Fantasy football team previews: AFC East

Fantasy football team previews: AFC East

Fantasy football team previews

Fantasy football team previews: AFC East

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The 2023 fantasy football draft season is starting to heat up now that we’ve gone through the height of free agency and all of the chosen rookies have been assigned to their professional home cities.

The landscape has changed a great deal for many franchises after a whirlwind offseason, and our divisional preview series will help you stay on top of all of the changes to date.

AFC divisional previews

East | North | South | West

NFC divisional previews

East | North | South | West

Buffalo Bills

Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

2022 record: 13-3

Notable coaching and system changes

In six seasons, head coach Sean McDermott has reached the playoffs five times with three straight AFC East crowns. Last year’s transition from Brian Daboll to Ken Dorsey as offensive coordinator was seamless with the team finishing second in both points and yards. Defensively, Leslie Frazier is taking a year off, leaving Buffalo without a coordinator. With his background on defense, McDermott will call the plays.

Key free-agent additions

Key free-agent departures

Key draft additions

Quarterback preview

Josh Allen put together a third consecutive MVP-level season in 2022, passing for 4,283 yards and 35 TDs, and adding 762 yards and seven scores on the ground — this with Buffalo having only 16 games. Despite great numbers, Allen was reckless, committing an NFL-high 19 turnovers and taking too many big hits. At 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, he’s built to take a pounding, and he hasn’t missed a game since his rookie year. Still, Allen has spoken about altering his play style for Year 6, which could mean less running. Even so, he remains a high-end QB1.

Running back preview

With last year’s leading rusher Devin Singletary signing with Houston, James Cook appears poised to take over as the top option. Cook was effective as a rookie, compiling 687 combined yards and seven TDs while averaging 6.3 yards per touch. Even if he’s perched atop the depth chart, however, don’t expect huge numbers from Cook as the Bills like to utilize multiple backs; LeSean McCoy was the club’s last 1,000-yard rusher back in 2017 (McDermott’s first year). Pencil Cook in as a decent RB3 and you shouldn’t be disappointed.

Joining Cook in the backfield is Damien Harris, who spent his first four years in New England. Already accustomed to a timeshare approach, Harris is more of a between-the-tackles type. Outside of his 929-yard, 15-TD campaign in 2021, Harris has put up pedestrian numbers and should be viewed as late-round depth.

The team also signed veteran Latavius Murray fresh off a 703-yard effort with the Broncos. He looked like he still had some juice in Denver, but at 33 it bears watching. Nyheim Hines should see time in passing situations. Hines did little offensively after being acquired at last year’s trade deadline, but the shifty back made plays on special teams. Expect an expanded role in 2023 … just not enough to make him draft worthy.

Wide receiver preview

In three seasons since joining the Bills, Stefon Diggs has averaged 113 receptions, 1,396 yards, and 9.7 TDs per season while not missing a game. The veteran’s durability and consistency have earned him a spot as a clear WR1, though the late-season weather in Buffalo is always a bit of a concern — to that end, Diggs topped 100 yards just once in his final five home contests.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding Gabe Davis entering last season after he authored a 201-yard, 4-TD performance in the 2021 playoffs. Viewed through that lens, 2022 was a disappointment. Granted, he set career highs across the board, but a 48-836-7 line is fringe WR3 territory at best. Expectations will be down this year, making him an interesting late-round target with upside.

Buffalo gave diminutive Deonte Harty a two-year deal with the idea that he’ll work inside and outside while offering field-stretching speed. Harty missed most of 2022 with turf toe. Khalil Shakir made some plays as a rookie, including five catches in the postseason, and could be someone to keep an eye on.

Tight end preview

Much like Davis, Dawson Knox was a popular breakout candidate. Instead, his numbers dipped, falling from 587 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021 to 517 yards and six TDs, respectively. Perhaps that played a role in Buffalo spending a first-round pick on Dalton Kincaid, who was viewed by many as the best tight end in a very deep class. The arrival of Kincaid muddies the waters and creates a mix of upside and uncertainty for both players. Each has the talent to be TE1s for fantasy owners. The question will be one of opportunity.

Sleeper/breakout candidates

In six years under McDermott, the Bills have had one 1,000-yard back. Could James Cook be the second? While it seems unlikely, don’t rule it out. Harris and Murray lack the versatility Cook possesses, which could mean more touches for last year’s second-round pick.

