Despite being one of the weaker divisions in the NFL, the NFC East has some dang good talent in it. Sure, the division’s two alpha dogs, the Eagles and Cowboys, employ most of those really good players, but there are few on the rosters of the Giants and Washington as well (although you have to squint pretty hard to see them).
Compiling a list of the 10 best players in a sport like football is difficult because each position is tasked with doing very different things. How do you compare a center to a running back? Or an edge rusher to a quarterback? PFF helps with some of their grades, but those aren’t gospel.
Upon considering all the elements, here is my selection of the 10 best players in the NFC East. You will certainly disagree with this list. (Don’t forget to check out the podcast version of this topic on BGN Radio!)
1. Lane Johnson - OT - Philadelphia
I went back and forth between Johnson and the guy who immediately follows on this list, but at the end of the day, offensive tackle is slightly more crucial to the offense than an interior guard, and Johnson is one of the best, if not the best, right tackle in football. Last year, in 759 offensive snaps he allowed one sack and committed five penalties the entire season, with a PFF grade of 88.8. And now, with Brandon Brooks out for the season with a torn Achilles, Johnson’s ability to anchor the right side of the line will be even tougher with Matt Pryor likely taking over directly to his left. Lane Johnson is the best player in the NFC East, gang.
2. Zack Martin - OG - Dallas
I initially was going to put Martin at the top of the list, given his status as one of the game’s elite offensive guards. He played 1,114 snaps, allowed zero sacks and committed just two penalties all season. His PFF grade of 88.1 was just slightly below Johnson’s, and his ability to produce in the run game made him a very close runner-up. Martin’s a stud.
3. Fletcher Cox - DT - Philadelphia
Cox had only 3.5 sacks last year, which was obviously not so good, but he also spent most of the off-season and first part of the regular season dealing with a toe injury that he suffered in the divisional round against the New Orleans Saints the year before. He was supposed to have Malik Jackson rushing the passer next to him to take some of the pressure off, but Jackson was lost in Week 1 for the season. Now, Cox has Jackson back and the team added another inside pass rushing specialist in Javon Hargraves. Between getting a little more help and being fully healthy to start the season, Cox should answer back with a career year and, when he does, will re-establish himself as a potential Defensive Player of the Year.
4. Saquon Barkley - RB - New York
One year after leading all NFL players in yards from scrimmage (2,028), Barkley missed three games due to injury but still finished with 1,441 yards for scrimmage and 1,003 rushing yards, including this ridiculous run against the Eagles in Week 17.
Barkley manages to scare the crud out of every defense while playing on a team with almost no playmakers anywhere else. Running backs have been devalued in recent years, but Barkley is still easily one of the five best players in the NFC East.
5. Jason Kelce - C - Philadelphia
Please don’t retire, Jason. Ever.
Kelce played 1,163 snaps last year, committed three penalties, allowed two sacks and had a PFF rating of 81.0. His ability to get downfield in the run game and help diagnose defenses with Carson Wentz makes him an invaluable member of Doug Pederson’s offense the No. 5 player in the division.
6. La’El Collins - OT - Dallas
If Lane Johnson is the best offensive tackle in the NFC East than Collins is right on his heels. His PFF grade of 86.4 is outstanding and he gave up just two sacks and committed just five penalties in 1,000 snaps last season, protecting Dak and opening up running lanes for Elliot. Dude’s a stud and will continue to be for a long while. If you have him higher on your list, I wouldn’t blame you.
7. Darius Slay - CB - Philadelphia
I was asked last week if the Eagles have the best secondary in the division and the answer is surprisingly, yes. The main reason for that is the addition of Slay, the only true No. 1 cornerback in the division. The former Detroit Lion star is Philadelphia’s first true shutdown corner since Asante Samuel, although Samuel didn’t shut down receivers as much as come up with the big plays more often than most. Slay should be able to lock down an opposing team’s best weapon, the only person in the NFC East capable of doing so.
