The 2021 NFL draft saw two AFC East teams, the New York Jets and the New England Patriots, select quarterbacks with their first-round picks. These picks gave hope and brought excitement to these two fan bases but it may have made another team in the division smile as well.
For years, the Patriots dominated the AFC East because they had possibly the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady. Meanwhile, none of the other teams in the division could find a reliable starter. Brady is now in Tampa Bay and, with Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen the longest-tenured passer in the division, the Bills finally know how the Patriots used to feel.
Tom Brady and the Patriots dominated the AFC East for 2 Decades
Tom Brady put together a legendary career in New England. The sixth-round NFL draft pick threw for 74,571 yards and 541 regular-season touchdowns and added another 11,388 yards and 73 touchdowns in the playoffs. More importantly, he won the AFC East 17 times in 20 seasons on his way to six Super Bowl trophies.
It was an unprecedented run of dominance over a group of primary opponents only rivaled by the Harlem Globetrotters. These winning ways came through talent on the field, great coaching, and smart personnel moves. It also helped that the rest of the division was hapless at the most important position on the football field for almost two full decades.
The rest of the AFC East Struggled to find quarterbacks
During Brady and the Patriots’ run of success, the quarterback looked across the field at his opposite number in AFC East showdowns and saw an astonishing 52 different quarterbacks. Insider breaks that number down to 18 from the Dolphins, 18 from the Bills, and 16 from the Jets.
These cannon-fodder quarterbacks included a number of very poor NFL draft picks by each team. Guys like Kellen Clemens, Geno Smith, EJ Manuel, Trent Edwards, and Chad Henne were drafted to unseat Brady at the top of the division and all of them failed. Some quarterbacks, like Chad Pennington and Ryan Fitzpatrick, failed on more than one team in the division.
Josh Allen and the Bills now have a big advantage at the quarterback position
The 2018 NFL draft looked like just another opportunity for AFC East teams to draft quarterbacks who would ultimately succumb to Brady’s powers. The Jets took Sam Darnold from USC at No. 3, the Bills took Josh Allen from Wyoming at No. 7, and the Dolphins didn’t even bother taking a new quarterback.
Funny things happened in the next few years though. Brady finally left the division and Allen developed into a star. In 2020, the Bills won the division for the first time since 1995 and Allen became widely recognized as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Now that Allen and the Bills are on top of the division, they look at the other teams and see quarterback situations similar to what Brady saw in the previous 20 years.
The Dolphins drafted Tua Tagovailoa out of Alabama in the 2020 NFL draft. The dual-threat quarterback showed flashes of talent last season but has a concerning injury history. He was also replaced in close games by the aforementioned journeyman, Fitzpatrick. The Jest traded Darnold after he flamed out in New York. This trade led to the Jets taking Zach Wilson from BYU with pick No. 2 of the 2021 NFL draft. Wilson put up big numbers in college but against pretty poor competition.
Finally, the Patriots are without a franchise passer for the first time in a long time. Belichick failed to resurrect Cam Newton’s career in 2020. Then, at the 2021 NFL draft, they selected Mac Jones from Alabama. Jones had a successful, if uninspiring talent-wise, college career. All these unproven and questionable options in the AFC East certainly must make Allen and the Bills optimistic about their future — just like Brady and the Patriots must have felt in the early 2000s and beyond.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference