WHY ARE AFC EAST QBS SO BAD?

Andrew Brown
19 November 2019
The Wolfpack

WHY ARE AFC EAST QBS SO BAD?

One of the main detractions of the AFC East being perceived as a "weak" division is the lack of top-tier quarterbacks to come out of the division. And if we look at a list of the top 100 QBs since 2000 sorted by QB Rating, these are the QBs that have played in the AFC East over that time:

  • Tom Brady (10)
  • Chad Pennington (21)
  • Tyrod Taylor (23)
  • Ryan Tannehill (35)
  • Jacoby Brissett (37)
  • Brian Griese (53)
  • Matt Moore (58)
  • Brian Hoyer (59)
  • Damon Huard (65)
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick (67)
  • Drew Bledsoe (74)
  • Sam Darnold (76)
  • Matt Cassel (80)
  • Rob Johnson (83)
  • Doug Flutie (89)
  • Jay Fiedler (90)
  • EJ Manuel (91)
  • Josh Allen (94)
  • J.P. Losman (99)
  • Trent Edwards (100)

Not exactly a Who's Who of notable names. Although, surprisingly each team is represented in the top 4. But why haven't the rest of the AFC East teams been able to produce top-level quarterbacks over the past 20 years? Let's take a look.

How to Beat the Patriots

Believe it or not, there's a blueprint for how to beat the Patriots. Step number one? Get pressure on Tom Brady. But not any sort of pressure; you have to get pressure while only rushing your defensive linemen. Blitzing Tom Brady only makes him angry, and you won't like him when he's angry. Also, Brady is really good at avoiding pressure off the edge, so to make him the most uncomfortable you'll need pressure up the middle. Combine that with tight, physical coverage to disrupt the timing of the receivers and you have a chance. See the 2007/2011 Giants or the 2012 Ravens for textbook examples.

So if you're a head coach hired to bring an AFC East team back to relevancy, what's your first order of business? Shoring up your defensive line. Don't believe me? Let's look at some draft picks.

Drafting in the AFC East

We could theoretically go through every single draft pick by the Jets, Bills and Dolphins going back to 2000, but that seems excessive. So we'll simplify it by looking at those teams' first round picks. First round picks are usually selected to be can't-miss performers at a position of need, so it should give us an idea of what the coaching staff was focusing on as an area in need of quick improvement.

The New York Jets

Going back to 2000, the Jets have drafted a defensive player with their first pick in the draft a staggering 72% of the time (18 of 25). And how many times did they draft a QB in the first round? Three times: Sam Darnold, Mark Sanchez and Chad Pennington. I suppose it's not hard to see why it took the Jets 9 years to recover from drafting Mark "Buttfumble" Sanchez before attempting to find a franchise QB for the second time. Of those, Chad Pennington was the most successful, but struggled after shoulder injuries caused him to lose strength in his throws.

Year Rnd Player Pick Pos
2019 1 Quinnen Williams 3 DT
2018 1 Sam Darnold 3 QB
2017 1 Jamal Adams 6 S
2016 1 Darron Lee 20 OLB
2015 1 Leonard Williams 6 DE
2014 1 Calvin Pryor 18 DB
2013 1 Dee Milliner 9 DB
2013 1 Sheldon Richardson 13 DT
2012 1 Quinton Coples 16 DE
2011 1 Muhammad Wilkerson 30 DT
2010 1 Kyle Wilson 29 DB
2009 1 Mark Sanchez 5 QB
2008 1 Vernon Gholston 6 DE
2008 1 Dustin Keller 30 TE
2007 1 Darrelle Revis 14 DB
2006 1 D'Brickashaw Ferguson 4 T
2006 1 Nick Mangold 29 C
2004 1 Jonathan Vilma 12 LB
2003 1 Dewayne Robertson 4 DT
2002 1 Bryan Thomas 22 DE
2001 1 Santana Moss 16 WR
2000 1 Shaun Ellis 12 DE
2000 1 John Abraham 13 DE
2000 1 Chad Pennington 18 QB

