The NFC East has a reputation for producing Super Bowl champions via an always tough division. Each team features a high profile quarterback and several other playmakers throughout their respective rosters. 2012 promises to be another intriguing year in the East.
QB – Eli Manning, NYG
With 2 Super Bowl rings and his propensity for being clutch, Manning gets the nod over Tony Romo and Michael Vick. Since RG3 hasn’t even played an NFL down yet, there is no way he can be on this list. Romo and Vick have a combined 3-6 playoff record, compared with Manning’s 8-3 mark. Also, 4th quarter comebacks and game winning drives don’t measure up. For Vick, he has 10 comebacks and 11 game winning drives. For Romo, 13 and 14, respectively, and Manning dwarfs them both with 23 and 25, respectively.
RB – LeSean McCoy, PHI
Brandon Jacobs has the rings. But with him no longer being in the NFC East, this spot falls to LeSean McCoy. Redskins running backs have been a black hole for the last decade or so, and that shows no signs of letting up. Felix Jones is injured a lot, and DeMarco Murray hasn’t had enough time in the league. Ahmad Bradshaw is too limited in playing time as well. For McCoy, in his 4th season of work, he has 28 rushing TDs, 3.5 times more than Felix Jones, who has been in the league one year longer. McCoy has yet to lead the league in rush yards, but in a sport where TDs are all that matter, he led the league with 17 rush TDs and 20 rush & receiving TDs (3 receiving). He amassed 1600 yards, and playing on a multi-faceted and multi-talented offense in Philly, the sky is the limit for McCoy, if he can stay healthy.
WR – Hakeem Nicks, NYG
Nicks is a physical and imposing matchup for any DB in the NFL. He seems to be constantly battling injuries to his legs and feet but when he’s on the field he is a true game breaker. In 2012, he put together his 2nd straight 1,000 yard season and averaged 15.7 yards/catch. He has amassed 24 TD’s in his first 3 seasons in the league. If he can stay healthy, he will become one of the game’s best.
WR – Victor Cruz, NYG
We’ll need to see one more year of domination before moving him ahead of Nicks, but you simply cannot ignore what this guy accomplished last year. He became the game’s ultimate deep threat by catching 82 balls for 1,536 yards and 9 TD’s. He averaged a ridiculous 18.7 yards/catch. With Mario Manningham now on the west coast, Cruz becomes WR2 in the Giants’ attack and should have another big year.
WR – Miles Austin, DAL
Miles Austin has only been a full time player for 3 seasons. Austin, in 3 full seasons, hasn’t had less than 7 TDs a year, a respectable number. His numbers were down last year due to injury, but he still got 7 TDs in 10 games, and managed 57.9 YPG. Despite the immense potential of Dez Bryant, Austin is still the #1 receiver in Dallas, and aside from Jason Witten, he is the most reliable.
TE – Jason Witten, DAL
This is a no-brainer. He is easily a Top 3 receiving TE, and is the most reliable weapon the Cowboys have. He is big and talented, and can block well too. He is versatile and can be used in almost any situation anywhere on the field. Had Jeremy Shockey remained a Giant, this may have been a toss up. But as it stands, Chris Cooley is a poor man’s Witten, and the other TEs are nothing more than reliable red zone options.
T – Jason Peters, PHI
Another no-brainer, Jason Peters is one of the best tackles in the game. He is a 5x Pro bowler, and a 4x All-Pro. Unfortunately, he is currently on the PUP list for the Eagles, but when he is healthy, he is a force. Last year with Philadelphia, he did a tremendous job of blocking for Vick, allowing only one sack.
T – Tyron Smith, DAL
Smith started all 16 games of his rookie season last year at RT and more than held his own. He is a rising star on the offensive line and should be in line for an outstanding season.
G – Chris Snee, NYG
Possibly the best run blocking guard in the NFC East, Snee gets the nod. He plays smart, is agile, and really helps protect the middle for Eli Manning.
T – Evan Mathis, PHI
Mathis is a high motor player and an outstanding run blocker. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the #1 guard in the NFL last season. ESPN ranked him as the 19th best player in the NFC East.
C – Will Montgomery, WSH
Finally, Washington gets its first mention. With David Baas injured last year for the G-men, and Phil Costa learning the ropes in Big D, this choice came down to Jason Kelce and Will Montgomery. Montgomery actually didn’t have a bad year, Costa allowed the most sacks of any center in the division, Montgomery allowed the least. He also helped in the run game as a blocker for the Redskins.
DT – Cullen Jenkins, PHI
In his only year so far with Philly, Jenkins had 5.5 sacks, and 48 tackles, more than even Jay Ratliff, who is a force on the front line for the Cowboys. He had a +15.3, the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any DT in the division. Only Chris Canty and Linval Joseph had more tackles (63 each), but no one had more sacks.
DT – Chris Canty, NYG
A lifetime NFC East’er, Canty turned in his best season as a pro in 2011, his 7th year in the league. He corralled 47 tackles from his defensive tackle position as well as 4 sacks. Canty, 29, helps pave the way for Jason Pierre-Paul and friends.
