Yesterday I looked at the best offensive players in the NFC East and unfortunately that was a list dominated by the Dallas Cowboys. To cover the other side of the ball, the Eagles definitely show up more in terms of who has the most top tier talent in the division. As a whole, the division has a lot of big names along the defensive line and in the secondary and Philadelphia is still highly represented among them.
Ryan Kerrigan, Washington: With 11 sacks last season, Ryan Kerrigan was the most productive pass rusher in the division last year. It is amazing that even after Kerrigan's sixth season and 58.5 career sacks, he remains one of the league's most underrated defensive players. Kerrigan is not only a good pass rusher as he is also an asset in run defense as well. While he does not receive the same recognition as other guys in the division, be sure that offensive tackles in the NFC East are well aware of Ryan Kerrigan.
Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles: Brandon Graham had a very good first season back in a 4-3 defense. Playing his natural position with his hand in the ground definitely took his game to the next level. While his sack numbers may not be among the league elites, he is a very disruptive pass rusher and an even better run defender. With the Eagles adding more talent to their defensive line and secondary this offseason, it is likely Graham will have more opportunities to sack the quarterback since offenses can't key on him nor will they be able to get rid of the ball as quickly.
Second Team: Jason Pierre Paul, New York Giants and Oliver Vernon, New York Giants
Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox is awesome, full stop. He is one of the best interior defenders in the NFL and moving back to a role where he is primarily able to shoot gaps made him even more dangerous than in years prior. Cox is a monstrous run and pass defender who has keyed the Eagles defense for the last few years. Similar to Graham, his numbers were not as good as he is or was last year due to how offenses were able to game plan for him. Now with a boosted defensive group, Cox should have more opportunities to fill his stat sheet.
Damon Harrison, New York Giants: The Giants made a big splash last offseason when they signed Damon Harrison to boost their interior line. Harrison immediately made a difference for the Giants and was a big reason they were one of the few teams that gave the Dallas run game fits. Harrison is not a flashy pass rushing tackle but he is probably the best run defender in the league at any position. While the overall quality of the Giants line may suffer with the loss of Jon Hankins, Damon Harrison will be able to lock down the interior and create opportunities for New York's pass rushing duo.
Second Team: Timmy Jernigan, Philadelphia Eagles and Maliek Collins, Dallas Cowboys.
Jordan Hicks, Philadelphia Eagles: Jordan Hicks' rookie season was on its way to Rookie of the Year levels of performance before his season was cut short by a pectoral injury. Luckily for him and the Eagles, he returned for his second season playing at an even higher rate. With five interceptions, 11 passes defended and 58 solo tackles, Hicks was a one man wrecking crew in the middle of the Eagles defense. Would you like to know how many other linebackers started their careers with over 100 solo tackles and seven interceptions in their first two seasons? None. Hicks is playing incredibly well for a young player and the Eagles may have finally found the answer in the middle of their defense after years of searching.
Nigel Bradham, Philadelphia Eagles: Nigel Bradham was brought in last spring on a short-term, low-cost deal due to his familiarity with Jim Schwartz from the Bills and he rewarded the Eagles for taking a chance on him by having an outstanding season. Bradham was a good run defender but he was among the best coverage linebackers in the NFL last season. Due to familiarity with the scheme, there is no reason to think Bradham won't continue to play at a high level next season.
Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys: Sean Lee matched a season high last season when he started 15 games for the Cowboys. Lee has always been an undeniably talented player who changes the makeup of a defense, but his career has been marred by injuries. Lee is a highly instinctive player against the run and the pass and any kind of competence on the Dallas defense can be attributed to Lee's play. With the defense adding a ton of talent this offseason, Lee's health will be important to make sure the Cowboys keep trending in a positive direction on that side of the ball.
Second Team: Mychal Kendricks, Philadelphia Eagles, Devon Kennard, New York Giants and Mason Foster, Washington
Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants: Many scoffed at the Giants for the big money deal they gave Janoris Jenkins last season but after year one it is hard to say it wasn't well deserved. Jenkins ascended to lockdown levels of play for the Giants and was a major part of their improvement on defense. He went from being a high variance ballhawk to a consistent defender with playmaking ability. With the Giants maintaining a lot of the same talent on defense, Jenkins should see another strong season going forward.
Josh Norman, Washington: Like the Giants, Washington spent a ton of money on Josh Norman after he was freed from the franchise tag last offseason. Norman did not quite match his final year in Carolina, but he had a very strong year for Washington. Norman's presence goes beyond play and is also about the tone he sets in the secondary. His attitude and physicality change the affect the unit has on an offense and it is something Washington benefits from.
Second Team: Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, New York Giants and Eli Apple, New York Giants
Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia Eagles: In his third season in Philly, Malcom Jenkins continued to provide defensive leadership and playmaking ability in the secondary. After playing two seasons in a defense that liked interchanging strong and free safeties, Jenkins played mostly near the line of scrimmage this season as a strong safety and slot defender. Jenkins excelled in this role as he is a very good run defender and his cornerback background allows him to play well in the slot. Jenkins will probably be asked to cover the slot less with more talent being added to the Eagles cornerback position, but expect him to continue making an impact as the Eagles strong safety.
Landon Collins, New York Giants: After an underwhelming rookie season, Landon Collins apparently changed his body to get lighter and faster. That majorly paid off for him in year two as he went from average safety to becoming the Giants' biggest playmaker. With 100 solo tackles, four sacks, five interceptions and 13 passes defended; it is clear that Landon Collins is ascending to being a star safety in the NFL.
Second Team: Rodney McLeod, Philadelphia Eagles and Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys