Mo Lewis enjoyed a stellar 13-year career for the New York Jets. A member of the Jets All-Time Four Decade Team, Lewis was a three-time Pro Bowler. However it isn’t the 1,231 career tackles, 52.5 sacks or the 14 interceptions that are the reason he is remembered, it’s the devastating hit he delivered on Drew Bledsoe that injured him and opened the door for Tom Brady to become the Patriots’ starting quarterback.
Since that moment in 2001, the Patriots have been the AFC East Division Champions in 16 of 18 seasons, including each of the last ten. For the Bills, Jets and Dolphins, the wheels have been spinning for nearly 20 years trying to figure out how to dethrone Brady and the Patriots as division champs. And while it will ultimately be Brady’s eventual retirement that will once again create parody in the AFC East, a collective theme was present among its divisions rivals 2019 Draft picks: interior defensive penetration.
Today’s NFL offenses are often predicated on pace and space, making quick pressure in the face of the quarterback critical for defenses. The Bills, Jets and Dolphins clearly understand that.
Holding the No. 3 overall selection, there were rumblings that the Jets could be looking to trade back. A year removed from parting with considerable draft capital to move up from No. 6 to No. 3 to draft Sam Darnold, a move back to recoup some of those assets made sense. With that said, trading away from Alabama defensive tackle - my personal top prospect in the class - would have been foolish. Williams’ blend of size, strength, burst, power, technique and flexibility make him a blue chip prospect, but it's his ability to find the football, get off blocks and finish that makes him destined to become one of the league’s most dominant defensive playmakers.
What’s also notable about the Williams selection is that the perceived need for the Jets was greater on the edge than the interior, making EDGE rusher Josh Allen a commonly mocked prospect to New York. The Jets wisely took the better prospect and now have an exciting pair of wrecking balls on the defensive interior with Quinnen and Leonard Williams in the fray.
The Buffalo Bills held the No. 9 selection in the class, and there was a wide-spread belief that the Bills could be in the market for either a trade back or more offensive help for quarterback Josh Allen. But when Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver fell into Buffalo’s lap, the decision was an easy one for general manager Brandon Beane.
Oliver falls well below desired size thresholds in terms of height, weight and arm length but he more than makes up for it with his explosiveness that leads to dynamic interior disruption. Oliver’s 4.73 40-yard dash (1.63 10-yard split), 36-inch vertical jump, 10’ broad jump, 4.22 short-shuttle, 7.15 three-cone and 32 bench press reps affirm the explosive athletic profile revealed on tape. His 54 tackles for loss across 33 games at in college speak to his potent ability to wreck the line of scrimmage and make plays in the backfield.
The Dolphins were slated to pick No. 13 overall, with glaring holes across the roster and likely several opportunities to trade back. But general manager Chris Grier stayed put and snagged the third consecutive first-round pick in the AFC East invested in a penetration-style defensive tackle in Clemson’s Christian Wilkins.
A mainstay on the dominant Tigers’ defensive units across the last four seasons, Wilkins was a four-time All-American in college that racked up 41 tackles for loss and 16 sacks. Wilkins is explosive, flexible, technically-refined, intelligent, powerful and ready to get behind the line of scrimmage in the NFL.
The trio of talented defensive tackles added to the division in the 2019 Draft collectively averaged a tackle for loss per game across a combined 121 games played in college. It could be coincidence but the stylistic similarities in the Bills, Jets and Dolphins 2019 first round picks send a clear message to Tom Brady and the Patriots in that they want to wreck the line of scrimmage, get into the backfield and apply heat in the face of Tom Brady.