The Bills have an elite defense full of IDP options. Outside of the Bills, however, the AFC East is a little thin on top-level options. Here is a tier by tier breakdown of the AFC East.
Everybody knows that the Buffalo Bills have a top 5 defense in the NFL. They are flush with high level IDP talent across the board and should be a dominant force in the AFC East which is now weaker than it has been in recent memory. The rest of the AFC East is weak on IDP options, though there is some usable talent within the division. Lets check out who falls in what tier.
Tremaine Edmunds Linebacker – Buffalo Bills
2019 Stats: 115 tackles (66 solo), 10 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 9 passes defended and an interception.
Tremaine Edmunds has emerged as a leader for the BIlls defense. He is young, has great size, and is incredibly athletic. He took a slight step back last year compared to his rookie season but is still a top 10 IDP linebacker option, check out my top 10 here. Edmunds has to compete with Matt Milano, who we will mention later, for tackles at the inside linebacker position but he is still an elite option. Edmunds is by far the top linebacker option in the AFC East.
Jordan Poyer Safety – Buffalo Bills
2019 Stats: 107 tackles (71 solo), 4 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 3 passes defended, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries.
Jordan Poyer is perennially the most underrated safety in the NFL. Since he signed with Buffalo, after four lost seasons with the Browns, he has been a top 10 option in the NFL. Since he joined the Bills he has averaged 100 tackles, about 6 for a loss, just under two sacks, a little over 7 passes defended and a little over three interceptions per season. I have Poyer ranked as my #3 safety for 2020, check that out here. Poyer should continue to eat with this elite defense.
Jerome Baker Linebacker – Miami Dolphins
2019 Stats: 126 tackles (76 solo), 3 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 4 passes defended, 1 interception and 2 forced fumbles.
Last year I had Jerome Baker pegged as my top IDP breakout candidate, and breakout he did. His tackle total jumped from 79 to 126. This year is a little different story for me though. Coach Flores has brought in some Patriots guys, Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy, that can run a Patriots style defense which rotates linebackers in specific roles. I actually have Baker as a candidate for regression, read here, though he still has plenty of talent to stay on the field. How Flores uses Baker will be the big key here, and I am keeping Baker in tier one until I see the team’s usage. Baker is probably the second or third best linebacker in the AFC East.
Matt Milano Linebacker – Buffalo Bills
2019 Stats: 101 tackles (65 solo), 7 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 9 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Matt Milano is one of the top tier two linebackers in the NFL, and is in the top 3 total of linebackers in the AFC East. Edmunds and Milano have served as a great 1-2 punch for the middle of the Bills defense, both of whom are talented in all facets of defense. Both pass rush and both cover well. Milano had just over 100 tackles in 2019 and if he did not have Edmunds by his side, he could have tier one potential. The fact that Edmunds is there though, caps Milano at a tier two linebacker.
Tre’Davious White Cornerback – Buffalo Bills
2019 Stats: 58 tackles (48 solo), 4 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 17 passes defended, 6 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.
Tre’Davious White is one the top two cornerbacks in the AFC East with Stephon Gilmore, who we will mention later. He is a true lockdown corner, and in leagues where you start cornerbacks, he is a tier one guy all day. In standard leagues he falls in tier two. With the Bills being the top team in the AFC East for 2020 they may be playing ahead more which should leave White being targeted more often, where he can build off his 2019 season where he tied for the league lead in interceptions and was tied for 5th in passes defended.
Kyle Van Noy Linebacker – Miami Dolphins
2019 Stats: 56 tackles (41 solo), 7 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, 3 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 15 QB hits and a touchdown.
Kyle Van Noy turned his career around when he got to New England. After a lackluster start to his career, Van Noy had three very productive seasons with the Patriots playing a situational role, albeit a big role, but a role that suited him well. He played 79.43% of snaps over the three seasons and averaged 73 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, 5 sacks AND 11 QB hits per season. Now he lands in Miami in a defense with Coach Flores who is likely to run a similar defense.
Eric Rowe Safety – Miami Dolphins
2019 Stats: 81 tackles (54 solo), 1 tackle for a loss, 8 passes defended, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble and a touchdown.
Eric Rowe made the switch to safety last season after four lackluster seasons as a cornerback and quietly vaulted himself into tier two with his performance. He displayed decent ball skills with his 8 passes defended but greatly improved his tackle numbers coming up with a career high 81 tackles. The Dolphins did nothing to add to the safety position this off-season and Rowe will man the strong safety position again.
Stephon Gilmore Cornerback – New England Patriots
2019 Stats: 53 tackles (44 solo), 20 passes defended, 6 interceptions and a fumble recovery.
If you play in a league where you need to start corners, Gilmore is definitely in tier one. He is right up there with Tre’Davious White for best corner in the AFC East and possibly the entire NFL. In this article though, he falls in the defensive back category and as a cornerback it is incredibly difficult to reach that tier one status. He tied for first in the NFL in both interceptions and passes defended in 2019. With Brady gone, the Patriots may not be playing ahead by so much limiting Gilmore’s opportunities.
Avery Williamson Linebacker – New York Jets
2019 Stats: N/A
Avery Williamson had a completely lost season in 2019 due to tearing his ACL before he stepped foot on the field in the regular season. Then to start this season he was thought to be a cap casualty due to the depth they have and with C.J. Mosley back from injury. Now due to Covid-19 Mosley has decided to opt out of 2020 leaving a hole in the starting lineup. Now Williamson seems like a hot commodity after he put up 120 tackles, 6 for a loss, 3 sacks, 6 passes defended, an interception, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Williamson has tier one potential for 2020 but until we know the Jets plan I am keeping him in tier two.
