both tight ends and recievers.  His tackling skills are above average and he will need to take Clemons under his wing in order for the group to be effective.  This position is no doubt the biggest focus in Dolphins camp this off-season, and it may be the reason this team does not get over the hump and make the playoffs.

Position Rankings (OTA Edition): Corner Backs

In my opinion corner back is one of the toughest positions to play in the NFL.¬† Most positions you can be aggressive and at the snap get right after the ball.¬† When you’re out there on an island you have to sit back and use your instincts to diagnose routes and react off of a number of factors.¬† Film study is crucial to get a read on what your weekend foe will be doing.¬† When a receiver runs an out does he cut it at 6 or 7 yards?¬† How well can he get off of a jam?¬† Can he out jump you?¬† There are a ton of keys that a defensive back has to look for and when he makes up his mind he had better be right, or he could be on the wrong end of a highlight reel.¬† Let’s not forget he could be subject to a pulling guard or tackle on a screen play with no help.¬†

It’s a bit of bang or bust when it comes to corners, and for this reason you see teams address the position all over the draft board and in free agency.¬† There are so many different schemes and zones that you may see a player succeed in one defense and fail miserably in another.¬† Think of covering a guy who runs a sub 4.4 that is 6′- something who can jump through the ceiling… sounds like dating a girl with 13 brothers¬†and a minister for a father.¬† It is not a fun position unless you are playing against Jamarcus Russell every week (shout out to the Purple Drank), seeing as he will eat and drank’ his way out of the NFL it doesn’t look good. The AFC East as you should all know by now has the best corner and arguably the best football player in the league, yeah I said it.¬† The season that Darrelle Revis had last season against the players he faced is almost as impressive as Tom Brady’s bludgeoning of the NFL in 2007.¬† I digress with the rankings…

1) New York Jets- When you have someone like Revis on one side of the field it wouldn’t matter who was alongside for the Jets to achieve the top ranking here.¬† However, when you add someone with the pure athleticism of Antonio Cromartie, you cause fits for offenses and coordinators across the league.¬† I will throw some numbers at you in case you have forgotten what Darrelle Revis did last year; here is what the best receivers in the world did against him:¬†

Andre Johnson- 4 catches 35 yards 0 TD

Randy Moss (2 games)- 9 catches 58 yards 1 TD

Marques Colston- 2 catches 33 yards 0 TD

Steve Smith ( the real one) -1 catch 5 yards ¬†0 TD ( Revis picked off two passes headed Smith’s way and returned one for a 67 yd TD.

Rhoddy White -4 catches 33 yards 0 TD

Reggie Wayne (shouldn’t count but it supports my point) -3 catches 33 yards 0 TD

Chad Johnson (I don’t call him a Spanish numeral)- NOTHING!!! In fact, the Bengals only threw for 31 yards the whole game!!

So in 8 games the best recievers in the world averaged about 3 catches and 25 yards a game!!!  Revis is one of the few players that will be worth the contract they sign, no matter how much it is.  There is also some solid depth at this position for the Jets.  Dwight Lowery has played starters minutes at that position and has been productive.  Then when you think they are set at the position, they draft Kyle Wilson, arguably ( and in my opinion) the best corner in the draft at the 29th overall spot.  These four players make up the best corner back unit in the league!

2) Miami Dolphins- Call me biased if you want but this young tandem in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith reminds me of the Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison dominance of the late 90’s.¬† Both players are entering their second year in the league and received on the job training last season playing in every single game their rookie year.¬† Vontae Davis is an extremely physical player, at 5’11 Davis can jump with the best of them ( ask Randy Moss who Davis jumped over for an interception at New England this season) and is a very strong tackler at the edge.¬† Sean Smith is a converted wide receiver and stands 6’3″ tall! This gives him a great advantage in jump ball situations and when he improves his tackling he will be a complete corner in this league.¬† Then you have the veteran in Will Allen.¬† Allen’s season was cut short last year due to an ACL tear.¬† Before the injury Allen was having his best season yet.¬† He needs to get used to playing the Nickel position because the two sophomores will play ahead of him.¬† Adding depth to the defensive backfield is Jason Allen.¬† A former first round pick out of Tennessee, Allen has been a disappointment given his draft position.¬† He was shuffled back and forth from safety to corner with the different coaching staffs he experienced, and he has settled into a solid Nickel and Dime package defensive back that is also a special teams standout.¬† Rounding off this group is rookie Nolan Carroll out of Maryland.¬† I throw his name into the mix here because I value high character guys and Carroll has a great pedigree.¬† If it weren’t for a broken ankle in his senior season he would’ve been drafted much higher than the fourth round and the Dolphins feel like they got a steal with him.¬† I see Carroll competing and possibly winning the 4th slot in the middle of this season.¬†

