Posted: Friday July 6, 2012 4:31PM ; Updated: Friday July 6, 2012 4:31PM
Eric Mack
Eric Mack>INSIDE FANTASY FOOTBALL

AFC East 2012 fantasy preview

Story Highlights

Committee backfield approach makes Patriots running backs risky fantasy picks

Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez likely to cut into each other's production significantly

Receiver Davone Bess could emerge as star in Dolphins new West Coast Offense

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Rob Gronkowski scored 17 touchdowns last season for the Patriots.
Rob Gronkowski's 17 touchdowns and 90 catches from last season will make him an early pick in most fantasy football drafts.
Simon Bruty/SI

The AFC East has been Tom Brady's division for the past decade, and it doesn't figure to change this year. Sure, all the teams in this division may trending up from a year ago, but they are all still a significant cut below the level of the NFL's elite.

The Jets have the freak show in the beloved (or hated, depending on your side) Tim Tebow battling the mostly hated Mark Sanchez. The Dolphins are rebuilding with a West Coast offense genius, while the Bills are trying to build around the running game and defense, particularly with the addition of free-agent Mario Williams.

Those side stories figure to just make things more interesting as Brady and arguably the best pair of tight ends in NFL history -- Rob Gronkowski supplemented by wide-receiver-like Aaron Hernandez -- light up fantasy football scoreboards in 2012.

After already taking a capsule look at the NFC East, home of the Super Bowl champs, we continue with the division that houses the runners-up in Brady and the Pats. Here are the AFC East depth charts, position battles, injury questions and fantasy positional rankings:

New England Patriots

Depth chart

QB
Tom Brady
Ryan Mallett

RB
Stevan Ridley
Joseph Addai
Shane Vereen
Danny Woodhead

WR
Wes Welker
Brandon Lloyd
Deion Branch
Jabar Gaffney
Donte' Stallworth
Julian Edelman

TE
Rob Gronkowski
Aaron Hernandez

K
Stephen Gostkowski

Position battles

Nos. 1-3 RBs: The fantasy prospects here would be more exciting if the Pats hadn't laid so many potentially intriguing fantasy backs to waste in the Brady era. Ridley and Vereen are the long-term talents, Addai is the veteran hoping for a career revival, while Woodhead is merely the monkey wrench in all of them. It is unlikely a real winner emerges through training camp, or at any time during the season, making drafting any of the Pats backs extremely tricky.

Nos. 2-3 WRs: As this is the Pats, this position battle has diminished expected fantasy impact as well. Technically, Gronk and Hernandez -- the tight ends -- are the secondary receivers to Welker. Lloyd used to be one of the best receivers in fantasy, though, so perhaps the pass-happy Pats revive him. Branch takes a hit with Lloyd's addition, but then again, the same was thought when Chad Ochocinco was added a year ago.

Injury questions

Rob Gronkowski (ankle) -- He had surgery on the ankle issue that plagued him in the Super Bowl, but it shouldn't keep him out of training camp or from being the No. 1 TE selected in fantasy. Many will consider the Saints' Jimmy Graham over Gronk, perhaps, but don't let that be because of the ankle surgery. It should be a non-factor for TD-scoring, football-spiking Gronk this year.

New York Jets

Depth chart

QB
Mark Sanchez
Tim Tebow

RB
Shonn Greene
Joe McKnight
Bilal Powell

WR
Santonio Holmes
Stephen Hill
Jeremy Kerley
Chaz Schilens

TE
Dustin Keller

K
Josh Brown
Nick Folk

Position battles

Nos. 2-3 WRs: Plaxico Burress gave the Jets a solid red-zone target and a secondary option to Holmes, but now the Jets need to find a new No. 2. Hill was drafted to be that guy, but rookie receivers rarely are sure things in starting jobs right way, particularly with the shaky development of Sanchez to date. Kerley and Schilens, a transplant from Oakland, could prove to be sleepers as No. 3 options, or the No. 2 if Hill falters in training camp.

Sanchez vs. Tebow: This isn't a real competition going into camp, but you can almost certainly see one developing with the way Sanchez's career has gone. Holmes doesn't love his QB, so there might be a clamoring for the Tebow-mania early, perhaps even in the preseason from the loud and usually over-reactive Jets fans. Tebow will slice into Sanchez's value, making him merely a backup, and Sanchez's status as the surefire starter makes Tebow more of a part-time running back than fantasy quarterback option. Neither should be drafted as a fantasy starter, but if Tebow takes over under center, he could emerge as a top-10 option at the paramount position.

Injury questions

None -- That is one good thing about missing the playoffs a year ago here. The Jets figure to enter training camp 100 percent, even if they have some holes at receiver and lack a backup rusher behind Greene.

