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NFC East Dream Team: Division’s best defensive players

Giants are well represented here

New York Giants v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The NFC East offensive dream team was published just a short time ago, but the defensive side may be even more interesting. The New York Giants have many young defensive pieces that can be foundational parts of a dominant defense in the future, albeit many things need to materialize for that to transpire.

However, the Giants aren’t even the presumed best defense in the NFC East. The Washington Football Team has several players along their defensive line that make them a force to be reckoned with for seasons to come. Several of these players will certainly make this roster, as will several Giants, Eagles, and Cowboys.

Just because the division was inept in 2020, doesn’t mean it will be the same way in 2021. The turnover in the NFL is quick and can happen in one offseason. Let’s see the top 15 players to crack the NFC East’s defensive dream team for the 2021 season.

Defensive line

Leonard Williams, NYG

Whoever is coordinating this defense can use the 15 personnel pieces in a manner that will maximize his philosophy, but Williams is an interchangeable piece that can have success as a nose or 1-technique, while also doing a good job outside at the 5-technique position. Williams was acquired from the New York Jets in a trade during week nine of the 2019 season. He only had a half-sack that year, and many were down on Williams, but he earned himself a three-year $63 million contract, with $45 million guaranteed.

He earned this contract by sacking opposing quarterbacks 11.5 times in 2020 while racking up a career-high 62 pressures on the quarterback - many in key victories like Week 10 against Philadelphia, Week 13 in Seattle, and Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys. He is arguably the most effective penetrator as a defensive lineman that creates pressure in the NFC East, albeit Fletcher Cox is still a stud in his age 30 season.

Fletcher Cox, PHI

Since the Eagles drafted Cox out of Mississippi State in 2012, he’s done nothing but dominate the trenches. In his career, he has 529 total pressures and 58 sacks, with 2020 consisting of 43 pressures and 8 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. He is two years removed from a 100+ pressure season, which is incredible. He may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but he has earned the right to make this top 15 defensive players list. If he was ever paired with a player like Williams, it would be great to witness.

Jonathan Allen, WAS

I could make a very reasonable case for Allen’s teammate Daron Payne, Cox’s teammate Javon Hargrave, or New York Giants’ lineman Dexter Lawrence, but passing on Allen would be a mistake. He is coming off a 50 pressure season and had more than 30 pressures in the previous two years. He’s also stout against the run. In this scenario, with these three linemen, either Cox or Allen can play the one-shade or nose, while the other aligns to the strong side with Williams as the backside defender in three-down fronts. The combination of the three players would consist of strength at the point of attack, solid quickness off the snap, and a combination of effective run and pass abilities.

Edge

Chase Young, WAS

After just one season has already cemented himself as the top EDGE rusher in the NFC East. Offenses curtailed their game plan’s to not allow Young to make game-changing plays - see Jason Garrett’s game plans vs. Washington last season. Young finished the year with 42 pressures and 6 sacks - this isn’t an incredible display of statistical significance, but when one observes the game it is evident that Young’s impact goes way beyond statistics. The 22-year-old is going to be an issue for the Giants during the next several years.

Montez Sweat, WAS

Drafted a year before Young, Sweat fell to 26th in the draft due to a heart condition. Through two seasons, he has 81 pressures and 18 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Protection packages have to be wary of Young, but leaving Sweat one-on-one is not always a good idea. Sweat has one of the longest wingspans in the NFL for EDGE rushers (84 ¾”) which is 97th percentile. This combination of EDGE rushers is scary, and the Giants will have to deal with them for the next few seasons.

Brandon Graham, PHI

Graham is one of the more underrated players in the NFC East. He plays with good leverage and has some of the better processing skills in the division. His spatial awareness, reactionary quickness, and understanding of assignments have made him a reliable contributor for the Eagles under multiple defensive coordinators. He is 33 years old, but he hasn’t had a less than 50 pressure season since 2013; he’s coming off a 56 pressure, 8 sack, season, according to Pro Football Focus, and he’s a good run defender as well. Graham makes for a good rotational player along with Sweat and Young as an EDGE rusher with inside capabilities.

Linebackers

Blake Martinez, NYG

I believe that Martinez is one of the more under-appreciated and underrated players in the NFL, and he probably was that while with Green Bay. According to Pro Football Reference, Martinez hasn’t had less than 140 tackles since his time as a rookie in 2016; this has also been under three separate defensive coordinators. The sheer presence of Martinez on the Giants’ 2020 defense was a drastic difference from what the Giants have seen at the MIKE linebacker position. His ability to fill, scrape and put himself into the best position to stop the run was exceptional. There are several solid linebackers in this division, but I would select a 27-year-old Martinez over any of them.

Jamin Davis, WAS

The Giants were reportedly very interested in Davis who was selected 19th in the 2021 NFL Draft. With the very next selection, the Giants chose wide receiver Kadarius Toney out of Florida. Davis is a long, rangy, and incredibly athletic, but kind of raw, linebacker out of Kentucky. GM Dave Gettleman has admitted his affinity for Davis, and it is understandable why he had an interest. Davis has pass-rushing upside, and he can cover, while also being a traditional linebacker prospect. The future could be bright for Davis in Washington, especially since he is playing behind one of the more stout fronts in the league.