Buffalo Bills

The Bills have been a bit more measured in their approach to drafting defensive stalwarts in the first round, as they pick top defenders 54% of the time (12 of 22). They have attempted to draft a QB a few times, with their most recent being Josh Allen. They've also taken chances on EJ Manuel (6-11 as a starter) and JP Losman (10-23). Other notable QBs that have started for the Bills include ex-Patriot Drew Bledsoe and AFC East journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Year Rnd Player Pick Pos
2019 1 Ed Oliver 9 DT
2018 1 Josh Allen 7 QB
2018 1 Tremaine Edmunds 16 ILB
2017 1 TreDavious White 27 CB
2016 1 Shaq Lawson 19 DE
2014 1 Sammy Watkins 4 WR
2013 1 EJ Manuel 16 QB
2012 1 Stephon Gilmore 10 DB
2011 1 Marcell Dareus 3 DT
2010 1 C.J. Spiller 9 RB
2009 1 Aaron Maybin 11 DE
2009 1 Eric Wood 28 C
2008 1 Leodis McKelvin 11 DB
2007 1 Marshawn Lynch 12 RB
2006 1 Donte Whitner 8 DB
2006 1 John McCargo 26 DT
2004 1 Lee Evans 13 WR
2004 1 J.P. Losman 22 QB
2003 1 Willis McGahee 23 RB
2002 1 Mike Williams 4 T
2001 1 Nate Clements 21 DB
2000 1 Erik Flowers 26 DE

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins? To put it bluntly, they haven't drafted well. In fact, they've only managed to have 17 first round draft picks over the years, and most of those haven't been particularly spectacular. Of those 17 picks, only 8 went towards shoring up the defense, but that could be explained by the fact that Miami had already built a formidable front 7 by the time the Brady/Belichick show came to town. When you have Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas leading your defense it won't be seen as a position of need for quite a while. But surprisingly, the only QB Miami took in the first round in the past 20ish years? Ryan Tannehill.

Year Rnd Player Pick Pos
2019 1 Christian Wilkins 13 DT
2018 1 Minkah Fitzpatrick 11 S
2017 1 Charles Harris 22 OLB
2016 1 Laremy Tunsil 13 T
2015 1 DeVante Parker 14 WR
2014 1 Ja'Wuan James 19 T
2013 1 Dion Jordan 3 DE
2012 1 Ryan Tannehill 8 QB
2011 1 Mike Pouncey 15 G
2010 1 Jared Odrick 28 DE
2009 1 Vontae Davis 25 DB
2008 1 Jake Long 1 T
2007 1 Ted Ginn 9 WR
2006 1 Jason Allen 16 DB
2005 1 Ronnie Brown 2 RB
2004 1 Vernon Carey 19 T
2001 1 Jamar Fletcher 26 DB

The Results

So how did this turn out? If you look at the defensive rankings, each of these teams has ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense multiple times (Jets: 6, Bills: 6, Dolphins: 8). This means Brady's division looked like this over the years in terms of top 10 defenses:

  • 2000: Dolphins & Bills
  • 2001
  • 2002: Dolphins
  • 2003: Dolphins, Bills & Jets (!)
  • 2004: Bills & Jets
  • 2005
  • 2006: Dolphins & Jets
  • 2007
  • 2008: Dolphins
  • 2009: Jets
  • 2010: Jets
  • 2011: Dolphins
  • 2012: Dolphins
  • 2013: Dolphins
  • 2014: Bills
  • 2015: Jets
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018: Bills
  • 2019: Bills

Oh, and in 2003 the Patriots were the #1 ranked scoring defense that year. So every team in the AFC East was in the top ten. How did the Patriots handle such a meat grinder of a division? By going 14-2 and winning the Super Bowl.

But has this approach worked? Well, no. But then again, neither has any other approach: the Patriots defeat the rest of the NFL at the same reckless pace as they do the poor AFC East.

To a certain extent, this has shown some success. Of the top 5 players with sacks vs the Patriots, all of them came from the AFC East.

  1. Aaron Schobel (12) - Bills
  2. Jason Taylor (12) - Dolphins
  3. Joey Porter (12) - Dolphins/Steelers
  4. Shaun Ellis (11) - Jets
  5. Cameron Wake (9) - Dolphins
  6. Von Miller (7.5) - Broncos
  7. Kyle Williams (6.5) - Bills
  8. Robert Mathis (6) - Colts
  9. John Abraham (6) - Jets
  10. Justin Tuck (5) - Giants

Sure, the fact that these players all played the Patriots twice a year helped with these numbers, but it still shows that these defenses were tailor-made to defeat (or at least slow down) the Patriots offense. Unfortunately, when you look at the overall numbers, even when playing 6 games a year against the Patriots, the AFC East only accounts for one third of all sacks (214/631) against the Patriots since 2001. Which is just about average.

However, there does seem to have been a shift as of late: all three teams have taken a chance on finding their franchise quarterback; the Jets with Sam Darnold, the Bills with Josh Allen, and the Dolphins with...well, Tua Tagovailoa most likely.

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