Bradley McDougald Safety – New York Jets
2019 Stats: 70 tackles (52 solo), 1 tackle for a loss, 0.5 sack, 6 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Sure Bradley McDougald’s numbers do not jump out to you from last season but he was playing in Seattle’s boring cover 2 defense. He lands in a much more IDP friendly role in Greg Williams‘s defense where Marcus Maye is likely to be a super deep single high safety again while McDougald is likely to play the Jamal Adams role. McDougald will be asked to blitz a little more and aid in run support this season which should equate to some more tackle opportunities.
Ed Oliver Defensive Tackle – Buffalo Bills
2019 Stats: 43 tackles (24 solo), 5 tackles for a loss, 5 sacks, 2 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and 8 QB hits.
We all thought that Ed Oliver was going to come into the league and wreak havoc. It was not so much the case as his season was much more pedestrian than expected with teammate Jordan Phillips stealing the show. Oliver does still offer DT1 upside and in leagues where you need to start a DT he is a tier two option but in standard leagues he falls into tier three with upside.
Shaq Lawson Defensive End – Miami Dolphins
2019 Stats: 32 tackles (21 solo), 13 tackles for a loss, 6.5 tackles for a loss, 2 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and 18 QB hits.
Expectations were high for Shaq Lawson when the Bills drafted him 19th overall in the 1st round of the 2016 draft. They decided not to pick up his option at the end of his rookie deal and he became a free agent where he latched on with the Dolphins with a 3 year and $30 million contract. Lawson never saw starter snaps and was always a part time player which is why I have him listed in tier three. He easily has the potential to reach tier two. He set career highs in tackles, tackles for a loss, sacks and QB hits in 2019. If he builds off that in a full time role the end result could be very nice.
Ja’Whaun Bentley Linebacker – New England Patriots
2019 Stats: 44 tackles (29 solo), 2 tackles for a loss and a pass defended.
Bentley has showed pretty polarizing talent since he was drafted by the Patriots but has yet been able to garner a starting role. 2020 looks to be his year where he has a shot to start with D’onta Hightower opting out, Jamie Collins signing with the Lions and both Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy signing with the Dolphins. There is not really anybody left. I have him as a sneaky sleeper option, an article you can read here, and has the opportunity to jump tiers.
Bobby McCain Safety – Miami Dolphins
2019 Stats: 25 tackles (19 solo), 3 passes defended and 2 interceptions
Bobby McCain had an impressive 2018 playing from the nickel for the Dolphins. He showed solid ball skills and a real nice aggressiveness in tackling. He made a switch to safety in 2019 and had two interceptions in nine games before he landed on IR. The Dolphins waived Adrian Colbert today who finished 2019 as the starter leaving rookie Brandon Jones as McCain’s only challenger for playing time.
Chase Winovich Defensive End – New England Patriots
2019 Stats: 26 tackles (17 solo), 4 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks and 10 QB hits
Chase Winovich was one of the most efficient pass rushers for the Patriots in 2019. Winovich was a part time player in 2019 playing only 28.7% of the team’s snaps and came up with 26 tackles and 5.5 sacks. In 2019 John Simon started over Winovich and played 47.7% of the team’s snaps and accumulated only 44 tackles and 4 sacks. Winovich on a per snap basis was more efficient and put up better numbers than Simon which could lead to more time on the field for him. He could be a big time sleeper in the AFC East.
Kyle Dugger Safety – New England Patriots
2019 Stats: N/A
Kyle Dugger is a rookie second round pick for the New England Patriots. Dugger is from a small school, Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina. He flew up draft boards with his aggressive tackling and impressive ball skills. His production in college was stellar as well. The Patriots lost D’Onta Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Patrick Chung to free agency and the Covid-19 opt out list. Dugger’s ability to switch between safety and linebacker should allow him to see the field at both linebacker and safety which makes him very attractive as a safety in the AFC East.
Jerry Hughes Defensive End – Buffalo Bills: Jerry Hughes is a very good player but he is aging and the Bills added depth at the position throught he draft and free agency. He does have some value filling BYE weeks.
Raekwon McMillan Linebacker – Miami Dolphins: McMillan has had issues holding down his starting role after losing it to the likes of Vince Biegel and Sam Eguavoen. It looks like he may go into the season as a starting linebacker but is likely to be in a rotational role.
Devin McCourty Safety – New England Patriots: Devin McCourty had his lowest tackle total of his career in 2019. He did have 5 interceptions though which keeps him a boom or bust BYE week filler.
Lawrence Guy Defensive End – New England Patriots: Lawrence Guy lacks the play-making of your desired defensive ends but he supplies great tackle numbers. He ranked in the top 10 in defensive end tackles in 2019.
Patrick Onwuasor Linebacker – New York Jets: Onwuasor was a promising prospect which disappointed in Baltimore. It looks like at the moment he may have a leg up to start next to Williamson giving him value, to start the season at least.
Marcus Maye Safety – New York Jets: There is a lot of hype out there for Marcus Maye after the departure of Jamal Adams. Unfortunately for him, the Jets received Bradley McDougald in the trade which relegates Maye back to his deep single high safety role.
The Bills are full of talent on their defense and are easily the best defense in the AFC East. The Dolphins are an up and coming team but still do not have the studs that some other teams have and are likely to have a lot of situational lineups on the season trying to figure out the future of the team. the Patriots have some intriguing young options and the loss of players in free agency and the Covid-19 opt out list could allow these guys to see the field more. The Jets are…unfortunately the Jets and have seen better days.