Wednesday we looked at the top five offensive weapons in the NFC East.
Unsurprisingly, the list was topped by the New York Giants’ super-star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
The Giants had the best defense in the division — and one of the best in the NFL — in 2016. New York boasted a stifling run defense and a great scoring defense. But those things can be accomplished with discipline rather than with playmakers. How do the teams stack up when it comes to players who can change the game?
5 - Ryan Kerrigan (OLB Washington Redskins)
Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan has quietly and consistently harassed quarterbacks since coming into the league. Never missing a game, Kerrigan has been good for (roughly) three forced fumbles and 9.5 sacks a year since being drafted in 2011.
Kerrigan is a versatile defender who can play on any down from either the outside linebacker or defensive end positions, depending on down, distance, and sub-package. He has also posted reliably strong tackle numbers every year. His smooth athleticism, versatility, and relentless motor make him a hand-full for blockers, and he routinely commands enough attention to make life easier for his teammates.
This spot could have gone to Kerrigan’s teammate Josh Norman, but while he is a very good player, he simply doesn’t make as many game-changing plays as Kerrigan.
4 - Jason Pierre-Paul (DE, New York Giants)
It might surprise some to see JPP make the list of top playmakers in the division, but taking a step back reveals in just how many ways JPP can impact a game.
The basis for his game — and the Giants’ defense — is run defense, and it’s something he does exceptionally well, using his strength and long arms to control blockers and corral runners. He consistently piles up high tackle numbers for a defensive lineman, and had three forced fumbles, one recovered for a touchdown, despite playing with his maimed right hand.
In the passing game, Pierre-Paul is a threat on two fronts. He hasn’t been consistent at getting to the quarterback (his sacks tend to come in bunches), but he does consistently pressure passers, forcing them to hurry or move off their spots, which absolutely has an affect.
But what sets JPP apart from other defensive linemen in the division, like Olivier Vernon, Fletcher Cox, and Brandon Graham is his contributions to the pass defense. Since entering the league in 2010, JPP has knocked down a surprising number of passes, notching 42 passes defensed. For some context, All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, drafted one spot higher, has 60 passes defensed and has played in 12 more games than JPP.
3 - Jordan Hicks (LB, Philadelphia Eagles)
By definition, playmakers make plays that impact and change the flow of the game. Since coming into the league as a third round pick in 2015, Hicks has proven to be an excellent coverage linebacker with a knack for finding the football.
In just 21 career starts, Hicks has made seven interceptions, broken up 14 passes, and grabbed four fumbles. His numbers are already strong, and he is ascending as a player.
2 - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DB, New York Giants)
It might seem odd for DRC to make the list while Janoris Jenkins misses out, but it seemed a bit excessive to have four Giants on the list — though, given how they played in 2016, not unreasonable. I just simply couldn’t leave Rodgers-Cromartie off.
While he did see a decrease in play time in favor of rookie Eli Apple, DRC had arguably his most productive season. Notching an impressive six interceptions and 25 passes defensed, throwing at whichever receiver Rodgers-Cromartie was covering was an exercise in futility.
Furthermore, his athleticism, hustle, and football IQ allowed him to make game-saving plays for the Giants. The first came in the first week of the season when DRC positioned himself to prevent Dallas Cowboys’ receiver Terrance Williams from going out of bounds to stop the clock, sealing the win for the Giants. Another came in week 15 against the Detroit Lions when DRC turned on the afterburners to run down Golden Tate to save a touchdown that would have given the Lions a 10-7 advantage over a sputtering Giants’ offense. The very next play, the defense forced a fumble and stole back the momentum, which couldn’t have happened without Rodgers-Cromartie.
1 - Landon Collins (S, New York Giants)
Wednesday I asked if there was ever any doubt that Odell Beckham Jr. would be the top offensive playmaker in the division.
Today I ask: Was there ever any doubt that Landon Collins is the top defensive playmaker in the NFC East?
Threatened with a move to linebacker after a disappointing 2015 campaign, Collins exploded onto the scene in 2016, and was consistently the best player on the field for the best defense in the division. Collins did it all for the Giants. He came down with thundering authority in the run game, fired into the backfield from a variety of positions as a blitzer, snagged balls and broke up passes in coverage, and commanded a sophisticated and fluid defense. Collins’ stat line was one of the most impressive by a safety in league history: 134 tackles, 5 sacks, 5 interceptions, 15 passes defensed, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown on an incredible return of an interception.