While the NFL season is a fair distance away, it is never too early to predict the next wave of stars and superstars across the NFL. However, every team has one piece that fails to live up to the hype entering the new season. The AFC East teams are no different. “Bust” is a relative term. Not all of these players will be bad in 2022, but they could underachieve based on the expectations they have for the season. Rookies are ineligible and will not be included.
Check out the AFC East’s potential breakout stars here.
Buffalo Bills – Dawson Knox
This spot was a toss-up between Knox and Gabriel Davis. One of them will emerge as the clear No. 2 option in the Bills’ offense. The other will remain the third fiddle. The pair had eerily similar production in the regular season, but Davis lit the NFL on fire for one of the greatest performances in playoff history. While it was only one game, Davis showed a well-rounded skill set, and he should be effective as the Robin to Stefon Diggs’ Batman.
Knox is capable of a solid season in 2022, and the Bills will have plenty of passing production. However, he had a likely unsustainable rate of touchdowns in 2021. Knox had just three games with more than six targets. He also had three multi-touchdown games, all coming in massive blowouts. He might have an uptick in yards, but expect both Diggs and Davis to crack double-digit touchdowns while Knox has a more modest total.
New England Patriots – Matt Judon
Judon has been a consistently productive player since becoming a starter in 2017. However, he had an untenable run of sacks in 2021, tacking three on to his previous career-best. Judon recorded 12.5 sacks in the first 13 games before failing to record one in the final five games. He may make another Pro Bowl, but he is almost certainly a player closer to single-digit sacks than double-digit sacks moving forward.
Judon had similar pressure production in each of his three previous seasons (when accounting for differences in snaps played), but in 2021 he finished with a much higher number of pressures to sacks. In 2021, he recorded a sack on 22 percent of his pressures. From 2018 to 2020, Judon finished with 16 percent of his pressures as sacks. All else being equal, expect Judon to slip back to his career average in 2022 and have a solid (yet unspectacular) season.
Miami Dolphins – Raheem Mostert
Mostert is a bit of a soft answer because he has never been particularly great for an extended stretch. However, the running back is moving to Miami with new coach Mike McDaniel. McDaniel was the run game coordinator (2017-2020) and offensive coordinator (2021) during Mostert’s career with the San Francisco 49ers. While Mostert is one of the most efficient running backs in the NFL, he has a long road to being productive in the Dolphins’ offense. He is entering his age-30 season, and is coming off a serious injury.
To compound the issues, the Dolphins have added Chase Edmonds and Sony Michel. Mostert might be closer to being cut than being the starter. He has great upside in any Shanahan running system (which McDaniel is implementing), but he has been too inconsistent in years past to trust him to be anything other than a disappointment. Despite landing in an ideal situation, Mostert is likely to underachieve.
New York Jets – D.J. Reed
Reed has been an under-the-radar exceptional cornerback over the last two seasons for the Seattle Seahawks. In 2020, he allowed a 76.2 passer rating, earning a career-best 75.2 PFF grade. In 2021, he continued to improve, holding opposing receivers to just a 66.0 passer rating. He had the best overall and coverage grades of his career, and he was remarkably consistent. Reed never earned a coverage grade below 50.0, and he clamped down a passer rating below 80.0 in 11 of 14 games.
Reed has swapped coasts, heading to the Jets in free agency. For better or for worse, the Jets have some semblance of expectations this year. Reed might not be as big of a name as his cornerback mate Ahmad Gardner, but is a major piece in the Jets’ perceived improvement. Even if he is an average NFL cornerback, it could be a disaster in the New York market based on preseason expectations.
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