Every NFL season, a few young players make considerable strides, and some veterans break onto the scene. The AFC East had its fair share of stars and future starters emerge in 2020. From a quarterback set to compete for MVPs to a defensive tackle looking to justify his draft stock, these are the most improved AFC East players from 2020.
Let’s set a few rules before we start. Rookies weren’t included in the selection process because they only have one season under their belts. While I’m only planning on selecting one player per team, I reserve the right to mention two names. This article is part of a larger eight-part series that I’ll cover for each division, so check back regularly for more content.
Buffalo Bills- Josh Allen, QB
Allen had a historic rise to stardom in 2020, breaking the trends that had him ranked among the bottom 16 quarterbacks in the league during his first two seasons. The Wyoming product completed over 10.0% more of his pass attempts in 2020 than in 2019. He also threw for 17 more touchdowns and nearly 1,500 more yards.
I wrote Allen off after his second season as a player destined to lose his job. He responded with a campaign worthy of a Second-Team All-Pro selection. Allen finished the year with a 107.2 passer rating and an 81.7 QBR, both of which ranked in the top-four league-wide.
Stefon Diggs also leaped to All-Pro status this past season, but he already had two 1,000-yard seasons on record. While the league’s leader in receptions and receiving yards deserves an honorable mention, Allen clearly earned this selection.
Miami Dolphins- Myles Gaskin, RB
While Emmanuel Ogbah set career-highs in sacks, pressures, and forced fumbles, Gaskin cemented himself as a player worthy of a second contract. In 2020, Ogbah played for his third team in three seasons, but no one doubts his ability or that he belongs in the NFL. On the other hand, Gaskin was a seventh-round pick in 2019 and only saw 36 carries as a rookie.
After barely making an impact as a rookie, Gaskin earned seven starts and appeared in ten games. He ran for 584 yards (4.1 per carry and 58.4 per game) while also catching 41 passes for 388 yards. Gaskin led all Dolphins with 972 yards from scrimmage and five total touchdowns. Miami might target a running back in the draft, but Gaskin is good enough that they shouldn’t use a first-round pick at the position.
New England Patriots- Damien Harris, RB & Jakobi Meyers, WR
Injuries in New England’s secondary forced players like J.C. Jackson to take on larger roles in 2020. However, the former undrafted free agent missed out on a spot here. I’m breaking some rules by picking two players, but this is my game, so it doesn’t matter.
Harris went from being an afterthought in his rookie season to leading the Patriots with 691 rushing yards (5.0 per carry and 69.1 per game). He could realistically win the starting job from Sony Michel heading into 2021. Meyers was an undrafted free agent in 2019, but he led New England with 59 receptions and 729 receiving yards last season. Harris and Meyers finished first and second in yards from scrimmage on the team.
New York Jets- Quinnen Williams, DT
Marcus Maye was already a good safety, but he took on more responsibilities following Jamal Adams’ departure. I could argue that he was New York’s best player in 2020, but Williams experienced greater growth. The former third overall pick had moments as a rookie in 2019, but he never dominated games from start to finish. That changed this past year.
Williams amassed seven sacks in his 13 starts, making him the only Jet with over four sacks. His ten tackles for loss also led the team. Williams is an emerging star in New York’s defense and could make his first Pro Bowl this coming season under defensive-minded head coach Robert Saleh.