With the NFL training camp beginning soon, fans will be looking at how the stars and the high draft picks for their favorite team will do this season. What fans often do not look at are potential sleepers that could make a big impact unexpectedly.
Today, we look at the AFC East: a division with a clear favorite to win every year, two on the playoff hunt, and one who’s about to have a long season ahead of them.
Taken in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft, Peterman has a good arm and solid intangibles to be a quarterback in this league. With some fine-tuning to decision making and game preparation, Peterman could very well eventually become the starter of this team.
Bills fans always love to defend Tyrod Taylor, and I know–he isn’t that bad. But Taylor brings the same issue to the Bills that many average quarterbacks bring to their team. The issue is how far can you go with this guy? If Peterman is given the chance to play, I’m sure new head coach Sean McDermott will present him with more responsibility.
This offseason, the Bills picked up former Oakland Raiders receiver Andre Holmes. Last season, Holmes started 2 games and collected 126 receiving yards and scored 3 touchdowns. While those numbers are far from impressive, Holmes was buried on the Raiders’ receiving corps depth chart and had little time to prove himself.
With the Bills, however, this could be completely different. Sammy Watkins is the number one receiver, but his inability to stay healthy could give Holmes a larger role. Zay Jones is believed to be the number two receiver, but the rookie could be placed in the number three position because of Holmes’ experience. Look for Andre Holmes to be a key part of the Bills offense this season.
Gerald Hodges Jr.
This offseason, the Bills acquired Gerald Hodges Jr., formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. Hodges Jr. was actually a key contributor to the 49ers’ defense, but the addition of Reuben Foster in this year’s NFL Draft made Hodges Jr. expendable as he would have had to fight for playing time.
With the Bills, Hodges Jr. has the chance to become a focal point of this defense. With having 55 tackles, 28 assisted tackles, 3 sacks and 1 forced fumble last season, Hodges proved he can be a key contributor to any defense.
Taken in the seventh round of this year’s NFL Draft, snagging Ford this late was an absolute steal. Projected to be a fourth rounder, Ford is a relatively strong player with a solid build at 6’1” and 194 lbs. While his 4.61 40 yard dash will not amaze you, he plays much faster than that in an actual game.
The Dolphins’ wide receiving corps already has names like Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Devante Parker, but Ford can still see some playing time if injuries occur or Ford simply outworks them. Look for Ford to collect a few hundred yards and maybe get a handful of touchdowns this season.
Taken in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Phillips has become a nice complement to Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the defensive line. Last season, Phillips racked up 13 tackles, 10 assisted tackles, 0.5 sacks and even 1 interception.
With another year under his belt, Phillips will be able to become a larger contributor to this defensive line.
Taken in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, Tankersley is a long corner standing at 6’1”. Tankersley recorded 9 interceptions in his collegiate career–4 of those coming in his final season. His ability to locate the ball will give him lots of playing time this season.
The Dolphins’ cornerbacks are a decent unit, but also cluttered. If Tankersley can surpass both Tony Lippett and Xavien Howard on the depth chart, then he and Byron Maxwell can form a formidable cornerback duo.
New England Patriots
Taken in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, Garcia comes with an NFL ready frame of 6’7″ and 302 lbs., Garcia will have the chance to start at either guard or tackle.
Garcia has solid pass protection skills and his athleticism will be an asset to the Patriots’ offense. With more refinement to various elements of his game, Garcia could be a draft steal.
Taken in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, the small school standout from Youngstown State Derek Rivers could become the Patriots’ new defensive stud. While he might not start right away, Rivers will be able to take rotational snaps alongside Kony Ealy and Trey Flowers. By mid-season, Rivers could most definitely become a starter or just receive more snaps.
Taken in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Roberts had a surprisingly decent rookie year. Starting in 5 games, Roberts totaled 25 tackles, 20 assisted tackles, and 1 forced fumble.
With some NFL experience to his name, Roberts can become a bona fide starter on this Patriots defense.
New York Jets
Taken in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft, Leggett is a big-body tight end standing at 6’5″ and 258 lbs. He was one of Deshaun Watson’s favorite targets last year and for good reason. His athleticism and size made him a matchup nightmare, and those skills will transfer into the NFL.
In terms of the depth chart, Leggett’s only competition is Austin Seferian-Jenkins, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Seferian-Jenkins’ issues with the law got him released by the Bucs, but assuming he stays clean, Leggett will have to split snaps with him. Leggett will likely be the second tight end on the depth chart and will collect quite a few red zone targets from whoever will be the quarterback.
Taken in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, Stewart was the primary receiver at Alabama and could even compete for the number one spot on the Jets. His decent athleticism and average size at 5’11” and 204 lbs. isn’t wooing anyone over, but his play making ability is what stands out with him.
Whoever is playing quarterback, whether it’s Christian Hackenberg, Josh McCown, or even Bryce Petty, they will like throwing to Stewart and he’ll become a big part of this offense.
Taken in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft, Dylan Donahue was and still is relatively unknown. Coming from the small school of West Georgia, Donahue did not get much praise. But, once you put on the film, you start to become intrigued. He recorded 12 sacks in his last year at West Georgia, and the Jets coaches have already been impressed by his play.
In an interview, Donahue said to reporters “Had I played at a Division I school, I’d be selected in the first or second round, I have no doubt in my mind about that.” We’ll see if Donahue can live up to his intrigue.
To see Dylan Donahue’s segment, skip to 1:53.