Every team has their star players who are expected to put up numbers on a weekly basis and contribute to the success of their team. However, a handful of superstars does not make a full team. In order for a team to be successful, the non-super star players need to contribute. Looking forward to the 2017 NFL season, here are the players from each AFC East team that need to contribute for their team to be successful:
Buffalo Bills – Micah Hyde (DB)
With the departure of cornerback Stephon Gilmore to their division rival, the New England Patriots, the Bills will need players to step up and keep their secondary solid. Hyde is coming from the Green Bay Packers where he had 13 takeaways and 227 tackles in the past four seasons. As a Packers fan, I thought it was a mistake that we let go one of our better defensive backs when our defensive secondary is struggling – this feels like it could be Casey Hayward to the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers 2.0. If Hyde can replicate or increase his stats from his time in Green Bay, it will soften the blow of losing Stephon Gilmore. However, if Hyde struggles to fit in, look for this Bills secondary to constantly be listed towards the bottom of the league in pass defense – the might even make Ryan Tannehill of the Dolphins look like a top 5 quarterback both times they face them.
Miami Dolphins – Tony Lippett (DB)
When you play in the same division as Tom Brady, having a good pass defense is an absolute must-have for a team. Miami does not have a very talented secondary, but they are very scrappy and can play with heart. With the self-proclaimed best corner in the league, Byron Maxwell, in the secondary, the Dolphins need someone who can ball out and cover up when Maxwell isn’t as good as advertised – and that’s where Lippett comes into play. He is a young player who is slowly developing into what could someday become a playmaker. If he continues to develop, the Dolphins will have a decent secondary – not anything to give Tom Brady nightmares, but it won’t be a cakewalk either. If he struggles, Miami doesn’t really have many other cornerbacks who look like they can step up, which could cause for major struggles in the pass defense.
New England Patriots – Joe Cardona (LS)
This is a team that placed in the top ten of nearly every statistic last year, their quarterback is arguably the greatest to ever play, they have so many runningbacks that there’s no pressure on any one of them to perform, their wide receivers can be a children’s librarian one week and a star wide receiver the next week, and they just loaded up on even more incredible players by trading away draft picks. There is not really anything to point to on this Patriots team and say, “Yes, that needs to improve for them to get better.” They just pulled off the greatest comeback in the Super Bowl era to win yet another ring. As much as I, and any non-Patriot’s fan hate to admit it, this Patriots dynasty is one of the best ever and it’s going to take a lot for someone to end it – or just Tom Brady retiring. So yes, I’m just going to put down their long snapper and say that he just needs to keep doing his job well and the Patriots will still be dominant whether he keeps snapping the ball well or if he botches a snap here or there.
New York Jets – Morris Claiborne (DB)
A secondary that is still struggling to find a replacement for Revis Island and a cornerback who used to be highly-touted but has thus far been a bust. Almost sounds like a movie in the making, or maybe an ESPN 30 for 30. Whatever sort of filmography this pairing could end up in, it still has a long ways before it even slightly resembles a happy ending. If Claiborne can show New York why he was so highly rated coming out of Louisiana State, the Jets have a promising future in their secondary with him, 2017 first round draft pick Jamal Adams from Ohio State, second round pick Marcus Maye from Florida, and one other cornerback who is likely not on the team yet. Should Claiborne fail, this could very well be his last year in the league – or at least the start of his last few years being passed around as a backup.