Commentary

AFC East: Safe selections, though the Bills provided a surprise

The AFC East had four of the top 11 draft slots but avoided taking high-risk positions such as QB and WR. Still, the Bills managed to provide a mild surprise.

Updated: April 28, 2008, 7:10 AM ET
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com

No division in the league exercised more firepower than the AFC East in the 2008 NFL draft.

The Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and New England Patriots made theirs the only division with three choices among the top 10 picks. The Buffalo Bills picked 11th, giving the AFC East four of the top 11 choices, more choices in that range than the AFC North, AFC South, NFC West, NFC East and NFC North combined.

The division took a workman-like approach to those early selections, avoiding the highest-risk positions, such as quarterback and receiver. The Patriots have set the standard for drafting in the division. The Dolphins, Jets and Bills are wise to follow suit.

Here is a breakdown of this weekend's draft within the AFC East:

Best move

Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long was, by virtually all accounts, the safest pick in this draft. The Dolphins couldn't afford a boom-or-bust approach to the top overall choice. Ownership expects significant improvement right away and steady improvement over time.

DRAFT DIVISIONAL REVIEWS
• Walker: NFC East draft review
• Sando: NFC West draft review
• Willamson: NFC North draft review
• Yasinskas: NFC South draft review
• Sando: AFC East draft review
• Williamson: AFC West draft review
• Walker: AFC North draft review
• Yasinskas: AFC South draft review

The massive, tough and ferocious Long gives the Dolphins' offensive line its best chance to establish a new identity. The team hasn't had an elite left tackle since Richmond Webb was protecting Dan Marino. The Webb portion of that equation should change once Long gets comfortable as a starter. Long should make both tackle positions better by allowing former first-round choice Vernon Carey to move back to the right side, where Carey appears better suited.

Offensive linemen often make the safest picks in the first round. The Dolphins could have justified a defensive pick early given Bill Parcells' background, but this needs to be Tony Sparano's team. Sparano, a former offensive-line coach, couldn't ask for more from a first-round choice.

Riskiest move

No player in the draft could match Ohio State pass-rusher Vernon Gholston for physique or raw physical prowess. The Jets might never regret taking him sixth overall, but Gholston was not always a consistent producer in college. He dominated in some games, including against top competition, but he also seemed to disappear for stretches in others, according to scouts.

AFC East teams played it safe for the most part. Taking issue with Gholston at No. 6 arguably qualifies as picking nits. More likely than not, Gholston will arm coach Eric Mangini with the playmaking defender he has coveted.

[+] EnlargeJerod Mayo
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesTennessee's Jerod Mayo should boost the Patriots' linebacking corps.

The Patriots took Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo earlier than expected, and some teams worried about a wrist injury that once affected New England's second-round choice, Colorado cornerback Terrence Wheatley.

A couple of teams had pushed Wheatley into the middle rounds on their boards, but his injury obviously checked out OK with the Patriots. New England's record in developing players buys them the benefit of the doubt.

Most surprising move

The Bills needed a cornerback and Leodis McKelvin fits the profile, but plenty of analysts bought the pre-draft line about Buffalo pursuing a receiver early in the draft. More than a few mockers had penciled in Michigan State's Devin Thomas for the Bills at No. 11.

The thinking made sense given how much time and effort the Bills poured into analyzing big receivers.

The Bills played the percentages by avoiding receivers in the first round. No other position has produced disappointment as consistently in the first round recently. Taking McKelvin worked out well for the Bills because the run on receivers didn't begin until the second round. Buffalo got its corner and still came away with Indiana's James Hardy at No. 41.

File it away

Mayo isn't the only New England rookie with a chance to emerge as a starting linebacker in the coming years. Michigan's Shawn Crable, chosen 78th overall with a choice acquired from New Orleans, has a chance to develop without any immediate pressure.

One way or another, the Patriots will get younger at the position as Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau wind down their careers.

Mayo will draw most of the attention as he competes for playing time at one of the inside positions in the Patriots' 3-4 scheme. Crable, better suited to the outside, figures to get a chance eventually. Bruschi himself was a third-round choice for New England as the 78th choice of the 1996 draft.

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com