3) Buffalo Bills- The Buffalo Bills edge out New England because they have a good blend of experience and youth at this position.  They also have a very physical group of corners, it seems to be a theme with the franchise.  Reggie Corner and Drayton Florence finished 4th and 5th in tackles on the team.  Both players like to stick their nose into plays and be physical.  They are almost the same in that they can tackle but have hands like feet and they will let a few interceptions slip through their hands.  Terrence McGee is a pesky defender who is an absolute ball hawk.  In seven seasons he has 17 interceptions and 83 deflections.  McGee is an undersized corner who will lose a jump ball and in phone booth situations with larger receivers.  Leodis McKelvin is going into his third season and is coming off of a broken leg that ended is 2009 campaign.  McKelvin is most notably remembered for fumbling a kick off return that set the tone for an awful season for his Bills.  However McKelvin is considered a play-making corner that has excellent ball skills and when it is in his hands has the potential to take it to the house every time.  Expect McKelvin to work slowly back into the starting role and knock out one of the veterans in front of him.  Ashton Youbooty is the fifth corner on the squad that will see the field in limited action.  .

4) New England Patriots- I can hear Pats fans getting their pitchforks ready and sounding the homer alarms.¬† The bottom line with this ranking is that there is too much flux at this position and not enough talent.¬† Another contributing factor to this ranking is the lack of pass rush forcing them to cover longer, which will hurt them. Leigh Bodden is a very solid corner and this ranking does not reflect him as much as it does the supporting cast.¬† Bodden is a very instinctual corner who, if I were an English teacher, I¬†would¬†give him a B+.¬† The problem is he isn’t getting younger and his supporting cast maybe needs to be a bit older.¬† Darius Butler, a very young player¬†is maybe a year away and Jonathon Wilhite is way too inconsistent to be called anything more than serviceable.¬† Wilhite allows receivers‚Äô get too much separation when running down the field and he lacks the size and speed to dictate a route.¬† Butler will no doubt start this season and should begin his ascension to being a productive starter.¬†¬†I think he has the potential to be a solid corner in this league¬†I just don’t know when it will be.¬† He is very athletic and can jump through the roof.¬† His development will be critical to this group‚Äôs success this season.¬† Devin McCourty was the very unpopular first round pick from the Patriots in this years draft.¬† He will compete for the Nickel position and may blossom into a starter, you never know at this position.¬† Terrence Wheatley was a 2nd round draft choice in 2008 and he could work his way into the 4th cornerback slot.¬† He suffered a broken wrist last season against Indy and will figure in at the bottom of this rotation.¬† The biggest difference with this team as it always is, is the coaching.¬† Bill Belichick has won super bowls with what has seemed like a lack luster defensive backfield and his scheme has proven time after time that it can be effective.¬† Maybe the youth at this position will get a chance to play together for a long period of time and gel to crate a solid unit.¬† Maybe they draft another 7¬† with their plethora of picks next year.¬† No one knows what the hoodie is thinking.

