AFC East preview: Does Tyreek Hill give the Dolphins the division’s best pass-catchers?

David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com
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·4 min read
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If the Dolphins want to change their fortunes in 2022, it will have to start in the division. The last time the team won the AFC East was the 2008 season when Tony Sparano was head coach and Chad Pennington was starting at quarterback. Since then, the Dolphins have made the playoffs just once and finished second in the division only four times.

The Dolphins, though, have assembled a talented and deep roster that is expected to have them in contention for a playoff spot after they have come one win short the last two seasons. In the third of an eight-part series, the Miami Herald will rank and preview different positions for each team in the AFC East, from strongest to weakest. Part 3 is wide receiver and tight end, and next is offensive line.

1. Miami Dolphins

Projected depth chart: Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Cedrick Wilson Jr., Mike Gesicki (tight end)

Skinny: Speed, speed and more speed. That’s what the Dolphins have in Hill and Waddle. But they aren’t just two of the fastest players in the league. They’re skilled route runners who have the ability for even more with the creative play-calling of first-year head coach Mike McDaniel. The two should complement and free opportunities for each other every week. Wilson joins the Dolphins after his most productive season to date with the Dallas Cowboys and Gesicki is one of the league’s best pass-catching tight ends. Expect to see plenty two-tight-end sets with Gesicki and Durham Smythe, too.

2. Buffalo Bills

Projected depth chart: Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, Jamison Crowder, Dawson Knox (tight end)

Skinny: The Bills have a bona fide star in Diggs and a player in Davis who may be ready to enter the spotlight after his four-touchdown performance in the AFC Divisional playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Buffalo also signed Crowder, who logged almost 67 percent of his snaps last season in the slot, as effectively a replacement for Cole Beasley. Only four teams used 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) at a greater rate than the Bills last season but the addition of O.J. Howard with Knox could lead to more two-tight-end sets in 2022.

3. New York Jets

Projected depth chart: Elijah Moore, Garrett Wilson, Corey Davis, Braxton Berrios, C.J. Uzomah (tight end)

Skinny: The Jets came just short of landing Hill in a trade but still have a young receiving corps with as much upside as any in the league. Elijah Moore, a St. Thomas Aquinas alum and the No. 34 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, led New York last season with 43 catches, 538 yards and five touchdowns. The Jets paired him with Garrett Wilson, the No. 10 pick in the 2022 Draft, and re-signed Berrios. With veteran Davis still in the fold, New York has a core of four wideouts all 27 or younger who they hope will grow with second-year quarterback Zach Wilson. The signing of Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, along with drafting Jeremy Ruckert in the third round, will allow New York to shift seamlessly from more spread personnel to heavy packages.

4. New England Patriots

Projected depth chart: DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Myers, Hunter Henry (tight end), Jonnu Smith (tight end)

Skinny: The Patriots have a piecemeal group of wide receivers that consist of unproven upstarts and veterans with questionable ceilings at this point. DeVante Parker, whom the team acquired in a trade with the Dolphins, is the most accomplished of the bunch but his production has been limited by injuries over the years. New England’s best bet with this group is maybe not that one star emerges but that they get better-than-expected contributions from multiple players. The strength of the Patriots’ pass-catchers remains with their tight ends; Henry had a nice debut in Foxborough (50 catches, 603 yards, nine touchdowns) but New England needs more contributions from Smith, who recorded a career-low one touchdown last season.

AFC East position previews

RB: After adding trio of veterans, where do the Dolphins’ running backs rank?

QB: Josh Allen is an MVP favorite but is Tua the second-best QB in the division?