After Brady, Who Is Next Best In AFC East?
By Joe Sorensen
With just over six weeks until the 2014 NFL Draft, it is safe to say that it would be a surprise to see any team in the AFC East draft a quarterback with its first-round pick. In a division that features the likes of Tom Brady, Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith, EJ Manuel, and now, Michael Vick, there would be no need for any of these teams to see this position as a high priority. While the only team that might look for a quarterback is the New England Patriots, their pick, if they make one, would be a replacement for the aging Brady.
While the three-time Super Bowl winner is obviously the most proven and talented signal-caller in the group, is there a clear-cut second best in the division?
Based on last season’s numbers, one could argue it would be Miami’s Tannehill. The former Texas A&M QB finished 2013 with 3,913 passing yards and 24 TDs, both of which were second to Brady. But with weapons, such as WRs Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, around him, these numbers should be expected from Tannehill. Unfortunately, the Dolphins QB also threw the second-most interceptions, 17. The only QB to throw more interceptions in the AFC was Smith, the Jets’ rookie, who was responsible for 21 interceptions.
Then there is Smith, the second QB taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. The West Virginia product had an up-and-down season, but did lead the overachieving Jets to an 8-8 record. He threw for 3,046 yards and 12 TDs with limited weapons. He showed flashes of being good, but with injuries to receivers Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill, he was not able to put together a consistent season. His inconsistency forced him to be benched several times during the season to make way for backup Matt Simms.
This inconsistency also made the Jets jump at the opportunity to sign former No. 1 pick Michael Vick to a one-year contract this week. But does this signing automatically mean that the Jets have the second-best QB in the AFC East? Vick’s recent statistics would say no. Vick, who spent time with the Atlanta Falcons before going to Philadelphia, played in seven games and had six starts in 2013. He finished the year with 1,215 passing yards, 306 rushing yards, seven total TDs, and three interceptions. Unfortunately for Vick, the Eagles went 2-4 during his time as a starter and this allowed Pro-Bowler Nick Foles to take his spot. But just because Vick is now a member of Gang Green does not mean that he will definitely be the starter when the Jets line up on opening day.
The only QB taken before Smith in the 2013 Draft was by the Buffalo Bills, who selected EJ Manuel with the 16th pick in the first round. Manuel, like Smith, showed flashes of being good when he was able to stay on the field. In only 10 games, Manuel threw for 11 TDs and ran for another two scores. His nine interceptions on the season were skewed by a four-pick performance against the Tampa Bay Bucs on Dec. 8. But, for the sake of an argument, one may say that his yardage was skewed by a 245-yard performance against the Jets on Nov. 17. Regardless, Manuel was able to lead the Bills to a 4-6 record as the starter. Not bad, considering the team went only 2-4 without him under the center.
So which one of these players could be called the second-best quarterback in the AFC East? While Tannehill and potentially Manuel appear to be locked in as their respective team’s starter for years to come, do they have the edge over Smith and Vick, who will be in a competition once training camp starts? Regardless, with Brady and the Patriots winning 10 of the past 11 AFC East titles, someone from the Tannehill, Manuel, Smith, and Vick group is going to have to step up if another team from the East wishes to make the playoffs before Brady retires.