Position Rankings (OTA Edition): Middle Linebacker

¬†Well, I’m back from vacation and¬†am long overdue for a rankings column.¬† This article will focus on the men in the middle.¬† The middle linebackers in the 3-4 defense need to work together to be effective.¬† In order to do so, you need to find a unique type of player.¬† Strength and athleticism are crucial traits for any player in the NFL, but to be an efficient “mike”¬†linebacker, you have to be extremely intelligent too.¬† Throughout the course of a game middle linebackers are likely to see every different lineman and tight end on the opposing team at one point or another.¬†¬†Because of this,¬†they need to be able to read and react very quickly or face the risk of being totally blown up¬†on any given play.¬†

 At this position, you have to rely on your teammates a lot, none more important than your defensive tackle.  The nose needs to occupy one, if not two blockers, allowing you to move freely in the middle.  Both middle linebackers need to work together and feed off of one another.  Think of volleyball, one guy needs to set and the other needs to spike.  Depending on where the run is headed, the middle linebacker’s job is to force flow to the opposite linebacker to clean up.  In the passing game middle linebackers need to communicate on crossing patterns and know their responsibilities both in man and in zone.  When rating a defense, whether it is a 4-3 or 3-4, you always look the player in the middle of it all. You can gauge a defenses success off of how strong they are up the middle, and there is no position more crucial than the middle linebacker.

¬†¬†1) New York Jets-¬† The New York Jets led the NFL in 7 defensive categories; yards per game, yards per play, passing yards per game, passing yards per play, first downs allowed, 3rd down conversions allowed, and points allowed.¬† Remember that line about gauging a defense by the guys in the middle, I’d say the #1 spot is a good fit for this duo. Bart Scott and David Harris are one of the best combinations in the entire league let alone the AFC East.¬† Last year was a bit of a breakout season for Harris and the schemes of Rex Ryan‚Äôs defense certainly helped.¬† In Ryan’s defense he uses an assortment of blitz packages geared to both pressure the quarterback, and to free up his linebackers.¬† Harris finished the season with 142 tackles, 5.5 sacks, two interceptions, three passes defended, and two forced fumbles.¬† In his fourth year out of Michigan, Harris really set the tone for the best defense in the NFL.¬† Bart Scott¬†played the “will” (weak side middle linebacker) position in the same defense he was in at Baltimore.¬† Following his coordinator from the Ravens was a great move for Scott.¬† He is comfortable with all of the calls and terminology, and he is able to talk all the smack he wants when a microphone is anywhere near his vicinity.¬† Scott was able to amass 107 tackles alongside Harris and was no doubt the vocal leader of this defense.¬† The Jets have a veteran backup in Ryan Fowler who comes over from the Tennessee Titans in case tragedy strikes.¬† He‚Äôs is a serviceable vet but is in no stretch Harris or Scott on a bad day.

¬†¬†2) Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins could’ve found themselves at the bottom of this category without the signing of Karlos Dansby, but they did sign him and that is why they are at the #2¬†position.¬† Karlos Dansby could prove to be the best free agent signing in the league depending on his and this defense success this season.¬† Dansby is one of those guys that seems to always be around the ball.¬† In 6 seasons he has deflected 25 passes, intercepted 10, and forced 12 fumbles.¬† He will no doubt help the abysmal tackling of former Dolphin Akin Ayodele and allow Channing Crowder on the other side to flourish.¬† Crowder is becoming the elder statesman of the Dolphins defense and he is only 26 years old.¬† Channing has received rave reviews from his head coach about his intelligence and athleticism, but he isn’t a playmaker like Dansby.¬† Best known for his verbal feud with Rex Ryan, I feel that Crowder has a chance to really produce with a quality linebacker next to him.¬† The Miami front office loves having depth at key positions inside linebacker is no exception.¬† Tim Dobbins was acquired from San Diego in the draft day trade that allowed Miami to regain its 2nd round pick lost in the Marshall deal, and San Diego to get Ryan Matthews.¬† Dobbins is a special teams stud and has performed well enough in Dolphins camp to start the grumblings of a position battle between him and Crowder.¬† I doubt it will get that far but the fact that he is putting pressure on the vet certainly doesn’t hurt.¬† Another inside linebacker that should see the field this season is rookie A.J. Edds out of Iowa.¬† Jeff Ireland projected Edds into the starting Nickel “coverage linebacker” position the day he drafted him.¬† As a senior at Iowa Edds picked off 5 passes…..as a linebacker!¬† This is a solid unit for the Dolphins and it will be interesting to see if there is in fact a battle for a starting position.