Bust potential/overvalued players

Fantasy owners love high-profile rookies, and Dalton Kincaid certainly fits the bill. He’s also stepping into one of the league’s top offenses with an elite quarterback. Whether he can unseat Knox is questionable, though, as tight end is a notoriously tough rookie transition. Drafting Kincaid as more than a late-round flier is unwise.

Miami Dolphins

Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

2022 record: 9-8

Notable coaching and system changes

Mike McDaniel’s first year as head coach was a roller coaster, featuring five-game winning and losing streaks along the way before ending with a Wild Card loss. Protecting Tua Tagovailoa will be of paramount importance for McDaniel and offensive coordinator Frank Smith moving forward after concussions derailed a promising season. On defense, highly respected Vic Fangio arrives to replace Josh Boyer as coordinator.

Key free-agent additions

Key free-agent departures

Key draft additions

Quarterback preview

A fantasy afterthought his first two seasons, Tua Tagovailoa put himself on the map when he passed for 469 yards and six TDs in Week 2. While the lefty had other big days, the story for him was a series of concussions that ended his season on Christmas Day and led to thoughts of retirement. Tagovailoa decided to return, and he has an electric one-two punch at receiver, giving him weekly QB1 upside. Still, medical concerns may push him down draft boards. If Tagovailoa misses time, former Jet Mike White could be an interesting inseason addition.

Running back preview

McDaniel went back to his 49ers roots at the running back position, signing Raheem Mostert before the season and acquiring Jeff Wilson Jr. via trade. He appeared happy with the combination as both players were re-signed to two-year deals in March. That was upended in the draft when Miami selected Devon Achane in the third round, adding a third legitimate option in the backfield.

At this point, it appears Mostert still sits atop the depth chart, though he has a long history of injury issues, and his workload was reduced following the Wilson addition. Consider it to be symbolic for now. In eight games before the trade, Mostert logged 10-plus carries six times; in eight games after, he did it three. For his part, Wilson averaged 12 touches with Miami and saw more carries than Mostert, though the latter was more involved in the passing attack.

Achane is a slashing back who fits the zone scheme McDaniel runs, and with his fresh legs there should be plenty of chances for the rookie to force his way onto the field. This could be a tough situation to gauge week to week, much less on draft day as each back offers viable RB3/RB4 potential with risk/reward undertones.

Wide receiver preview

Aside from Philadelphia, no other team had two players finish in the top 15 in receiving yards with Tyreek Hill‘s 1,710 yards, ranking second and Jaylen Waddle‘s 1,356 yards good for seventh. That they did it with Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson playing significant snaps is a testament to their talent as well as Miami’s desire to push the ball downfield. Hill proved there was life after Patrick Mahomes, setting career highs in receptions (119) and yardage.

Waddle benefited tremendously from Hill’s arrival, following a solid rookie campaign (104-1,015-6) with a breakout performance where he nearly doubled his yards per catch, going from 9.8 in 2021 to 18.1 a year ago. While neither wideout is physically imposing, their speed is a matchup nightmare. The only downside is that things bog down in the red zone for two wideouts under 6-foot. Even with that, both Hill and Waddle should be drafted as WR1s.

If there’s anything leftover, newcomer Chosen Anderson should be next in line. Anderson flamed out in Carolina and did little with the Cardinals, but he topped 1,000 yards in 2020.

Tight end preview

Mike Gesicki‘s departure leaves Durham Smythe (15-129-1) and Eric Saubert (15-148-1 w/ DEN) as the top tight ends, barring another free-agent addition. Miami didn’t feature the position last year — Gesicki (52) finished with just one more target than reserve WR Trent Sherfield — and doesn’t appear to have big plans for 2023, either. Move along.

Sleeper/breakout candidates

With the Dolphins favoring a vertical attack, Chosen Anderson has a chance to rebound. He steps into the role vacated by Sherfield, who quietly posted a decent 30-417-2 line, and he has more talent and speed. Anderson figures to be the No. 3 option and is at least worth monitoring.

Bust potential/overvalued players

There’s honestly a case to be made for Tua Tagovailoa as a sleeper candidate. When you spend your offseason thinking about retirement due to head injuries, however, the bust potential wins out. If Tagovailoa suffers another concussion, you must wonder how quickly (or even if) he’ll return.

