Every NFL Team’s Top Impact Rookie Candidate: AFC East

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Jun 11, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills rookie defensive tackle Ed Oliver (91) during minicamp at the ADPRO Sports Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 11, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver (91) during minicamp at the ADPRO Sports Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

For the next week, we will pick the rookie most likely to make the biggest splash on their new team. That impact could entail instigating a turn-around a la Baker Mayfield or Darius Leonard, or simply fitting into an already-strong system and helping said system take a leap, a la Derwin James or Bradley Chubb

In many cases, the team’s top pick will earn the spot, by nature of their talent. However, that will not always hold true. Some top picks will have to wait their turn this year, or the players around them do not project to bring out the best in them right now. With that being said, let’s get started with the AFC East.

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Buffalo Bills: DT Ed Oliver

Ed Oliver’s early ascent as one of the top run-stuffers in college football earned him buzz as a potential top overall pick entering 2018. But due to some schematic disadvantage and perhaps some clashing of styles with coaches, Oliver never became the truly dominant pass rusher at Houston that his talent would indicate. Still, his insane burst and instincts earned him a top-10 pick. And with he coaching staff in Buffalo, the situation is right for Oliver to contribute right away.

The first step is to get Oliver out from zero-techniques. Houston used Oliver head-up more than any player in college football, which negated some of Oliver’s explosion in pass rush. By spreading him out to three-technique, Oliver will have more room to get the initial advantage off the snap. The defensive minds in Buffalo suggest that Oliver is in a good position not only for development, but also to be used to his fullest potential. While neither Sean McDermott nor Leslie Frazier are defensive line specialists, they have both commanded defenses with stout defensive lines. McDermott went to a Super Bowl with Carolina and Frazier oversaw the ascent of the Jared Allen and “Williams Brothers” line in Minnesota. 

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Buffalo has a good mix of youth and experience on their defensive line. With Star Lotulelei and Jerry Hughes in the building, Oliver will have some strong players to line up alongside. Oliver has the talent and explosion to start day one, and if Lotulelei and Hughes can pull those double teams away from Oliver, he is going to produce very early in his pro career.

Miami Dolphins: DT Christian Wilkins

Few tackles combine quickness and size the way Christian Wilkins does. Built like a plodding nose tackle, Wilkins moves up and down the line like an end and makes plays all over the field. What is perhaps most impressive about Wilkins is his versatility. Given Clemson’s strong line (three first round picks in 2019), Wilkins could have stayed at three-technique and done fine. However, they moved him up and down the line, allowing him to attack the backfield from all angles. It is that versatility and intelligence that is going to make Wilkins a cornerstone in Miami. 

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Like Oliver, the coaching staff in Miami is promising for young defensive linemen. Head coach Brian Flores and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham are Belichick products who have developed some tremendously productive players. Plus, defensive line coach Marion Hobby recently came from the Jaguars where he helped launch “Sacksonville” to new heights. So Wilkins is going to get some of the top development coaching he can in a rebuilding situation. 

Miami’s line talent is going to both be a benefit and a detriment to Wilkins’ top rookie case. Because there is not much standing in Wilkins’ way with regard to playing time, there also is not much to draw attention away like he saw at Clemson. Wilkins is going to play and play a lot right out of the gate. But he is also going to see double teams galore. Fortunately, he has some extraordinary flexibility for a guy his size, so splitting doubles would not be out of character for him.

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New England Patriots: DE Chase Winovich

Following the draft, I described Chase Winovich going to New England as a “miscarriage of justice,” as the defending champs acquired one of the top defensive players in the class late in day two. Belichick loves ends who can move around and stunt from anywhere, which fits Winovich’s play style to a T. Per Pro Football focus, Winovich won 31.6 percent of pass rush reps on stunts, and the Patriots have finished top-three in stunt usage each of the past three years. With his NFL-ready hand usage and athleticism, Winovich could slot in right out of the gate as a pass rush specialist. And before long, he will be a three-down defender tearing up Belichick’s system. 

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New York Jets: DT Quinnen Williams

The surest thing in the draft, Quinnen Williams possesses a level of disrupt-ability that goes unmatched by most recent draft prospects. He has burst, great hands, balance, awareness and technique that you simply do not see to this degree of completeness out of college. Even on a fairly strong Jets line, Williams figures to be the standout. He is simply too disruptive and too physically gifted to not see the field early and control it while he is on it.

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But as with Oliver and Wilkins, coaching may be a factor here. Only this time, one has to question if the man in charge may be a detriment to Williams’ early production. Browns end Myles Garrett, a former top line prospect himself, said that new Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams instructed him to limit his arsenal during his time in Cleveland. The implication was that Gregg Williams inhibited Garrett’s development a bit by forcing him to find two moves he was good at and perfect them, rather than building up an array of techniques to choose from.

Now, telling an immensely talented player to simplify is not inherently a bad thing, and could benefit Quinnen Williams early on. But Garrett, who clearly has a lot of creativity as well as ability, believed himself ready to take further steps. Quinnen Williams is cut from the same cloth. As such, it will be interesting to see how Gregg Williams factors in to his rookie season.

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–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.

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