The NFC East’s all division team almost perfectly reflects the final standings. The three top teams (the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys) are all well represented while the cellar dwelling Redskins had just five players make it.
It’s a testament to the talent level in the division that so many quality players missed out. Even scoring double digit touchdowns from the receiver position (Laurent Robinson) or coming close to breaking the sack record (Jason Babin) wasn’t enough to guarantee you a spot on an all division team which features some of the league’s best receivers and pass rushers.
Enough about those who didn’t make it though, let’s take a look at those who did …
Quarterback: Eli Manning, NYG
After a disappointing year in 2010, Manning has finally cut out the mistakes that had plagued his career. There’s no doubt he’s established himself as a top five NFL QB. Despite being hampered by a pathetic offensive line and running game for most of the year, the younger Manning came through in the clutch, winning five games when trailing in the fourth quarter.
Running Back: Lesean McCoy, PHI
There wasn’t a more consistent Eagles player this year than McCoy. It became impossible to count how many times he turned plays that should have been losses into gains seemingly after a single game. Our top rated rusher forced 49 missed tackles in the ground game. It’s worth mentioning Ahmad Bradshaw and Demarco Murray too who would have made the conversation much more interesting if not for injury problems.
Tight End: Jason Witten, DAL
The everlasting Witten didn’t quite dominate in the ground game like he usually does but his performances in the receiving game were as good as ever. Tony Romo’s safety blanket didn’t miss a beat, gaining 940 yards this year and breaking 11 tackles (third amongst TEs).
Wide Receivers: Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, NYG and Dez Bryant, DAL
Nicks is the physical inside presence who never ceases to amaze with some of the catches he makes. Cruz on the other hand runs amongst the best routes in the game and has the explosion after the catch to score almost any time he touches the ball. We’ve put Cruz in the slot in this scenario so the sure handed Bryant can occupy the other position. He has just four drops in his career to date.
Tackles: Jason Peters, PHI and Tyron Smith, DAL
Peters finally ironed out the inconsistency of much of his career and became the league’s best tackle. He allowed a single pressure or less in an astounding nine games (five of them perfect) and thrived in the run game using the athleticism he has, as a former TE. Tyron Smith was the biggest surprise all season for me. The youngest player in the league is already amongst the leagues’ best right tackle.
Guards: Evan Mathis, PHI and Chris Snee, NYG
Mathis has always had the potential to dominate but injuries and strange personnel decisions prevented that in Cincinnati. He’s the type of guard who does all the little things perfectly. Chris Snee is more of a default selection as age seems to be catching up with him. Still the need for the Giants to consistently shuffle players around him can’t have helped and he was at least adequate in pass protection.
Center: Will Montgomery, WAS
Montgomery was easily the Redskins best lineman as he thrived in Mike Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme. He didn’t allow a sack all year and opened up some significant holes for Washington’s backs. With his contract expired, the Redskins will need to find a way to keep the best C in the division around.
Defensive Ends: Jason Pierre-Paul, NYG and Trent Cole, PHI
I guess JPP is in the reward category when you talk about risk-reward draft picks. Now pretty much the only Giant defensive end who never leaves the field, Pierre-Paul has become the complete player that teams covet. A knack for making big plays in the clutch only adds to his value for a team that has been spoilt at the position for years. As for Cole the change in scheme didn’t affect the man who has graded first in our 4-3 DE rankings twice in the past three years. He only played about two thirds of the snaps of the guys around him but amassed 67 combined pressures; remarkable. Hard luck for Jason Babin to miss out, but that’s life in the NFC East.
Defensive Tackles: Jay Ratliff, DAL and Cullen Jenkins, PHI
Ratliff is another guy who thrived despite a scheme change, balancing his run defending responsibilities almost perfectly with his desire to get after the QB. Sacks really don’t tell the whole story and Ratliff is a great example of that. Next to him Cullen Jenkins proved the perfect DT in Jim Washburn’s Wide 9, pressuring the QB with regularity and generating numerous negative plays in the run game. Some national media think the Eagles won’t pay him a $5 million roster bonus, but he’s proven worth it. It’s worth mentioning Sean Lissemore and Derek Landri too who accumulated remarkably high grades despite limited reps.
Linebackers: Sean Lee and Demarcus Ware, DAL and London Fletcher, WAS
Lee is unfortunate that he plays in the same conference as San Francisco’s duo of ILBs, because he’s not far behind. His ability to step up and fill a run hole is remarkable and he hardly missed a beat when dealing with a hand injury that required a cast. Ware had another trademark season, knocking the QB down 28 times and pressuring him on 72 occasions. He would probably have led our 3-4 OLB rankings if not for committing eleven penalties which was very uncharacteristic. Finally the ageless Fletcher-Baker rounds out the group. He continues to do everything well despite never receiving accolades. That’s what we’re here for though and this is one he thoroughly deserves. The Redskins must get him back in 2012.
Cornerbacks: Asante Samuel, PHI and Josh Wilson, WAS
This may well come as a surprise to many Eagles fans but Samuel had a great season. He may have continued to avoid tackles and generally perform pathetically in the run game (right Marshawn Lynch?) but a QB rating when thrown at of 52.4 speaks for itself. Wilson didn’t quite recreate the form he showed in Baltimore, but he was still good value for how little the Redskins ended up paying him. Finally Orlando Scandrick makes it in as the nickel despite a sub-par year where he received a new contract. That should tell you all you need to know about the nickelback play in this division.
Safeties: Kenny Philips, NYG and Laron Landry, WAS
If there were any worries about Philips after coming back from that nasty injury they’re gone now. There aren’t many players who make as few mistakes as he does. He didn’t give up a touchdown and allowed a QB rating of just 36.1, good enough for third in the league. As for Landry it’s another year where he flashed immense potential but failed to deliver it with any regularity. Another season cut short by injury also means the Redskins have a touch dilemma when free agency opens.
Kicker: Dan Bailey, DAL – other than, you know, being iced by his own coach, made some clutch kicks
Punter: Steve Weatherford, NYG – ranked eighth overall amongst punters
Returner: Brandon Banks, WAS – electric returner who has the ability to break one at any time
Special Teamer: Colt Anderson, PHI – made eleven special teams tackles without missing one