¬†¬†3)- New England Patriots- The Patriots could very well take the #1 spot by the end of this season with its youth at this position.¬† Jerod Mayo is on his way to being a possible elite middle linebacker and Brandon Spikes seems to have all the tools to be a solid player in the NFL.¬† 2 years removed from his defensive rookie of the year Mayo looks primed to put the defense on his back this season.¬† His teammates made him a captain in his second season and he didn’t disappoint.¬† After tearing his knee on opening night, Mayo returned in only 3 games and still was able to tally over 100 tackles to lead the team in the category for a second straight season.¬† Brandon Spikes will start alongside Mayo and hopes to follow the same path as his teammate.¬† Coming out of Florida Spikes was only criticized for his lack of¬†speed (ran a 5.0 40 at his pro day).¬†¬† What Spikes may lack in speed he makes up for with his strength and sure tackling.¬† It‚Äôs no secret that Belichick and Urban Meyer are bff’s, and with the hoodie watching over Spikes he should develop just fine in this defense.¬† Both Eric Alexander and Tyrone McKenzie will serve as backups with Alexander most likely getting the first shot.¬† Mckenzie, if healthy, could challenge for a starting role but his development has been stunted due to a knee injury during his rookie camp.¬†

  4) Buffalo Bills- One of the stronger position for the Buffalo Bills is middle linebacker.  There are a few quality players in this group.  If Paul Posluszny could stay healthy he would be a real force for this defense.  The former Penn State standout had 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 1 sack last season despite missing 3 games with an injury. Going into his fourth season with the Buffalo Bills Posluszny will be playing a different role than he is used to.  The play calling duties for this defense have been awarded to veteran Andra Davis.  Davis is an eight year vet at the position and has played in the 3-4 scheme mostly his whole career. It makes sense for the coaching staff to award Davis with this responsibility because even though Posluszny played some middle linebacker in the 3-4 at Penn State, it is nothing like the scheme George Edwards intends to run with the Bills. Davis will bring some stability to this defense and looks to lead a solid corps for the Bills.  There is great depth at this spot with veterans Kawika Mitchell and Reggie Torbor.  Both players played for the New York Giants and Torbor was just recently signed after being released by the Dolphins.

Position Rankings (OTA Edition): Outside Linebacker

  The outside linebacker wears a lot of hats within the 3-4 defense.    They must first contain the edge in the running game, rush the passer to create pressure, as well as drop back in coverage to play either zone, or possibly matchup man with a TE, WR, or RB out of the backfield.  Outside linebackers must possess a combination of speed and strength to perform these jobs effectively.  Speed will allow them to get to the sideline to string out a run, and also to sprint pass the tackle in a pass rushing situation.  Strength will allow them to be stout against the run and to shed blockers while attempting to make plays in the backfield.

¬†1) New York Jets- The Jets receive the number one ranking in this category based on the combination of experience and¬†outright talent¬†here.¬† Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, and Jason Taylor give the Jets a heck of a three-headed-monster at the outside linebacker position.¬†¬† With an average of 10 years experience between the three, this triple-threat allows the Jets to keep fresh talent on the field at all times.¬† All three men are great at getting to the quarterback, and with Rex Ryan’s schemes, it creates a lot of different looks for opposing offenses to deal with.¬†