Miami Dolphins

Depth chart

QB
Matt Moore
David Garrard
Ryan Tannehill

RB
Reggie Bush
Daniel Thomas
Lamar Miller

WR
Chad Ochocinco
Davone Bess
Brian Hartline
Legedu Naanee

TE
Anthony Fasano

K
Dan Carpenter

Position battles

Starting QB: John Madden has long said when you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none. Well, the Dolphins have three: the incumbent Moore, the experienced Garrard and the long-term project, first-round pick Tannehill. Moore played well enough down the stretch to win the job, but if Garrard is healthy, the Dolphins might want to see what they have in him. Either way, the position will be Tannehill's eventually, but it doesn't figure to happen until midseason at this point. None of these will be anything more than a late-round flier in deeper (or two-QB) formats.

Nos. 2-3 WRs: It's safe to assume Ochocinco is going to be much better away from the Brady-Bill Belichick shadow, making him the most intriguing of the underwhelming Dolphins receivers. Then, possession guy Bess can be intriguing in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues, while Hartline is back in a potential possession receiver role as well. Naanee might be an intriguing deep threat but any one of these four receivers can develop as the go-to guy, depending on whom wins the QB derby. All told, the fantasy impact of the Dolphins passing game figures to be minimal, but Joe Philbin does bring some awesome Green Bay passing game credentials with him.

Injury questions

Davone Bess (knee) -- He averted surgery on what was originally called a partially torn ACL and MCL, so if he's healthy, he could be on verge of a career year. That will merely make him a starter alongside Ochocinco, perhaps. If Philbin sinks his West Coast offense teeth into the Dolphins, someone is going to catch a lot of passes here. You might as well figure it will be Bess, the steadiest of the Dolphins' motley WR corps.

Buffalo Bills

Depth chart

QB
Ryan Fitzpatrick
Vince Young

RB
Fred Jackson
C.J. Spiller

WR
Stevie Johnson
David Nelson
Derek Hagan
Donald Jones
T.J. Graham
Brad Smith

TE
Scott Chandler

K
Rian Lindell

Position battles

Nos. 2-4 WR: Fitzpatrick looked like a potential fantasy star before he signed a long-term deal, Jackson went down and the wheels fell of the Bills' bandwagon a year ago. Johnson is a legit No. 1 WR in fantasy, but if the Bills figure to be playing catchup in games, as should be expected, someone is going to emerge as a secondary fantasy option in the passing game. Chandler, the tight end, caught some TDs early last year, but he doesn't really qualify as a downfield threat like Nelson, Jones or speedy third-round rookie Graham might. Nelson is the de facto leader in the clubhouse for now, but Jones and especially Graham might emerge and really surprise.

Injury questions

Fred Jackson, (leg) -- How confident are the Bills that Jackson is over his broken leg from a year ago? Confident enough to put their money on him, giving him a two-year, $8.7 million extension. It will be a bargain if Jackson returns to his form of early 2011. Something to throw into the mix here, though, is the late-season emergence of Spiller. That might be the only reason you shouldn't consider Jackson a first-round pick in fantasy this August.

Division fantasy rankings

Quarterbacks

1 Tom Brady NE
2 Mark Sanchez NYJ
3 Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF
4 Matt Moore MIA
5 Tim Tebow NYJ
6 Vince Young BUF
7 David Garrard MIA
8 Ryan Tannehill MIA

Running backs

1 Fred Jackson BUF
2 Shonn Greene NYJ
3 Reggie Bush MIA
4 C.J. Spiller BUF
5 Stevan Ridley NE
6 Daniel Thomas MIA
7 Joseph Addai NE
8 Lamar Miller MIA
9 Shane Vereen NE
10 Joe McKnight NYJ

Wide receivers

1 Wes Welker NE
2 Stevie Johnson BUF
3 Santonio Holmes NYJ
4 Brandon Lloyd NE
5 Chad Ochocinco MIA
6 Deion Branch NE
7 Davone Bess MIA
8 Brian Hartline MIA
9 Stephen Hill NYJ
10 Jabar Gaffney NE
11 David Nelson BUF
12 Legedu Naanee MIA

Tight ends

1 Rob Gronkowski NE
2 Aaron Hernandez NE
3 Dustin Keller NYJ
4 Scott Chandler BUF
5 Anthony Fasano MIA

Kickers

1 Stephen Gostkowski NE
2 Dan Carpenter MIA
3 Rian Lindell BUF
4 Josh Brown NYJ
5 Nick Folk NYJ

Defense/Special Teams

1 Jets NYJ
2 Patriots NE
3 Bills BUF
4 Dolphins MIA

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. You find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).

 
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