In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post.
No. 14 -- Brian Orakpo, Redskins LB
In another division, one not overstuffed with so many of the game's elite pass-rushers, Orakpo likely would be more appreciated. He's racked up 28.5 sacks in his first three years in the league -- years that have seen him transition from a college linebacker to a professional defensive end and back to a professional 3-4 outside linebacker. He's one of the few holdovers in Washington from the pre-Mike Shanahan days, and he's one of the leaders of a group that's emerging as one of the better young defenses in the NFL.
Sacks aren't the only part of Orakpo's game. He's shown disruptive ability in pass coverage (which is where he was when he got injured in Saturday's preseason game), breaking up passes and forcing fumbles. He's been a sure tackler in the open field. He has the versatility to do whatever's asked of him in Jim Haslett's scheme. But he'll make his mark in the pass rush, and last season he graded out as fifth-best 3-4 outside linebacker in the league in that area. He can fight through a double-team or absorb blockers while Ryan Kerrigan gets free on the other side, and there are and will continue to be times when Kerrigan looks like the better player. The pair will, in the Redskins' ideal scenario, feed off of each other and excel as a team for years to come.
But Orakpo's the one who's been doing it longer, and while his stats may not rank him among the pass-rushers above him on this list, this is a very tough division in which to stand out as a pass-rusher. Orakpo is a dirty-work guy whose numbers are fine and poised to get better. And the complete package of what he brings to his defense makes him worthy of his spot in the NFC East Top 20.
Rankings so far:
15. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
17. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles
20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants