NFL Draft Notebook finishes up its 2023 regular season preview with a look at the AFC East, including ten predictions for the four teams in this division. These vary from locks to bold predictions. Like Bill Belichick leaving the Patriots, the Jets having one of their most successful seasons in recent memory, and the Bills suffering a disappointing campaign.
NFL Draft Notebook: Bill Belichick leaves Patriots, plus more AFC East bold predictions
In addition to looking at the AFC East, this week’s NFL Draft Notebook previews the 2024 NFL Draft. The big boys in the middle of the offensive line take center stage. Also included: Reflecting on a weak 2020 center class and much more. Without further ado, let’s dive into some NFL news!
AFC East Bold Predictions
AFC East Bold Predictions — No. 1:
Legendary HC Bill Belichick retires after haunting the AFC East for decades
While Bill Belichick is only 18 wins away from being the winningest coach in NFL history, he will retire just a few wins short of reaching the mark. The main reason is the Patriots will only win seven games this year, and it is unlikely they will win 11 games in 2024. The other reason is obviously his age, as the Hall of Famer will be 72 next offseason.
AFC East Bold Predictions — No. 2:
Bailey Zappe will start at least 5 games for the Patriots in 2023
Last season — in limited playing time — Bailey Zappe looked like a future starting quarterback in the NFL. His best game of the season came against the Cleveland Browns, when the WKU product threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Overall, he completed 71 percent of his passes in 2022, while throwing for 781 yards and five touchdowns. Not to mention a sparkling 100 QB rating, which was 16 points higher than expected starter, Mac Jones. Expect Zappe to get another look this season as the potential long-term starter for the Patriots. Especially if New England is out of the playoff race come December.
AFC East Bold Predictions — No. 3:
Keion White will flash potential of a high-quality starter for Patriots
One of the biggest steals in the 2023 NFL Draft will be Keion White. The Patriots selected the star defensive lineman at No. 46 overall. I had White graded as the 17th-best player in the 2023 class after he posted 54 tackles and 7.5 sacks last season at Georgia Tech. White has also impressed the team and members of media, with some going as far as predicting him to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
AFC East Bold Predictions — No. 4:
Josh Allen will throw fewer interceptions this year
In 2022, quarterback Josh Allen tied for the NFL lead with 17 interceptions. Look for him to cut down on that number this season. He will play a more disciplined game and will quit trying to needlessly force passes downfield. The Bills should also try and be a more balanced team after Devin Singletary led the team with just 193 carries last year.
AFC East Bold Predictions — No. 5:
Buffalo will draft a wide receiver in the first or second round of the 2024 NFL Draft
The Bills only have one legitimate NFL starting receiver in Stefon Diggs. The team’s current No. 2 wideout, Gabe Davis, only caught 48 passes in 2022. No other receiver on the team caught more than 30 passes. Due to this, the Buffalo Bills must address the wide receiver position early in the 2024 NFL Draft.
AFC East Bold Predictions — No. 6:
The Buffalo Bills will finish third in the AFC East
While expectations are high for the Bills entering the 2023 season, they will fail to live up to them. The main reason: Buffalo’s offense will slow down this year due to a lack of playmakers. They will also be hurt by playing the fourth-toughest schedule in the NFL.
AFC East Bold Predictions — No. 7:
Miami will struggle mightily in the red zone
While the Dolphins will put up plenty of points in the AFC East, one area they will struggle is inside the ten-yard line. Teams will be able to negate the speed advantage of Miami by having less ground to cover. The Dolphins also don’t have a physical running back who can grind out the tough yards, which hurts when the field shrinks.
AFC East Bolds Predictions — No. 8:
Tua Tagovailoa will retire at the end of the season
Sadly, Tagovailoa will not be able to stay healthy and will battle concussions again. If this comes to fruition, the former first-rounder could also decide to walk away from the game. It would be hard to blame him, as concussions are known to drastically impact a player’s quality of life as they age. Hopefully, this is one that ends up being wrong.
AFC East Bold Predictions — No. 9:
The New York Jets have most successful season since 2010
The Jets have not made a playoff run since 2010, but look for that to change in 2023. The main reason? The addition of four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers will have plenty of targets to throw to, led by NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson. New York’s defense will also be good again, after finishing second last year in points per game.
