Building The Roster: AFC East
In a new series that kicks off today, National Recruiting Analyst Adam Gorney has broken down the roster of every NFL team in terms of star ratings for players in high school, which conferences have the most players on each team and which states those players come from as well. Below is a breakdown of the AFC East as National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell offers his thoughts and memories on each roster:
ASK FARRELL: Are we on the verge of an SEC coaching purge?
Four five-star players made Buffalo’s opening day roster and two were from the SEC in running back T.J. Yeldon and cornerback Tre’Davious White. Former No. 1 overall prospect QB Matt Barkley and first-round selection DT Ed Oliver also made the Bills’ roster. There were 10 former four-stars and 11 former three-star prospects that made the Buffalo team. Seventeen players who were ranked two-stars were on the roster and seven players that received no grade at all on Rivals are with the Bills.
Running back Frank Gore and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander are on the Bills but played in high school prior to Rivals’ rankings starting in 2002.
As far as conference affiliation, non-Power Five conference players led the way by a wide margin with 16. The SEC led the Power Five with 10 players on the roster followed by the Big Ten with seven, the ACC and the Pac-12 with six and the Big 12 had four players make Buffalo’s roster.
Farrell’s take: Yes, I go far enough back to remember Gore from the very early Rivals days and how he almost ended up at Ole Miss. Of the five-stars, Barkley is the one I would say had the most promise out of high school and it’s surprising he didn’t have a great college or pro career. White has emerged as one of the top corners in the entire league and that’s no surprise as we fell in love with him at the Army Bowl during his year.
Yeldon was a good one but hasn’t developed as much as expected. The team is led by a lot of four- and five-stars on defense while the offense has many more two- and three-stars.
If there is a test case for Rivals rankings translating to the NFL, then the Dolphins could be it in the coming years. Miami has five five-stars on the roster including quarterback Josh Rosen and DL Christian Wilkins. There are also 17 four-stars and 12 three-stars, so a lot of the Miami roster is filled with high-level players that were ranked well by Rivals. Only nine two-stars and six unranked players are on the opening day roster. It’s a young roster, so time will be needed for it to play out.
The Miami front office has also targeted the SEC as a priority conference to land players as 13 former players from there have made the team. Non-Power Five teams is next up with 11 including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick out of Harvard, followed by the ACC and the Pac-12 with seven each, the Big Ten with six and the Big 12 with five. Fitzpatrick is the only player on Miami’s team that played high school football before the inception of Rivals in 2002.
Farrell’s take: Rosen, as I’ve said, is the best high school quarterback I scouted before Trevor Lawrence came along and he has a chance to pan out with the Dolphins and Wilkins will be a star. Kenyan Drake, a former four-star, is a surprise to me as a steady NFL back. Kalen Ballage was a kid I thought would turn into a linebacker. The Dolphins also had Minkah Fitzpatrick before trading him off to the Steelers and he was another former five-star. This is a pretty horrible football team that lacks a lot of talent, but many of these guys were high school stars.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
There are many former five-star prospects on the New England roster with many of them recent ones. Running backs Sony Michel and Damien Harris along with former No. 1 overall DE Byron Cowart are all from the SEC while wide receiver N’Keal Harry is from the Pac-12. The heart of the Patriots roster is absolutely filled with four- and three-star recruits as there are 12 four-stars and 23 three-star names there. Only six two-stars and five unranked players play for New England and then of course Tom Brady is the lone player pre-Rivals playing for the Patriots.
There is also some serious concentration when it comes to conference affiliation as well. Fifteen former players from the SEC and 13 from the Big Ten are on New England’s roster. No other conference is really even close as there are eight players from non-Power Five teams and the ACC, five from the Pac-12 and only one from the Big 12.
Farrell’s take: Michel and Harris were both dynamic running backs out of high school who had solid college careers while Cowart was a bust in college as a No 1 overall but can now make his name in the NFL. Harry was an amazing talent out of high school and a kid I felt was a five-star the first time I saw him.
It’s interesting to see guys like Michel excel since I covered him since 8th grade when he was playing a grade ahead. I get asked all the time what Brady would have been ranked and the answer is a four-star outside the Rivals100 back then. Julian Edelman is an interesting one because I scouted him as a quarterback way back in the day and he’s emerged as one of the top wide receivers in the NFL. Stephone Gilmore was also a quarterback in high school and is now one of the best corners in the league.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets could be a good sample case that star rankings matter - and with only one five-star on the entire roster it should play out that they should struggle at a number of positions. The defensive line should be particularly good, though, with high four-stars Leonard Williams and Quinnen Williams leading the way. The lone five-star on the roster is rookie Kyle Phillips, who went undrafted out of Tennessee.
Sam Darnold’s ranking as a four-star was a miss coming out of high school after his excellent career at USC, but the Jets have 15 two-stars on the roster (including running back Le’veon Bell) and seven unranked players coming out of high school. There are 19 players on the roster who played at non-Power Five programs.
USC fans should now be following the Jets since Darnold, Williams, Chuma Edoga and Ryan Kalil are listed on their roster. Nine SEC players lead the way in terms of conference affiliation and that includes former LSU standout DB Jamal Adams and Florida standout Marcus Maye in the secondary.
Farrell’s take: Bell is an interesting one because he was a big, slow two-star running back we projected as a fullback or linebacker and he’s turned into one of the best players in the NFL. Adams should have been a five-star, but I hesitated because of his lack of size. Darnold was still highly ranked but he played better than his ranking for sure while offensive lineman Brandon Shell was also highly-ranked.
But overall this roster isn’t a good one and is loaded with players who weren’t highly-ranked in high school. Bell is the most interesting one to me.