Over the last few weeks, the NFL has been rolling out its “Top 100” rankings as voted on by the players. Because we have a lot of problems with those rankings and, frankly, because there’s not a whole lot to do during June and July before training camp, we’ve decided to dive deeper into the rosters and give you our “TDC Top 20” for each division.
We start with the NFC East which is chock full of more young talent than possibly any other division in the league. DeMarcus Ware continues to lead the pack, but there are a host of young pass rushers who are nipping at his heels.
Have an issue with our rankings? Mock us, call us idiots, and let us know what you would change in the comments. We’re fully expecting it.
1. DeMarcus Ware, DE, Cowboys – Say what you want about the Cowboys underachieving in recent years, but it’s not Ware’s fault. He’s played in every single game throughout his 7 years in the league and has been a nightmare pass rusher for offensive lines along the way. Although he’s had to battle through a neck injury this offseason, Ware is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. His 19.5 sacks in 2011 were just 0.5 away from a career high. If there was a downfall, we’d like to see him contribute more against the run.
2. Eli Manning, QB, Giants – Most people don’t realize just how good Eli Manning was during the regular season last year. He nearly became the fourth member of the 5,000 yard club (4,933) and had the second most touchdowns of his career (29). In addition to big numbers, Manning also cemented his status as a clutch quarterback as he threw for 18 touchdowns during the 4th quarter. Manning also threw the deep ball more than any other quarterback last season with a league leading 18 completions of over 40 yards. Although many continue to underrate Manning among the elite class of quarterbacks, it’s time to give him his due.
3. LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles – No running back played more snaps than McCoy did last year. His 17 rushing touchdowns led the NFL and he’s clearly established himself within the upper echelon of running backs in the league. Entering his fourth season, it’s time for McCoy to step up and be more assertive in pass protection. But with a new 5 year, $45 million contract this offseason, it’s clear that “Shady” is part of the Eagles’ plans for years to come.
4. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles – Among the all-star squad signed in Philadelphia last offseason, Babin turned out to be the best. Playing for his 5th team in his 7 NFL seasons, Babin earned his money with 18 sacks in 2011 and has totaled 30.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Give credit to the “wide-9” rush technique employed by the Eagles’ defensive ends which allowed Babin to use his speed and blitz past the outside shoulders of offensive tackles across the league.
5. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys – It’s not too much of a stretch to say that Romo is LeBron James of the NFL. Romo enters each season with big expectations, which he generally meets with solid performances. However, it’s never been enough to satisfy the criticism of fans and media across the league. One could argue that Romo deserves to be where Eli Manning on this list. And if it weren’t for Romo’s 1-3 playoff record (compared to Manning’s 8-3), he probably would be. Nonetheless, Romo has thrown for over 4,000 yards in 3 of his last 4 full seasons and merits a spot here in the top 5.
6. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants – JPP is still a raw talent, but when he gets to the quarterback, he makes it count. In his second season, Pierre-Paul may have been light on quarterback pressures, but finished 4th with 16.5 sacks. One of the most impressive things about JPP is his ability to play on the field. According to ProFootballFocus, he played 1,208 snaps in 2011 — most of any defensive end in the NFL.
7. Sean Lee, LB, Cowboys – This one might raise a few eyebrows, but I’d take Lee over just about any other linebacker in the NFC East. Watch any Cowboys game last season and you’re sure to see Lee flying to the football on every snap. The Penn State product may be entering just his second year as a starter, but he’s well on his way to becoming one of the best inside linebackers in the league.
8. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants – The emergence of Cruz for the Giants made Mario Manningham expendable this offseason. The man who likes to salsa burst onto the scene with over 1,500 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. His emergence was the primary reason Eli Manning was so good at throwing the deep ball. Expect more of it in 2012, but we can only hope Cruz improves on his 11 drops.
9. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles – As he continues to be one of the most polarizing players in the NFL, Vick comes off a disappointing 2011 campaign marred with persistent injuries and poor play. His rushing stats took a hit due to the emergence of LeSean McCoy and Vick often reverted back to old habits that we thought he had shaken in 2010. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the most dynamic players in the league and warrants a spot in our Top 10.
10. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles – A contributing factor to the poor play of our #9 player was this guy. Distracted by contract worries throughout the season, Jackson developed alligator arms and a bad attitude which led to his dismal play. But the speedstar was awarded a new contract this offseason and still possesses the potential to take it to the house on any given play.
11. Trent Cole, DE, Eagles – Cole was one of the most consistent players in Philadelphia last season as he notched a sack in all but 3 games that he played in. After 3 consecutive seasons of double-digit sacks, the Eagles rewarded Cole with a 4-year extension this offseason. It was an easy decision to retain a guy who is a great 3-down end that plays the run extremely well.
12. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins – Even with RG3 coming to town, there might not be a more important player in Washington than London Fletcher. Although it took longer than most would have liked, Fletcher re-signed with the ‘Skins this offseason and will be back to captain the defense. Even at 36, Fletcher notched the third most tackles in NFL last season.
13. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Eagles – Asomugha found out what big money expectations in a big city were like last year. The Eagles found out that Asomugha had problems playing in zone coverage or covering the slot. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the premiere cornerbacks in the NFL. Now that Philadelphia has had a full offseason to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of its star-studded cast, expect to see more of the old Asomugha this year.
14. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants – Although Umeniyora and Pierre-Paul may get most of the headlines in New York, it is Tuck who has been the most consistent defensive end in the Big Apple over the last few seasons.
15. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles – Much like Tuck at #14, Jeremy Maclin has ceded the spotlight to DeSean Jackson in recent years despite posting better numbers. Maclin has actually had more catches than Jackson over the last two seasons and emerged as the go-to guy for Michael Vick last season while Jackson nursed a bruised ego due to his ongoing contract issues. Although he’s hindered by the quality caliber of the other players on his team, Maclin could show that he’s a top-15 wideout in the league this year.
16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys – It’s all about potential with Bryant. He showed signs of becoming the next Calvin Johnson by posting 9 touchdowns in his rookie season, but failed to have a 100-yard game. With Laurent Robinson taking the money and running to Jacksonville, this could be a big year in Big D for Bryant.
17. Brian Orakpo, DE/OLB, Redskins – The instructions for Orakpo are simple: rush the passer. He’s posted 28.5 sacks over his first three seasons and has clearly shown his ability to get after the quarterback. He would be higher on this list if he could play the run in any way, shape or form.
18. Evan Mathis, OG, Eagles – Signed for depth purposes at the start of training camp, Mathis turned out to be the most important lineman for the Eagles last season. The former Alabama product didn’t give up a single sack and was rewarded accordingly with a new deal from the team. Easily one of the most versatile linemen in the league.
19. Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys – Austin’s struggles through 2011 are well documented. He played in just 10 games and had less than 600 yards receiving. Regardless, Austin claims to be fully healthy heading into 2012, but he’ll still have to sure up his hands as he tends to drop more passes than he should.
20. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys – The best thing about Witten throughout his career has been his durability. He’s only missed one game during his entire 9-year career. As he enters his 10th season, he still remains one of Tony Romo’s favorite targets and could be a candidate for Canton once his career is over.