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Games of throne AFC East 2020 preview: One homegrown player still on a rookie contract who could be key for each team


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Games of throne AFC East 2020 preview: One homegrown player still on a rookie contract who could be key for each team

The AFC East is going through a transformation. After twenty years of dominance, Tom Brady departed the New England Patriots this offseason, which has effectively swung open the door for one of these teams in the division to dash to the throne of the AFC East like it’s a game of musical chairs. New England…

Games of throne AFC East 2020 preview: One homegrown player still on a rookie contract who could be key for each team

Games of throne

The AFC East is going through a transformation. After twenty years of dominance, Tom Brady departed the New England Patriots this offseason, which has effectively swung open the door for one of these teams in the division to dash to the throne of the AFC East like it’s a game of musical chairs. New England is still looked at as a threat in the division with Bill Belichick still leading the show in Foxborough, but things are hardly the guarantee they once were.

As the Dolphins, Jets and Bills look to take the power in the division and the Patriots try to cling onto it for a little while longer, each club will be leaning on some key homegrown talent to help achieve their ultimate goal. After all, the best bargain going right now in the NFL is to have elite players contributing while they are still on a rookie contract. With that in mind, we’ve highlighted one homegrown player that is still on his rookie team on each team in the division that is will pivotal to their team’s success in 2020.

One thing that you’ll notice here is that each of these homegrown talents either are the franchise quarterback for their respective franchise or are directly involved with making sure their signal-caller has smooth sailing in 2020. 

Without further ado, let’s get to these youngsters.  

Jets: Sam Darnold, QB 

Drafted: 2018 (Round 1, No. 3 overall), USC

Final year of rookie deal:
2022 (includes potential fifth-year option)

2019 was a weird year for Sam Darnold. After Week 1, the Jets franchise QB missed the following three games due to mono and really cut out New York’s season before it could truly get started. Following his return, Darnold battled inconsistency. One moment he was upsetting the Dallas Cowboys and completing over 71% of his passes and the next moment he was throwing four interceptions to the Patriots and is seeing ghosts. 

Darnold has shown flashes of being a bonafide franchise cornerstone for the Jets, but New York does need to do a better job at putting the necessary pieces around him to reach that potential. It appears like they are starting to do that this offseason by adding to their offensive line in free agency and at the NFL Draft. As long a Darnold stays upright, that should allow him to show the Jets brass that he can be their quarterback for the next decade. 

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Bills: Josh Allen, QB

Drafted: 2018 (Round 1, No. 7 overall), Wyoming

Final year of rookie deal:
 2022 (includes potential fifth-year option)

For the first time in what feels like forever, the Buffalo Bills look like the most complete team in the division and are ready to compete for the AFC East title. Despite a top-5 defense and the addition of star receiver Stefon Diggs this offseason, what continues to give some folks pause about how high the Bills could possibly go in 2020 is the quarterback. 

Josh Allen has made strides since Buffalo selected him with the No. 7 overall pick, but he still needs to be more efficient throwing the football. His completion percentage in 2019 (58.8%) was up from his rookie season (52.8%), but it still needs to at least get above 60% for Buffalo to have a shot at a deep playoff run. If Allen is able to do that, the combination of his arm and legs (510 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns in 2019) will be hard to match in the division at the quarterback spot. 

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Patriots: Sony Michel, RB 

Drafted: 2018 (Round 1, No. 31 overall), Georgia

Final year of rookie deal
: 2022 (includes potential fifth-year option)

Heading into the 2019 season, Sony Michel was looked at as a darkhorse to possibly lead the AFC in rushing yards. After all, the former Georgia back was a key cog in the Patriots run to their Super Bowl LIII title in 2018 where he rushed for 336 yards and six touchdowns over three playoff games. Unfortunately for New England’s offense, that promise never materialized on the field last season. Michel still got over the 900-yard rushing mark for the second consecutive year, but it was hardly as efficient as his yards per attempt dropped by nearly an entire yard. His contributions in the passing game (something the Patriots hoped would develop at the NFL level) were minimal. 

As New England now turns the page on the Tom Brady era, Michel is looking at a pivotal year in his career. Not only will he continue to try and live up to that first-round billing, but he’ll need to return to the player he was during that Super Bowl run for the Patriots to have any sort of success with second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham possibly under center. New England will need to have a running game that opposing offenses fear to keep them honest and give the likes of Stidham some breathing room as he gets situated in the offense. If Michel is able to do that, New England will be better served in 2020. If he continues to battle with inefficiency, Bill Belichick will be quick to send him to the bench.

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Dolphins: Mike Gesicki, TE

Drafted: 2018 (Round 2, No. 42 overall), Penn State

Final Year of rookie deal: 2021

Gesicki has the makings of a potential go-to receiving tight end in Miami’s offense. Over the course of his two-year NFL career, the 6-foot-6, 250-pounder has shown flashes of being a versatile weapon in the passing game, especially in the red zone. According to Pro Football Focus, Gesicki saw 10 end zone targets last season, which was only outdone at his position by Jared Cook and Mark Andrews, who led all tight ends with 11. The 2019 season was a bit of a breakout for Gesicki as he was able to catch 51 balls for 570 yards and five touchdowns. He also averaged over 5.5 targets per game. 

Going forward, Gesicki is going to be a very important safety valve for first-round quarterback Tua Tagovailoa whenever he eventually takes over under center for Miami. Rookie quarterbacks tend to throw to tight ends a bit more as they get their feet wet in the NFL, and if Gesicki can prove to be a reliable option for him, the Dolphins offense will be better served for the foreseeable future on multiple fronts. 

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