AFC East Superlatives: Best, Underrated & Breakout Players

Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, the possibility of a 2020 NFL season seems to be uncertain at this point, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t project forward, look ahead to the future, and most importantly, have a bit of football-related fun.

Last up in our division-by-division series, I analyzed the AFC East and all of its inner-workings, handing out certain “Superlatives” to players across the division.

Here are the results.

(AFC South Superlatives can be found here.)

(AFC West Superlatives can be found here.)

(AFC North Superlatives can be found here.)

(NFC West Superlatives can be found here.)

(NFC South Superlatives can be found here.)

(NFC East Superlatives can be found here.)

(NFC North Superlatives can be found here.)

Most pressure to succeed: Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets

This one is not necessarily fair, given that Darnold is a 23-year-old who has been given virtually no chance at success in his first two NFL seasons. However, with an absurd amount of assets at their disposal, New York could potentially head in a different direction at QB next offseason, especially if Darnold struggles once again in his third year. It’s not necessarily the move I would make, but the pressure for Darnold to succeed—or at least show promise—is huge. Anything short of marked improvement, even with poor coaching and weapons around him, could ultimately spell trouble for his future with the organization.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to see ghosts in the pocket

Most likely to disappoint: Le’Veon Bell, RB, New York Jets

The Jets are a hot dumpster fire right now and the player who is most likely to suffer from the poor environment (besides Darnold) is Bell. Although adding monstrous left tackle Mekhi Becton will admittedly help open up running holes, Bell is still behind a below-average offensive line entering the 2020 season, and expecting anything substantially better than what he put forth in 2019 is a tall ask. This doesn’t even cover the fact that the team added both Frank Gore and rookie Lamical Perine to the backfield this offseason and both may take some work off of Bell’s plate. There’s no doubting his talent, but Bell isn’t as fresh as he once was, nor is he in the same favorable situation as he was in Pittsburgh. Expecting him to suddenly become that player again seems unrealistic at this point in time.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to get in a Twitter war with Jamal Adams

Best Offensive Player: Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills

Cam Newton could be the choice here, but I need to see just how healthy he is first. With his inconsistencies in his game, I’m also certainly not ready to put Josh Allen in this spot, which leads to Diggs earning the position. Arguably the top route-runner in the league (Amari Cooper and Keenan Allen are also both strong contenders), Diggs is a No. 1 wideout who excels on deep patterns and in vertical situations, but also possesses the type of elite quickness and sharp cuts to succeed horizontally. As balanced as they come, his basic stats and production might see a slight dip in Buffalo, but his impact and overall presence shouldn’t waver whatsoever.

Could also win:  

  • Best route-runner
  • Most likely to complain about his QB situation

Best Defensive Player: Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots

Tre’Davious White is closer to Gilmore than the majority of people think, but the reigning DPOY has to be the choice here. An elite man-to-man corner who excels with strong technique and superb size, Gilmore has the high IQ and consistency to be a defensive coordinator’s best friend, but also offers the type of ball skills (six interceptions in 2019) and playmaking ability (two touchdowns in 2019) to excel as a high-upside, splash player. 

Could also win:  

  • Cleanest technique
  • Best CB in the NFL

Underrated Star: Micah Hyde, S, Buffalo Bills

This could go to fellow teammate Jordan Poyer, Patriots IOL Joe Thuney, or even recent Jets acquisition Bradley McDougald, but in the end, I believe Hyde deserves this honor the most. After signing with Buffalo back in 2017, Hyde has been a true model of consistency on Buffalo’s back-end, starting nearly every game and posting the third-best WAR (wins above replacement) for a safety. He’s not overly flashy, much like the entire Buffalo team, but Hyde is a premier leader for one of the top defensive units in the entire league. That shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Could also win:  

  • Most underrated safety tandem (alongside Poyer)

Most likely to Breakout: Quinnen Williams, DL, New York Jets

Fellow sophomore defensive lineman Christian Wilkins could also be a potential option here, but after a disappointing rookie season, Williams seems like a sure bet to improve in 2020. Drafted third overall in 2019, Williams was thought of by many as the best player in the entire draft—even better than Nick Bosa—and didn’t come remotely close to reaching those lofty expectations in year one. As our analyst, Trevor Sikkema noted, however, Williams’ impact went beyond the box score as a rookie, which should suggest a breakout sophomore campaign is in the works.

Could also win:  

  • “How did I forget about this guy?”

Rookie of the Year: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins

He may not (and should not) start the year as the first-string quarterback, but even so, Tagovailoa is a lock for this spot. An extremely talented passer with first overall pick-like traits, Tagovailoa's health and offensive line stand out as two monumental concerns, which means sitting—at least at the beginning of the year—probably makes the most sense. Even so, he should put forth a Rookie of the Year-type performance if given the chance.

Could also win:  

  • Best ball placement on slants
  • Most likely to get hurt while getting sacked