AFC East Bold Predictions — No. 10:
Will McDonald will have at least five sacks as a rookie in the AFC East
One of the most explosive pass rushers in the 2023 NFL Draft was Iowa State’s, Will McDonald. In his Cyclone career, McDonald accounted for 34 sacks, despite playing out of position often in the team’s defensive scheme. Jets head coach Robert Saleh knows how to use a player like McDonald. The first-time head coach has a history of producing defensive linemen who pile up big sack numbers.
2024 NFL Draft Center Class Preview
Top Player: Christian Haynes, UConn
I may be in the minority but UConn’s Christian Haynes is my top center for the 2024 NFL Draft. His well-rounded game allows Haynes to play in a gap or zone-blocking scheme, resulting in a strong draft grade.
The Husky star shows the strength to maintain his ground as a pass blocker and displays the power and tenacity to knock his guy off the ball consistently in the run game. He also exhibits the mobility to easily get to the second level and impressive quickness to reach block on a consistent basis. One concern with him might be his lack of height, coming in at only 6-foot-2. But his other traits make up for that weakness.
Guy I Would Stand on the Table for: Zach Frazier, West Virginia
Three things that stand out with West Virginia’s Zach Frazier: His high intelligence, pass-blocking ability, and how well he plays with leverage. Frazier has been named to the Academic All-Big 12 team every year at West Virginia. This high intelligence shows up on the football field. Last season, he had 11 games without a missed assignment, and in 2021, he didn’t miss an assignment in ten games. Frazier is a proven pass blocker, only giving up four sacks during his three years as a starter for the Mountaineers. Part of the reason he has held up so well in pass protection — and is also a strong run blocker — is how well he plays with leverage. The in-state product likely learned how to play with such great leverage during his high school wrestling career. He was a four-time state champion and only lost two matches during his entire wrestling career.
Overrated: Sedrick Van Pran, Georgia
A player people view as a second-round talent, yet only carries a fourth-round grade with me is Georgia’s, Sedrick Van Pran. While Van Pran shows good strength, and overall leadership, I do have several concerns with his game. His lack of athletic ability is chief among them. The Bulldog standout struggles getting to the second level and spends too much time on the ground for my liking. Another issue is run blocking, as he needs to do a better job of maintaining his blocks.
Sleeper: Kingsley Eguakun, Florida
While Kingsley Eguakun is not the most powerful center in the 2024 NFL Draft, he should be an ideal fit in a zone-blocking scheme, thanks to his impressive athletic ability. He does a good job of firing off the ball and looks comfortable blocking in space. Eguakun currently carries a fifth-round grade. If he can be more consistent this year, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Gator leader is taken on day two of the NFL Draft.
Biggest Risk: Andrew Raym, Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s Andrew Raym missed the end of the season due to a shoulder injury he battled all of last year. Thankfully, it now sounds like Raym is fully healthy, which should help him regain his 2021 form when he was named second-team All-Big 12. Even if this injury doesn’t affect him, keep an eye on his medical evaluation at the NFL Combine.
Breakout Player: Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon
This season will be a big year for Oregon’s Jackson Powers-Johnson as it will be his first year as a full-time starter. In 2022, he made his first career start against Utah on November 10th. He was dominant the rest of the campaign. JPJ had the highest grade among offensive guards in the Pac-12 — according to Pro Football Focus — by grading out at 84.1, which was also the second-highest grade in the nation. He didn’t allow a single sack and only two pressures overall. As a prospect, the Oregon starter shows good pop off the ball and has the mobility to attract plenty of NFL interest.
Top Centers from the 2020 NFL Draft
It usually takes three years to evaluate a draft class. So, over the next few months, NFL Draft Notebook will be looking back at the 2020 draft class. This week, we look at the center position.
*Please note: Cesar Ruiz — who was the first center drafted in 2020 — is listed with offensive guards since he has only played guard in the NFL.*
1. Tyler Biadasz, Dallas Cowboys
While Tyler Biadasz was the fourth center taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, he has turned out to be the best of the bunch. He has been the Cowboys’ starting center for the past two seasons. In 2022, Biadasz was named to his first Pro Bowl.
