NFC East Top 20: No. 6 Hakeem Nicks

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. 6 -- Hakeem Nicks, Giants WR

The best wide receiver in the NFC East is a soft-spoken workaholic who calls no attention to himself and has been obsessively studying game film since he was in high school. He knows where everyone on the offense is supposed to line up on every play, and what each person's responsibility is. He knows how to bait a cornerback, outrun a cornerback, outjump a cornerback and find the ball in traffic before the cornerback can find it. He's a master at getting open when he has to on a big play, and he doesn't mind being a decoy or absorbing double coverage if that's what it takes for a teammate to make one instead. Nicks has been every bit the player, worker and leader the New York Giants believed he would be when they made him their first-round draft pick in 2009.

He has exceeded 75 catches and 1,000 yards in each of his past two seasons as he and Eli Manning have flourished together in the Giants' passing game. Nicks has also helped tutor fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz, who finished third in the league in receiving yards in 2011. In Cruz, Nicks has found a friend and a kindred spirit -- someone as interested and invested in the wide receiver position as a craft to be honed and constantly worked on in search of the slightest improvement. The two make each other better, but Nicks is the veteran and the one who has set the example.

Nicks may have saved his best work for the Giants' playoff run last year. In four postseason games, including the Super Bowl, he averaged seven catches, 111 yards and a touchdown. One of those touchdowns was his Hail Mary catch at the end of the first half against the Packers at Lambeau Field. And his 10 catches for 109 yards in the Super Bowl may have made him a candidate for MVP if that hadn't, somewhere along the line, been changed to a quarterback-only award. Nicks is the division's best receiver and one of the best in the entire NFL.

Rankings so far:

7. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys

8. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants

9. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles

10. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants

11. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins

12. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles

13. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys

14. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins

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