The NFC East is not the strongest division in professional football, this we all know. Gone are the halcyon days of the mid-1980s-to-1990s when all four franchises were among the toughest beats in the NFL, but today’s NFC East is improving.
In 2020, the Washington Commanders won the division with a losing record. Last year, two teams made the postseason, with the Cowboys capturing the division with the Eagles winning a wild card. While not meteoric, it’s progress.
The Cowboys still appear to be the favorites to win the East, but are no lock. They’ve subtracted more than they’ve added this off-season, while the Eagles appear to have gotten stronger and the Commanders continue to add talent, too. Even the Giants, with an influx of Buffalo ingenuity now making decisions inside the organization, are likely to stop dunking their own heads in the toilet.
There is more talent in the division than in previous years too, and coming up with a list of the “10 best” was exceedingly difficult. There are 15-20 players for whom an argument could be made to be included in this list, and how do you compare a wide receiver with an offensive tackle?
It ain’t easy, but here’s one guy’s best shot at a list, now that the NFL Draft is in the rear view mirror and the off-season workouts are in full swing.
10. Jordan Mailata – Eagles (OT)
It was a toss-up between the Birds’ left tackle, Mailata, and their right tackle Lane Johnson. Both were named to PFF’s All-Pro 2nd team last year, but Mailata gets the slight edge given his spot on the left side of the offensive line protecting Jalen Hurts’ blind spot, and a slightly higher PFF grade, 86.9 to 82.4. Frankly, center Jason Kelce probably deserves the non-existent No. 11 spot, still one of the two or three best centers in the game, with a PFF score of 84.8. Mailata allowed 20 total pressures last season and was a beast in the Birds’ potent running attack. Really, an argument for any of these three Philly offensive linemen would illicit no argument from me.
9. Leonard Williams – Giants (DT)
I had to get a Giants player on here somewhere and so New York’s stud defensive tackle is it. Williams recorded 6.5 sacks from the middle along with two forced fumbles and 81 combined tackles. He’s the anchor to a defensive line that should be much stronger with the addition of first round pick Kayvon Thibodeaux this season.
8. Haason Reddick – Eagles (LB/DE)
Reddick was the Eagles’ biggest free agent signing of the off-season and, as a hybrid OLB/DE edge rusher, gives defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon the flexibility to move him all over the field. In his last two seasons with Carolina, the former Temple grad notched 12.5 sacks (2020) and 11.0 (’21), and immediately becomes one of the most feared edge rushers in the East.
7. Jonathan Allen – Commander (DT)
While I think ultimately Chase Young is the best defensive lineman on Washington’s roster, his 2021 season was one to forget and it’s hard to know what things will look like for him as he enters the ’22 season recovering from an ACL tear and an unknown timetable . Meanwhile, Allen had yet another dominant season on the inside, piling up nine sacks and a staggering 30 QB hits, earning his first Pro Bowl node in the process.
6. AJ Brown – Eagles (WR)
The debate in Philly is whether DeVonta Smith is the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver or the newcomer, Brown. And even though Smith’s 2021 numbers were better than Brown’s 2021 season (64/63 receptions, 916/839 yards, and 5 TDs each), Brown’s two Pro Bowl seasons prior give him the slight edge, a player who should dramatically improve the Birds’ offense. In fact, one could argue he is the best wide receiver in the division, although I would still give that recognition to the player ranked just above him on this list…
5. CeeDee Lamb – Cowboys (WR)
In his second season and first full campaign with Dak Prescott at QB, Lamb was terrific, with 79 catches for 1,102 yards and 6 TDs for the Cowboys. With Amari Cooper a Cleveland Brown and Michael Gallup’s return from a knee injury questionable, Lamb is going to have to carry the load for the Dallas offense, but it could also mean an insane number of targets, receptions and yards for the third-year receiver .
4. Dak Prescott – Cowboys (QB)
The only quarterback on this list, Prescott had an outstanding season in throwing 37 TDs and just 10 INTs, with 4,449 passing yards and the 2nd-highest QB rating of his career, 104.2. If there is any one position that is holding the division back, it’s at QB, the most important in the sport. And as long as Prescott remains far and away the best QB in the East, the Cowboys will likely be favored as top dog.
3. Darius Slay – Eagles (CB)
I knew Slay had an excellent season last year, but I didn’t realize quite how good it was until going through this process. He also earned PFF 2nd-team All-Pro recognition, finishing behind the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey. And even though he only pulled down three interceptions, he made them count, returning two of them for touchdowns and then ran a fumble back for a score as well. But it’s not interceptions that show you the true value of a No. 1 cornerback (which is why Trevon Diggs is not on this list), it’s how well you defend receivers and prevent quarterbacks from completing passes to your guy. To that end, there was no one better than Slay in the entire NFL, one-on-one.
Oh, and hey there, Rasul!
2. Micah Parsons – Cowboys (LB)
What a breakout season for the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year. Parsons’ 13 sacks were 6th-most in the NFL and he added 64 solo tackles and three forced fumbles to his tally. Right now, he’s the best defensive player in the division, hands down.
1. Zack Martin – Cowboys (OG)
Zack Martin is probably the best offensive lineman in football and, because there is no stud QB or even an upper echelon wide receiver or running back in the division right now, Martin earns the top spot over Parsons.
Hard to argue.
Honorable Mention: Lane Johnson (OT), DeVonta Smith (WR), Jason Kelce (C), Terry, McLaurin (WR), Montez Sweat (DE), DeMarcus Lawrence (DE), Trevon Diggs (CB), Saquon Barkley (RB ), Andrew Thomas (OT)