New England Patriots

Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

2022 record: 8-9

Notable coaching and system changes

Since winning Super Bowl LIII behind a masterful defensive performance, Bill Belichick has gone 37-29 without a playoff win. The 71-year-old hopes reuniting with Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator (after utilizing Matt Patricia as pseudo-OC in 2022) will jump-start Mac Jones’ development, and that O’Brien’s play-calling experience will energize a disjointed, stagnant offense. Defensively, Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo operate as co-coordinators.

Key free-agent additions

Key free-agent departures

Key draft additions

Quarterback preview

After an encouraging debut season, Mac Jones endured a sophomore slump. He missed time early with an ankle injury and never gelled in a post-McDaniels offense. He topped 300 yards in a game just twice (both losses) and finished with nearly as many INTs (11) as TDs (14). Jones was reportedly shopped during the offseason, and Belichick hasn’t even guaranteed he’ll start. Still, the hope is that O’Brien, who has experience as a QBs coach, will get the Alabama alum back on track. If Jones falters, the team could turn to Bailey Zappe, who won both starts as a rookie. Neither holds appreciable fantasy value.

Running back preview

Rhamondre Stevenson began last season as the 1b to Damien Harris’ 1a, but Harris’ limitations coupled with issues staying healthy led to Stevenson emerging as the top back. He racked up 1,461 total yards and six TDs while showing good hands with a team-high 69 grabs. The former Sooner struggled with ball security late, though, fumbling four times (losing one) over the final six games. Assuming he cleans that up, there’s no reason to think Stevenson can’t produce low-end RB2 numbers in 2023.

With Harris gone, the Patriots signed James Robinson as a reclamation project. The former undrafted free-agent was a fantasy darling with the Jags in 2020 before being marginalized by Urban Meyer and then suffering a torn Achilles late in 2021. He was traded to the Jets last year but did little and went untendered. He’ll likely battle Pierre Strong, a fourth-round pick a season ago, for backup duties. Based on his history, Robinson might have late-round appeal.

Wide receiver preview

Leading receiver Jakobi Meyers (67-804-6) was allowed to leave via free agency with the Pats spending their money on JuJu Smith-Schuster, who turned a one-year deal with KC into a Super Bowl ring and $25-plus million. His numbers were solid, hauling in 78 passes for 933 yards and three TDs, but it’s a far cry from what he did early on in Pittsburgh. At this point, whether we’ll ever see that version of Smith-Schuster again seems dubious. Consider him a slightly better version of Meyers with low-end WR3 or strong WR4 value.

As with Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker has one season on his resume that proves he’s capable of delivering big-time production. That came in 2019 with Miami. In three years since, Parker has averaged a 45-616-3 line while missing 13 games due to injury. Now 30, Parker can’t be relied on as more than late-round roster filler.

Kendrick Bourne finished third among the team’s receivers with 434 yards on 35 receptions. That marked a sharp decline from his 55-800-5 effort in 2021. There aren’t a lot of proven playmakers behind him on the depth chart, so he could fill a larger role than expected, though that’s not enough to make him worth drafting. Second-year vertical threat Tyquan Thornton is the only notable competition, though the two play very different styles of football. He’s merely a late gamble.

Tight end preview

When the Pats signed Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, some thought it heralded the halcyon days of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez come again. It didn’t. After the season, New England traded away Smith and replaced him with Mike Gesicki, giving them the chance to deploy an intriguing two-tight end set. It remains to be seen if the Pats lean into that look, but keep in mind that O’Brien was the OC during the Gronk/Hernandez heyday. That’s enough to add Henry and Gesicki to your watch list.

Sleeper/breakout candidates

You’d need to go back to the days of LeGarrette Blount to find the last time Belichick truly leaned on a single back to carry the load. While Stevenson sits safely atop the depth chart, James Robinson offers the skills as both a runner and receiver to carve out a sizable role. He should be fully healed from his 2021 Achilles injury as well, making him a prime rebound candidate.

Bust potential/overvalued players

At some point, you must accept that an outlier was just an outlier. A former first-round pick, Davante Parker has topped 1,000 yards exactly once in eight NFL seasons. In those other seven, he’s never reached 800 yards. Add that to a spotty medical history and it feels like he should go undrafted in most leagues.

New York Jets

Credit: Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

2022 record: 7-10

Notable coaching and system changes

In two seasons, head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich have overseen a defense that climbed from 24th under Adam Gase to fourth in 2022. The offense has been an issue, however, so the team went out and hired Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator, replacing Mike LaFleur. Hackett failed spectacularly in Denver, but he was Aaron Rodgers’ OC in Green Bay, and he’ll be counted on to speed up the transition. Suffice to say, they didn’t acquire Rodgers to lean on the running game.