¬†Calvin Pace is entering his 9th season in the NFL and with 54 starts under his belt he has 21 sacks.¬† Pace made the transition from a 4-3 end to an outside linebacker while he was at Arizona.¬† Since then he has averaged around 6-8 sacks per season and with this Jets improved defense this season,¬† should see those numbers rise a bit.¬† Jason Taylor showed that he still had some gas left in the tank last season contributing with 7 sacks and 3 FF for the Miami Dolphins.¬† It was a bit of a shock to the AFC East when Miami allowed the veteran to sign with the rival Jets, and Ryan has said in his system Taylor could have “20 sacks”.¬† Let’s be honest, he would be thrilled to get double-digit sacks for the 6th time in his 14 year career.¬† Taylor isn’t as stout against the run, but with the best run defense in the league, he will have plenty of help around him.¬† Bryan Thomas¬†has¬†25 career¬†sacks for the Jets and will spell Taylor on the outside this season.¬† Entering his 8th season, Thomas should gain great knowledge from Taylor on rushing the passer, only improving his value.¬† He may even start giving Taylor the 3rd down pass rushing responsibilities, while he provides run support.¬† This is what make this core so good, there are a number of combinations for Ryan to play with, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets all three players on the field at the same time in certain blitz packages.¬†

¬†2) New England Patriots-¬†At first glance it seemed as if this would be a tough decision, but with two new starters for Miami, one being a rookie and the other a career backup, I just can’t put them ahead of a¬†proven starter and a promising rookie.¬† Tully Banta-Cain¬†finished in the top five in sacks for the AFC last season with 10 .¬† He seems to be comfortable with his role and in his 8th NFL season seems prime to step up as a leader amongst a young linebacking¬†group.¬† After spending a year in San Fransisco, Bant-Cain returned home to New England and had a career year in both sacks and tackles.¬† It will be interesting to see how he performs in a non contract year.

¬†Jermaine Cunningham in my opinion will win the starting job.¬† While Belichick¬†loves experience, I don’t think he has a choice but to start the Gator.¬† Pierre Woods has a whopping 1 sack in his limited time, and Shawn Crable¬†has not seen the field yet so I put him below the rookie out of Florida who is healthy, younger, and was slightly more productive in college.¬† I was a huge fan of this pick for New England in the second round.¬† It’s no secret that Belichick¬†an Urban Meyer have a football “coachmance”, so I’m sure Bill was very confident in picking this young player. The transition from defensive end to linebacker will be crucial to his role as a possible starter, but I doubt New England spent a 2nd round pick at a need position with the thoughts of bringing him along slowly. I think Cunningham will be able to make the transition and contribute right away for the Pats.

¬†3) Miami Dolphins-¬†This linebacking¬†group for the Dolphins is very interesting, and is the talk of camp thus far.¬† After losing both starters in Taylor and Porter, Miami addressed¬†its linebacking¬†group this off-season quite agressively.¬† They¬†made Karlos¬†Dansby¬†the highest paid middle linebacker in the league to fill a need in the middle, and drafted Koa Misi¬†out of Utah who projects to start at strong side linebacker.¬† Misi has taken most of the first team reps so far in OTA’s and seems to have the edge.¬† There has been plenty of compliments thrown his way by analysts but until I see him on the field I can’t be sure.¬†¬†

¬†The weak side linebacker spot¬†seems to be Charlie Anderson’s job to lose.¬† I have raved about the talent of Cameron Wake in football circles, however, it seems he has not developed in areas not relating to rushing the passer.¬† Anderson has been a career back up in the NFL and has been productive in spurts for the Miami Dolphins.¬† He has shown that he can rush th passer and provide adequate help in the passing game.¬† His tackling is average and if he is consistent throughout camp and pre-season I think he will start.¬† Cameron Wake is a pure pass rusher.¬† If he can show the coaching staff that he can contribute against the run and in coverage, he will take this spot.¬† Wake was able to register 39 sacks in two seasons playing in the CFL, and last season in a limited role recorded 5.5 for the Dolphins.¬† Wake is a definite double-digit sack player if he is a starter and Mike Nolan needs to find a way to get him on the field.¬† The battle for weak side starting linebacker will be the most watched in training camp for Miami and it probably wont be decided until the¬†opening kickoff.

 4) Buffal Bills- On paper the Buffalo Bills could arguably be ranked second in this category.  There are a couple of  reasons I have them listed fourth; 1- this is the first year they are running the 3-4 defense, 2-the projected starters both played defensive end last season, 3- new coaching staff, 4- with a bad offense, they will be on the field a lot.

