In one of the most unpredictable drafts in recent memory, nine first-round trades set up for an incredibly exciting draft for teams ready to take the next step in building a contender. The AFC East featured one of the most exciting rookie classes in the NFL and one other real eye-opening class…especially in the eyes of Sean McVay. Not only that, one team in this division came away with 2 consensus top rookie fantasy options and projects to have one of the most improved offenses in all of football in 2022. Without further ado, my post-draft outlook for the AFC East.
Post-Draft Outlook AFC East
Fantasy Football Selections: UGA RB James Cook, Boise State WR Khalil Shakir
Other Significant Selections: UF CB Kaiir Elam
James Cook (brother of Dalvin) fits exactly what the Bills were looking for, a great receiving RB who plays with tremendous strength and factors to be a bully when he goes downhill. Based on past Bills RB usage, we could assume the Bills will likely use Cook in a rotation with others on the team. This limits the value James Cook has, but he still projects to be an interesting late-round option for anyone willing to take a swing at a RB who could have a big role in the passing game from an elite QB.
As for Zack Moss and Devin Singletary, the other guys in the RB room, they both take a hit towards their stock with the addition of Cook. While Khalil Shakir also provides intrigue, I’m not expecting much in year 1 from Shakir. However, the selection was a great value pick and I could see Shakir developing into a player with an impact like the one Gabriel Davis currently provides.
The main non-fantasy selection for the Bills was CB Kaiir Elam. Elam, a fascinating evaluation, struggled with his tackling but showed how willing he is to learn how to succeed in the NFL in his now-viral interview showing off his thorough notes from his college season. The Bills took a gamble on the player and person, but they are very optimistic he could be a great complement to superstar CB Tre’Davious White on the other side of the football field. Going back to the offensive selections, James Cook provides an instant receiving impact in the backfield and Khalil Shakir is just another sure-handed receiving option the Bills can utilize deep in games. All of these pieces project to be the “cherry on top” to a team that is ready to chase after a Super Bowl.
Fantasy Football Selections: Texas Tech WR Erik Ezukanma
Other Significant Selections: UGA LB Channing Tindall
This will be a short one because the Dolphins really didn’t add any significant playmakers in this year’s NFL Draft. The Dolphins used their 4th-round selection on receiver Erik Ezukanma from Texas Tech, but Ezukanma has a ways to go before he can provide an impact on the team. With star receivers Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill above him, Ezukanma has an uphill battle in finding real minutes for the Dolphins this year. The 6’2” receiver needs time to develop his route running, but the athleticism is there. He is not one to target in any fantasy draft.
LBs are always great to have, and adding Channing Tindall to the Dolphins LB room is a welcomed addition. Like Ezukanma, Channing needs to develop his game quite a bit, but the talent is there to utilize. Due to the Dolphins’ first pick being in Round 3, this year’s draft won’t have much of an impact on this year’s team besides adding depth to positions where depth is needed over a 17-game season.
New England Patriots
Fantasy Football Selections: Baylor WR Tyquan Thornton, South Dakota State RB Pierre Strong, South Carolina RB Kevin Harris
Other Significant Selections: Chattanooga OG Cole Strange
The Patriots ended the draft with 1 speedy WR and 2 RBs to add to a room that could use some bolstering. Tyquan Thornton has top-end speed to take the top off any defense (the 40 says it all), but his route running needs work, and the addition of Devante Parker makes his fantasy relevancy very limited this season. Thornton could be deployed sporadically throughout the season, but that’s something fantasy owners are going to want to see before they believe. As for the RBs, based on my film study, Pierre Strong is leaps and bounds better than Kevin Harris at the moment. Strong packs a punch when coming downhill, but as the others mentioned, he and Harris don’t hold a lot of fantasy value in a room with Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, and James White.
The whole world knows that Bill Belichick is not a great drafter, and that reality showed itself in their first-round selection of Cole Strange. Sean McVay, head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, laughed when sharing in a meeting with reporters that they had scouted Strange thinking he may be available at their first selection, pick 104. Even though many believe Strange is a reach, he fills a hole that was opened from their trading of OG Shaq Mason when he was dealt to Tampa Bay. The Patriots are betting on the upside of their young players with their selections, and that likely means little initial impact from their rookie class with the hope of having more impact down the line.
New York Jets
Fantasy Football Selections: OSU WR Garrett Wilson, ISU RB Breece Hall, OSU TE Jeremy Ruckert
Other Significant Selections: Cincinnati CB Ahmaud “Sauce” Gardner, FSU DE Jermaine Johnson
Unlike some of the other teams on this list, the Jets added two players who will provide immediate fantasy impact in WR Garrett Wilson and RB Breece Hall. To give one an idea of what type of impact Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall will provide from day 1, BetOnline assigned projected rookie stat lines to bet over and under. According to BetOnline, Garrett Wilson’s line is set at 725.5 receiving yards and 3.5 TDs, and for Breece Hall, 750.5 rushing yards and 4.5 TDs. That points to productive seasons from both, with Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall profiling to be enticing WR2 and RB2 options in any fantasy draft one might have.
Unfortunately, Michael Carter’s value took a big hit with the selection of Breece Hall, with Breece Hall likely being the lead back with Carter being the second option. That puts Carter’s value around a low-end RB2. As for other Jets receivers, Elijah Moore likely experiences a slight stock down, and the same could be said for Corey Davis, who is now their third option at receiver. I personally believe the Jets will use Wilson more than Elijah Moore this upcoming year, meaning a higher draft selection for Garrett Wilson would be warranted.
A separate conversation to be had is what the additions of Wilson and Breece could mean for Zach Wilson. If all goes well and Garrett Wilson lives up to his draft hype, Zach Wilson could end up being a surprise top 15 QB in fantasy this year. Lastly, the Jets selection of Jeremy Ruckert was a great value one as well, but in a crowded room with veterans CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, Ruckert will have to fight his way to get play-time in 2022. This makes him virtually useless in all fantasy leagues.
In the opinions of many (including myself), the Jets came out as big winners from the NFL Draft. The impact from landing big-time CB Sauce Gardner AND DE Jermaine Johnson will show up from day 1 considering how thin those units were before the offseason began. Not only that, the Jets went out and gave Zach Wilson no excuses to fail in year 2 by surrounding him with the consensus RB1 in Breece Hall and many experts WR1 in Garrett Wilson. Both the offense and defense look to be much improved on paper, but the direction of this team especially comes down to the play of second-year QB Zach Wilson. If significant developmental steps can be clearly seen from Wilson, the W column may look entirely different than it has in years past, which is good news for Jets fans and many fantasy managers.