DE – Jason Pierre-Paul, NYG
Pierre-Paul is a beast, no doubt. He had 16.5 sacks a year ago, and 93 tackles. He blocked a key field goal in a game against Dallas, he also caused a safety during the season, and he seemed to be everywhere on the field. No one else in the division comes close. Trent Cole, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora are other names to be considered, but until Pierre-Paul lets up, which won’t be anytime soon, he gets the nod.
DE – Jason Babin, PHI
Babin has been a monster the last 2 years. In 2011, his 2nd go around with the Eagles, Babin left 18 quarterbacks in his wake. At age 32, he seems to be getting better and better. He will look to build on a career year in 2012.
LB – DeMarcus Ware, DAL
19.5 sacks for Ware last season. That’s enough said. He has come close to Michael Strahan’s record twice: last year, and in 2008. Ware is only getting better, and is one half sack away from 100 in his career, which would tie him for 27th all-time with Andre Tippett and Julius Peppers. He is not just the best linebacker in the NFC East, but he may be the best player period.
LB – London Fletcher, WAS
In his age 36 season in 2012, Fletcher racked up a career high 166 tackles, forced 3 fumbles, nabbed 2 INT’s, broke up 8 passes, and added a sack and a half to his stat line. He never seems to get his full due as a big time playmaker. It’s about time he does.
LB – Brian Orakpo, WAS
Orakpo is a big time player for the ‘skins. He had 59 tackles and 9 sacks a year ago. He is also incredibly consistent having tallied 28.5 sacks in his first 3 seasons. The scary part is he hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.
S – Kenny Phillips, NYG
There are a lot of names that could go here, but none bigger than Phillips. Despite only having 4 INTS, he had 63 solo tackles, 23 assisted tackles, 11 pass deflections, and even a few sacks. He is a ball-hawking safety of the Ed Reed ilk, and is involved in nearly every defensive play for the Giants.
S – Antrel Rolle, NYG
Rolle has put together a solid 7-year career up to this point. Acting as the last line of defense for the Giants, he tallied a career-high 96 tackles, including 82 of the solo variety. He also grabbed a pair of INT’s. Together with Kenny Phillips he helps to form the best safety combo in the division.
CB – Nnamdi Asomugha, PHI
Despite having a down year by his terms, Asomugha’s first season on Philadelphia was largely a success. Even though he was targeted more than any other CB on his team, and allowed an 88.6 rating against opposing QBs, he still had his highest INT total since 2006 with 3. Playing in the definitively tough NFC East contributes to him having had a slow year, but with the right adjustments, Asomugha will be a force moving forward. Considering the rest of the competition in the NFC East, with porous secondaries abounding, he is already the best by the stats. Still, Asomugha is the second best CB across the league behind Darrelle Revis.
CB – DeAngelo Hall, WAS
Hall, entering his 9th season, is still a ball-hawking, play-making corner. He racked up 90 tackles in 2011, the 2nd most of his career, forced a fumble, and grabbed 3 picks. He has 35 INT’s in his career now and will be leaned on heavily by the Redskins in a division stuffed with quality QB’s.
KR/PR – DeSean Jackson, PHI
4 return TDs in his career, although none last year, Jackson is still the most formidable returner in the NFC East. His quick cut on dime skills, plus his vision to be able to see the hole develop, combined with his speed, makes him the most dangerous returner maybe even in the NFL. Not having any return TDs last year could be attributed to the tweaks made to improve the special teams game throughout the league. If I am building a team though, I want Jackson as my returner. He has averaged 10.6 punt return yards for his career.
K – Dan Bailey, DAL
This is really a toss-up between Bailey and Alex Henery. Both converted 88.9% of kicks last season, and if Bailey hadn’t been iced by his own coach, that number would have been slightly higher. Finally with a reliable kicker, the Cowboys and their fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Most of the kickers in the division are young, with the exception of Lawrence Tynes, so this spot could change based on performance as their careers progress. As it stands, I like Bailey just a bit better than his competition.
P – Saverio Rocca, WSH
With Mat McBriar injured most of last season for the Cowboys (and now gone), this came down to Rocca and Steve Weatherford of the Giants. Rocca led the NFL in percentage of punts inside the 20, and had only one touchback in 66 punt attempts. His net punt yardage was 39 yards, second to Weatherford’s 39.2 in the division. But those stats are so close that they are negligible. It seems with as bad as Washington is, they need a good punter. And indeed they have one.
Coach – Tom Coughlin, NYG
He has 2 Super Bowl rings, and despite Andy Reid making 5 NFC title games and having the winningest record out of all of the current coaches in the division, Coughlin, unlike Reid, gets the best out of his players day in and day out. Reid has often had the best teams with nothing to show for them, whereas Coughlin has been able to take the Giants to the Super Bowl (and win) twice as the #6 seed.