8. Gerald McCoy - DT - Dallas
McCoy is a six-time Pro Bowler but hasn’t made it each of the last two years. He finished with five sacks last season, a sack and a half more than Cox, but it was still his lowest total in seven years. He turns 32 this year and will certainly be a force on the inside of the Cowboys D-line, but he’s slightly behind Cox on the division’s tackle heirarchy.
9. Ezekiel Elliott - RB - Dallas
It’s a pretty close race between Elliott and Barkley as to who is the best running back in the NFC East, a division which, with Miles Sanders, features three very talented runners. In terms of pure talent, Barkley is better, but if you had Elliott ahead of Barkley based on the fact he’s led the league in rushing yards in two out of his four years and totaled 1,777 yards from scrimmage last year, I couldn’t blame you. If I was starting a team and needed a running back, I’d take Barkley, but Elliott would be a very close second.
10. Carson Wentz - QB - Philadelphia
I felt like no article that involved the Eagles and Cowboys would be complete without some kind of Carson vs. Dak debate, and I wanted to put one of the QBs at No. 10 on the list and chose Wentz. Honestly, I debated it in my head for quite some time. Prescott has been remarkably consistent in his four years and has been less injury-prone. That’s just the honest truth. But Wentz, in 2017, showed he has the ability to play at an MVP-like level and, over the last month of last season, outplayed Prescott as the two were battling for the division title, with Wentz having far less help at the skill positions.
carson wentz was the first quarterback in nfl history to throw for more than 4000 yards without a single wide receiver eclipsing 500 receiving yards.— the podfather (@Fantasy_Mansion) June 23, 2020
let that sink in.
i take it all back, carson. pic.twitter.com/6HqXq3K8T5
Again, if I had to pick one of these two QBs to start my franchise, I’d choose Wentz, but it’s a very, very close call. Wentz has been inconsistent since 2017 season, but if both players had the same talent at wide receiver, and if Wentz had the benefit of a dynamic running game for his entire career, as Prescott has, the gap between these two would not be as close as it is.
It was hard to leave edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence off this list, as well as wideout Amari Cooper and Prescott. Cooper probably would have been included in the top-10, but he faded at the end of last year due to injuries, and his home/road splits are a cause for concern. But he’s clearly the best wide receiver in the division, and as for Prescott, I nearly put him at No. 10 instead of Wentz.
You’ll notice Washington doesn’t have any players in the top-10. That’s one of the reasons they picked No. 2 in the NFL Draft this spring. I wanted to put first round pick Chase Young on the list, because I do think he’ll have an immediate impact as an edge rusher, but it was hard to have him ahead of some of the more experienced players on this list. Ryan Kerrigan has been a beast for nine years now and almost cracked the top-10 as well, but his 5.5 sacks last season indicate his years as an elite edge rusher are behind him.
Terry McLaurin just barely missed out, too. His 58 catches for 919 yards and 7 TDs as a rookie indicate great things are ahead for him, and he could surpass Amari Cooper as the best wideout in the division by the end of this season.
New York should be much improved this year, but when you look at their roster, there isn’t a ton of elite talent. We’ll see what Daniel Jones does in his second season, and first round pick Andrew Thomas could be an impact offensive tackle in the league for years, but he’s a rookie and has to prove it first. Wide receiver Darius Slayton showed some promise and flash in his rookie season, but clearly isn’t a top-10 player in the NFC East just yet.
And there were a number of Eagles players who deserved consideration as well. If the prognosticators are correct and his late-season run of production is any indication, Miles Sanders could be in for a very big season as the Birds’ bell cow. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert take some targets away from each other, which slightly mutes each others’ value, but they are the two best tight ends in the division. And Brandon Graham continues to be one of the most underrated players in the NFL, and bounced back nicely with 8.5 sacks last year in his age-31 season.
What do you think of my list? Leave a comment in the section below.
Who is the best player in the NFC East?
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