There is certainly a lot of potential on this defense.¬† I am a big fan of Aaron Maybin, I think he projects well as a weak side¬†outside rush linebacker.¬† I think he will struggle against the run and I don’t know how he will be in pass coverage.¬† He comes from linebacker university and has a good frame for a 3-4 linebacker.¬† I just don’t know how he will handle learning a new defensive scheme with new coaches, in only his second year in the league.¬† Aaron Schobel¬†has played defensive end for 10 years in the NFL and is one of the more underrated players in this division.¬† He has been a pest for that defense and he always finds himself around the ball.¬† He has battled injuries the last couple of years and again, this new position/system/coaching staff could be challenging to the veteran.¬† Chris Kelsay¬†has also been a productive pass rusher for the Bills and will most-likely split the strong side duties with Schobel.¬† If the team buys into the new system and stays healthy, they very well could end up being the second most productive group in the division, but for now, they have to show me first before I rank them above the other teams in the East.

Position Rankings (OTA Edition) Defensive End

¬† The defensive end position in the 3-4 is comparable to the defensive tackle position in the 4-3.¬† The main focus for these techniques¬†are gap responsibility and occupying blockers.¬† Defensive ends in the 3-4 lineup on the tackle and are responsible for the¬†B and¬†C gaps (those in between the guard and tackle, and outside¬†of the tackle as well).¬† The jobs in which these men partake are thankless and extremely¬†difficult.¬† They are looked upon to take on the biggest lineman (tackles), sometimes being double teamed by the interior lineman, down-blocked by a tight end, or even chipped by a fullback leading the hole.¬† Similar to an offensive lineman the stats for this position do not show up in the box score, but rather brought up in the film room on Monday.¬† One of the best 3-4 defensive ends of all time, Richard Seymour, puts the position into perspective, “it’s not designed for you to make the plays.¬† It’s designed for the linebackers. That’s why it’s the 3-4. You’ve really got to do a good job to get yourself into it, but you’re creating for other people.”

¬†1) Miami Dolphins-¬† This was probably the toughest inetrnal¬†debate I have had since starting these rankings.¬† There are a couple of reasons why I give the # 1 spot to Miami.¬† The defensive end position is extremly¬†tough to play.¬† You need a multitude of guys to rotate in and out in order to be effecive.¬† I see this Dolphins team having a lot of talent and youth at this position.¬† If Randy Starks wasn’t taking on nose tackle duties in the abscence¬†of Jason Ferguson I would feel more comfortable with this ranking.¬† However that being said, when Ferguson returns Starks is the best defensive end in this division.¬† He is great against the run and in a position where sacks are at a minimum, Starks gets to the passer.¬† Taking the place of Randy Starks at right end¬†is first round draft pick Jared Odrick.¬† This mamoth¬†has the size and strength, but more importantly the athleticism to be a two gap player in the 3-4 scheme.¬† He has an incredible wingspan at 36 inches, and at the point of attack he will be able to hold up against the strong tackles in this division.¬† The¬† Left end spot will be occupied by returning starter Kendall Langford.¬† Langford is a bit of an unknown coming out of Hampton College.¬† Langford¬†however was a big fish playing in a small pond, he was first-team¬†All-American¬†¬†his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons.¬†¬†¬†He has perfect size for the position and is strong against the run.¬†¬†Langford should continue to improve in this his third season at the position.¬† Behind Langford is Phillip Merling.¬† Merling¬†is a bit of a disappointment to the coaching staff who drafted him with the first pick of the second round in 2008.¬† Merling¬†had first rounder written all over him coming out of Clemson and was expected to start until the emergence of the aformentioned¬†Langford.¬† Merling¬†has still come up with some big plays for the Dolphins, none bigger than his interception returned for a TD against the Jets to clinch the division in 2008.¬† The coaching staff remains behind Merling¬†and says that if he were more consistent he would be a starter.¬† Merling¬†however was arrested just two days ago¬†on a domestic violence charge.¬† With four potential startes at the position I see Miami having a slight edge in this division.¬†¬†