Key free-agent additions

Key free-agent departures

Key draft additions

Quarterback preview

Although you might’ve missed it, the Jets acquired Aaron Rodgers from the Packers shortly before the draft, sending Zach Wilson to the pine. Rodgers is coming off a down season by his standards, though it’s worth noting he played through a broken thumb for much of it. Obviously, the big question with Rodgers is how much does he have left in the tank? Entering his age-40 season, Rodgers is only one year removed from his fourth MVP award, and on paper this is a better group of receiving talent than he had during his final seasons in Green Bay. He’s a high-end QB2 with more upside than you might think.

Running back preview

Breece Hall looked to be well on his way to earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors when he suffered a torn ACL in Week 7. He finished with 463 yards rushing, 218 yards receiving, and five total TDs. Projected over a full season, that works out to 1,654 total yards and 12 touchdowns. Those are RB1 numbers. The caveat, of course, is that came with the likes of Wilson, Joe Flacco, and Mike White under center. Expect a heavier focus on the pass in 2023, and bear in mind that Hackett used tandem backfields in both Green Bay and Denver. That, coupled with the knee reconstruction, makes Hall more of an RB2.

Look for Zonovan Knight and Michael Carter to compete for the backup role this summer. Carter opened the year in a committee with Hall before the rookie took off, and by season’s end he was getting limited usage. Knight took over as the lead back in Week 12 and ran for 230 yards over his first three games. He was locked down over the last four, though, managing just 70 yards on 39 carries (1.8 YPC). Rookie speedster Israel Abanikanda has a puncher’s chance of usurping the RB2 role. Whoever emerges as the No. 2 back would hold value as an RB5; the No. 3 back is watch-list material.

Wide receiver preview

Despite being saddled with uninspired quarterback play throughout his rookie season, Garrett Wilson still racked up 1,103 yards on 83 receptions, both of which led all first-year players, along with four touchdowns. The jump from Wilson to Rodgers is massive, and while Wilson won’t have the same level of familiarity as free-agent signee Allen Lazard, he’s the most talented wideout on the team. It’d be unrealistic to expect Davante Adams levels of production from Wilson, but he’s a midrange WR2 who could push into WR1 territory.

Lazard was miscast as Green Bay’s nominal No. 1 receiver a season ago, and the 60-788-6 line he produced might represent his ceiling. The veteran is big (6-foot-5, 227 pounds), tough, and a physical blocker, but he lacks the speed to threaten defenses. He could be a WR5 and maybe a bit more if he’s a go-to option in the red zone.

One thing Mecole Hardman does have is speed. Initially viewed as Tyreek Hill 2.0 when he was drafted, Hardman never developed into that home-run threat and, coming off a year in which he landed on IR twice, the Chiefs let him walk. There’s word he’ll have an expanded role with the Jets, but that’s “believe it when you see it” territory. Randall Cobb and Corey Davis are rostered as well. Neither is worth considering.

Tight end preview

New York sunk serious cash into Tyler Conklin (58-552-3) and C.J. Uzomah (21-232-2) before last season with the former outperforming the latter. The duo was targeted 114 times combined in 2022. Conversely, Green Bay’s four tight ends saw 96 targets. While that may not seem like a huge gap, remember this: Rodgers hates to throw interceptions, and one way he avoids them is by working the middle of the field sparingly. Outside of an 11-touchdown year from Robert Tonyan in 2020, Rodgers hasn’t been a big proponent of throwing to tight ends in many years. Maybe you could talk yourself into Conklin as a TE2, but even that feels iffy.

Sleeper/breakout candidates

A 39-year-old sleeper? Just hear me out. Nobody, and I mean nobody, carries a grudge like Aaron Rodgers, and he was just jettisoned by a franchise he spent his entire career with. He’s coming off a bad year. Some think he’s done. Don’t put it past Rodgers to turn back the clock for an epic “I told you so!” season.

Bust potential/overvalued players

There are three things working against Breece Hall in 2023: 1) the health of his knee, 2) Hackett’s history of splitting touches between backs, and 3) the fact they’re paying Rodgers a gazillion dollars to throw the ball. To reach RB1 status, he’ll have to do more with less playing on a repaired ACL. Keep that in mind.

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