The NFC East used to be the toughest and most talented division in the conference, but has since become very one-sided with great offense and poor defense. There is still talent throughout the division but each team seems to own the top players at different positions. With nothing left to do but speculate on which team will be the best in 2014, BGN takes a look at the "best of the best" in the division. In this article, BGN takes a look at the best defensive players. We took a look at the All-NFC East offensive team on Tuesday.
Editor's Note: For this exercise, we will be using the 3-4 front with a base defense and will not feature rookies, as there is little to base their projections on at the NFL level.
DE) Jason Hatcher
A lot is made of about Jackson's division rival swap, but Hatcher's move from the Cowboys to the Redskins may payoff even more for Washington. He had a career year last season and could be a productive pass rusher from the five-technique. Hatcher is an upgrade over anything Washington has had at that position since they switched to a 3-4 defense.
NT) Barry Cofield
This division has two really bad departments: nose tackle and safety. That said, Cofield is easily the best nose tackle in the division. A veteran of eight NFL seasons, Cofield is a prototypical defensive anchor at 6-foot-4 and 303 pounds. Cofield's competition is Cullen Jenkins who is aging, Bennie Logan who needs time and Henry Melton who is a three-technique coming off an ACL injury.
DE) Fletcher Cox
For me, this came down to Cox or Cedric Thornton. While I do believe that Thornton was the better player last season, I think another year into the 3-4 system will do Cox wonders and he is probably more talented than any other defensive lineman in the division. Cox is going to need to provide the pass rush that he didn't last season. His greatest skill is being an interior pass rusher and having him improve would not only increase the Eagles sack totals but the defense overall.
OLB) Ryan Kerrigan
Kerrigan is a playmaker at outside linebacker. In three seasons, he has two interceptions, 10 forced fumbles and two defensive touchdowns. That kind of production is phenomenal and while Kerrigan missed the Pro Bowl this past year, he continues to get better. He is the best and most versatile outside linebacker in the division.
ILB) Perry Riley
You'll notice that the front seven of the division is mostly made up of Redskins and Eagles. That is partially due to the lack of front seven talent on the Giants and Cowboys, but also due to the production of the guys in Washington and Philadelphia. Riley was in the shadow of London Fletcher for years, but now is the man in the middle for the Redskins. He may be under the radar but he has been a consistent starter and a tackling machine for two seasons.
ILB) Mychal Kendricks
I struggled with this selection. As good as Kendricks was at making plays towards the end of the year, he also struggled quite a bit early on. Again, there isn't a ton of front seven talent in the NFC East and Kendricks is on the upswing, so he got the nod over the constantly injured Bruce Carter, Jon Beason and Sean Lee. If healthy, Lee probably would have been my pick.
OLB) Brian Orakpo
A three-time Pro Bowl selection and the owner of 39.5 sacks over five seasons, Orakpo is a talented pass rusher who is only 27. While Connor Barwin offers versatility and Trent Cole improved throughout the 2013 campaign, Orakpo has been a consistent pass rusher in a 3-4 scheme for quite some time. He is on the franchise tag, so he is likely to come on strong to earn a long-term deal next offseason.
CB) Prince Amukamara
Unless he's getting injured or thrown into an ice bath, Amukamara rarely gets any press. However, he has been a consistent cover corner for the Giants over the last two seasons. He is not going to get you a lot of interceptions but has been strong enough to hold his own in coverage. As a 16-game starter last season, Amukamara had 14 pass breakups.
CB) Brandon Boykin
Yes, Cowboys, Giants and Redskins fans, I know he plays only on nickel downs. That said, he was the best cover man in the division last season and had six interceptions. He may have been the MVP of the Eagles defense last year as he was always making plays at the most important times. He closed out games last season against the Redskins and Cowboys with interceptions and while the Eagles want to keep him in nickel situations, it's hard to ignore him on a list like this.
Editor's Note: If we were in nickel and not in base defense for this exercise, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would be the other selection for the outside. He revived his career in Denver and cashed in with New York. While I think he is more talented than Amukamara and Boykin, his lack of attention and seemingly his overall interest in football makes me doubt that he will continue to be a Pro Bowl-level guy.
S) Antrel Rolle
While Boykin may have been the top cornerback in the division last season, Rolle was easily the best safety. In fact, he was the best player on the Giants roster last season. A consistent All-Pro safety, Rolle has not missed a game or a start since joining the Giants and has produced 2.5 sacks, 11 interceptions and four forced fumbles in four seasons. Last year, Rolle accounted for 98 tackles, two sacks, 12 pass breakups, six interceptions and a forced fumble.
Welcome to the NFC East, Malcolm Jenkins! A division where you could breathe on an offensive player and be in the discussion for best safety in the division. Jenkins is on the team mostly because of his competition: Stevie Brown missed all of last season with a knee injury, Jeff Heath is Jeff Heath, Nate Allen is solid at best, Barry Church is mediocre and the Redskins seem to be fishing for starters. That is not to say Jenkins isn't a good player, but he is in no way close to Rolle. Maybe a change of scenery will help him get to Rolle's level, but right now, he's at least a tier below.