¬†2) New England Patriots-¬†I have the Patriots again slightly ahead in this position for a couple of reasons.¬† First, the actual scheme they run is flawless and fits the 3-4 to a T ( shout-out to B B).¬† The ends in the scheme take up blockers and allow the backers behind them to make plays.¬† Ty Warren is a big reason for this rankings as well.¬† He had been overshadowed by Richard Seymour for years along the defensive front.¬† However Warren has been a mainstay along the Patriots line and has been the proto-typical end for this team for years.¬† He is very strong against the run and in my opinion made a few linebackers from those championship teams.¬† You can’t tell me that the¬†Mike¬†Vrabels¬†of the world don’t owe Warren a few steak dinners, a hug, or at least a cuddle.¬† The opposite end seems to be a rotation between Mike Wright, possibly Gerard Warren and Ron Brace?¬† The fact of the matter is that New England posseses¬†a few former first round draft choices to rotate in to either position.¬† If they move Wilfork to the end position and bring in a Gerard Warren or Ron Brace, it makes the line that much stronger.¬† Damione¬†Lewis was also a first round draft pick as well and he could fill in anywhere along the line.¬† There is also a contingency of young players that could contribute in a big way. Whose to say Bill Bellilchik¬†won’t find a diamond in the rough in Brandon Deaderick, Myron Pryor, or Kyle Love.¬† There are alot of movable pieces on that roster which makes them dangerous, couple that with Bill’s brain, and you could have yet another solid defensive line.¬†

¬†3) New York Jets-¬†I know, I know, they had the number one rushing defense last year.¬† They also had a stronger defensive¬†line.¬† The departure of Marques¬†Douglas at the right end position has brought the ranking of this defense down.¬† Douglas¬†remains an unrestricted free agent and to this point is still available.¬† However I don’t think the team wants to keep getting older at the defensive line with Shaun Ellis on the left end and Kris Jenkins in the middle.¬† Shaun Ellis is a very solid¬†left end and is in no way a reflection of this ranking.¬† However the combination of age and lack of depth has dropped this team.¬† There has been talk of trying out first round bust Vernon Gholston¬†at the right end slot, but he hasn’t¬†been productive in two years at the position he was drafted for, so why should he project stronger at a new position.¬† On the current roster the Jets are looking at Mike Devito, Rodrique¬†Wright, and Ropati¬†Pitoitua¬†to replace Douglas, and quite frankly there is not enough body of work on either guy to determine if they can do so.¬† I do not doubt Rex Ryan’s defensive brain at all, but you can’t tell me if Ellis, at the age of 32, goes down, this defensive line will be as strong as last season. Then again, if Douglas comes back to the Jets, they may jump up in the rankings as well.

¬†4) Buffalo Bills-¬† The Bills are amidst a transition in their defensive ¬†scheme and this brings questions¬†as to how the players leftover from last year will transition to the 3-4.¬† Marcus Stroud likely will start at the right end position and his experience in the 4-3 tackle position should make a somewhat seamless transition to the¬†3-4 end.¬† At 6’6″ 310, Stroud possesses¬†great size and strength to help occupy blockers and cause disruption in the running game.¬†¬†The opposite end spot in my opinion will be most likely filled by Baltimore¬†Ravens import Dwan¬†Edwards.¬† Edwards¬†comes from the 3-4 system in Baltimore where he played the end position.¬† He’s familiar with the scheme and should get at least¬†the first crack at the starting job.¬† On his heels will be 3rd round draft pick this season, Alex¬†Carrington.¬† Carrington is coming from Arkansas St. and tallied nearly 20 sacks in¬†his last two seasons.¬† He is a very athletic lineman who, if he doesn’t start, should see some third down opportunities right away.¬†¬†Rotating in (fighting for jobs) will be Spencer Johnson, Rashaad¬†Duncan,¬†John McCargo, and Will Croner.¬† ¬†¬†It will be interesting to see how Buffalo makes the transition from the 4-3, and how the new coaching staff will manage its players.¬† They have a fresh start¬†with¬†the new defense, it’s just¬†a matter of what they do with the personnel they have from here on.