2. Lloyd Cushenberry, Denver Broncos
The only other starting center to come from this class is Lloyd Cushenberry. He has started 40 games for the Denver Broncos in his short career. Cushenberry is one of the better pass-blocking centers in the NFL, but must improve as a run blocker. Pro Football Focus graded him as one of the worst run-blocking centers in the NFL. The LSU alum will again be the starting center in Denver and should be helped by the addition of new teammates — Mike McGlinchey and Ben Powers.
3. Matt Hennessy, Atlanta Falcons
The second center taken in the 2020 NFL Draft was Matt Hennessy, who was the 78th overall pick of the event. His career has not lived up to being a high third-round pick so far with only 22 starts under his belt. Even worse, he was limited to just three starts last year due to injury. Nonetheless, Hennessy enters the season as the starting left guard for Atlanta.
4. Blake Ferguson, Miami Dolphins
The only other center that has made an impact from this group is Miami Dolphins long snapper Blake Ferguson. He has established himself as one of the better long snappers in the AFC East and NFL as a whole. Ferguson is all but guaranteed to have a spot on the Miami roster this year.
— A player who struggled last season is Kentucky’s Jager Burton. He was likely moved into the lineup too soon, as he started 13 games as a redshirt freshman and received a 48.3 grade by Pro Football Focus. This ranked him 618 out of 656 players graded. While that grade is concerning, it is worth noting he looked much better towards the end of the season. He has a high upside, keeping him in the conversation as a day-three NFL prospect. One of his top traits is his mobility, which will allow him to operate well in space. Look for Burton to be a natural fit at center, and to be one of the better centers in the SEC this season.
— Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers has dropped from his playing weight of 218 pounds to 200 pounds this season. This lighter weight should allow him to be more mobile in the pocket, while his better eating habits will hopefully keep him healthy. Ewers also told The Athletic that he has spent more time in his playbook this offseason, and has a better grasp of the team’s offense. If Ewers can stay healthy — and makes better decisions on the field — he has the physical traits to be a first-round pick come next April
— A small-school offensive lineman drawing plenty of interest — including from the Senior Bowl — is Yale offensive tackle Kiran Amegadjie. What stands out with Amegadjie is his length, coming in at 6-foot-5 with 36 ¾ inch arms. On the field, he shows the nastiness NFL coaches love while consistently finishing his blocks. One area he can improve on this year is hand usage, which he likely worked on while training with former Bengals’ All-Pro Willie Anderson this summer. I currently have a seventh-round grade but if Amegadjie has another strong year — and an impressive All-Star performance — he could move up to a day-two prospect.
— One of the most productive pass rushers in the 2024 NFL Draft is Washington’s Bralen Trice. Last season, he finished with 10 sacks and according to Pro Football Focus led the nation with 70 pressures. Want more? Trice also led all edge defenders in pass-rush win rate (29.5 percent). He will likely fit best as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense at the next level. The reason he fits well in this role is his well-rounded game. The Husky pass rusher obviously knows how to get to the quarterback. He shows the strength to get off blocks consistently and also has the flexibility to turn the corner. As a run defender, his strength allows him to set the edge, showing good hand use in this area of the game. He has the athletic ability to hold up in zone coverage, which he will be asked to do in this style of defense.
— It sounds like the Arizona Cardinals will have more of an emphasis on the running game this season, and will also play with bigger personnel. This is good news for second-year tight end Trey McBride. After catching 90 passes for Colorado State in 2021, he only caught 29 passes in his first NFL season. In addition to seeing more targets next year, McBride will also help out in the run game as a blocker. Coming into the 2022 NFL Draft, he was viewed as one of the most complete tight ends. He was my second-ranked tight end behind only Cade Otton, who made numerous All-Rookie teams.
— A prospect coming back from a major injury is Bryce Foster, who was limited to four games last year due to illness and then a season-ending knee injury. Despite this injury, Foster is still considered one of the better centers in the 2024 NFL Draft. His top traits as an NFL Draft prospect include his run blocking, his 6-foot-5 and 325-pound size, and his overall strength. If he can remain healthy, expect him to go back to his 2021 form when he was named to The Athletic Freshman All-America First Team.
— For all the latest NFL Draft news make sure to check out The Notebook.