Cornerbacks

James Bradberry, NYG

Gettleman selected Bradberry in the second round out of Samford when he was the Carolina Panthers general manager, then brought Bradberry to New York as a free agent. That’s a decision he did not regret. Bradberry was arguably a top-five cornerback in the NFL last year. He was excellent in zone coverage, caused many turnover-worthy plays, and was good enough to lock down backside receivers in MEG (man everywhere he goes) coverage in 3x1 sets. He is close to a true, if not an actual true, lockdown cornerback in the NFL and he’s only 27 with two more years left on his deal.

Darius Slay, PHI

He may be 30, and he isn’t coming off his best season, but he is still a good cornerback that would make for an excellent number two cornerback opposite of Bradberry. His first year in Philadelphia wasn’t great, but I would still take him over the likes of Dallas’ Trevon Diggs, and, possibly, although I am contemplating it, over Washington’s William Jackson III, who is a stud in his own right. I am willing to overlook the one poor season in a less than desirable situation for someone with the upside of Slay.

Adoree’ Jackson, NYG

I am tempted to put Jackson III in this spot as the third cornerback, but Adoree’ Jackson can play both the slot and the outside, whereas Jackson III is more of just an outside player. Adoree Jackson had a down year in 2020 with the Titans - in a year that he was mostly injured, but his upside as a 25-year-old, relative to Jackson III’s as a 28-year old, seems to be a bit more profitable. He needs a healthy season, but not worrying about covering the No. 1wide receiver, on a more stable defense, could help the young cornerback recognize his great potential.

Slot, Kendall Fuller, WAS

Fuller played most of 2020 on the outside, but he has a lot of time spent in the slot throughout his career. He is only 26 years old and is coming off of a solid season with the Football Team, the team that traded him to the Chiefs until he ultimately signed back with Washington after the 2019 Super Bowl. Fuller’s dual ability will lead to him being the nickel personnel cornerback that operates the slot.

Safeties

Jabrill Peppers, NYG

The Giants have a stout group at safety that consists of Peppers, who is adept at lining up towards the box and executing his run fits, Logan Ryan, who is a mastermind in the secondary and can execute many assignments, and Xavier McKinney, a young safety who can drop into the middle of the field, while also being a good run support player. It’s a great situation for New York to be in, but Ryan is getting older and Peppers is in a contract season. Peppers is coming off his best year in the NFL under the coaching and guidance of Patrick Graham. I expect this to grow in 2021 because of Peppers’s insatiable work ethic and the ability of this Giants’ coaching staff to put their players in the best positions.

Logan Ryan, NYG

I am not going to lie, this NFC East safety group isn’t exactly great and the Giants just have better overall personnel than the other three teams in the division at safety. Ryan’s ability to break down offensive intentions while aligning his defense and reacting to what he sees pre-snap, to post-snap, is a testament to his knowledge and experience. Ryan honestly doesn’t receive the credit that he may deserve as a leader in the Giants’ secondary, but I want his 30-year-old presence to be on the football field for this dream team.

Xavier McKinney, NYG

Just call me a homer, but please look at the rest of the NFC East and come up with someone who has the potential of a McKinney, and I will possibly concede. I put some thought into Anthony Harris and Keanu Neal, but I would take McKinney over either of those players. McKinney spent most of his first season with a foot injury. Once he returned to the field, he started to show signs of a possible breakout player. He intercepted Andy Dalton twice in Week 17, albeit one was called back for a ticky-tack defensive hold on Darnay Holmes. McKinney can do many things for a defense on the back end and he was a leader of Nick Saban’s complex defense at a young age. There are three Giants’ safeties in all three spots, but I do believe they all warrant those selections.

Final thoughts

The Giants defense was a surprise in 2020 and we hope they continue to build upon a positive campaign as they head into 2021. In this list of 15 defensive NFC East players, there are SEVEN Giants! I am attempting to refrain from homerism, but that is just less than half. The rest of the division is weak at safety, and Adoree’ Jackson has more versatility than William Jackson III; maybe Jourdan Lewis, who would have been the only Cowboy to make the list, could have rivaled Adoree Jackson, but I believe Jackson has more upside. I also considered Michah Parsons and Leighton Vander-Esch over Jamin Davis, but I went with Davis due to his unique athletic ability, and the lack of character question marks.

Other than the seven Giants that made the list, there were three Eagles, five Washington football players, and a big old zero Dallas Cowboys. I do believe, under the tutelage of Dan Quinn, the Cowboys’ defense will be better in 2021, and players like Vander-Esch and Jaylon Smith may be more consistent than they were in the past. Let’s hope these seven Giants defensive players continue to build upon what was a solid 2020 season under Patrick Graham.

NFC East team totals offense/defense:

Giants: 11
Football Team: 8
Eagles: 6
Cowboys: 5