NFC East Top 20: No. 5 Jason Pierre-Paul

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. 5 -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants DE

Since we began this list, oh, I guess about 15 days ago, people have asked me what the criteria are. Career accomplishment? 2011 performance? Projections for 2012? The answer is, as you can see if you look at the list, a combination of all of those things. But in the case of the first member of our top five, it's clear that the second has played an overwhelming role.

Pierre-Paul's second year in the NFL was a thunderous exclamation point of a season that established the New York Giants' defensive end as the kind of player who can completely dominate a game. He registered 16.5 sacks, which was good for fourth in the league, and added another half-sack in the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco. He was the lone stalwart in the Giants' pass rush in a season that saw Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora struggle with injuries, and more often than not he looked like the best player on the field when the Giants were on defense.

Pierre-Paul's signature game was the Week 14 victory in Dallas, in which he had two sacks, eight tackles, a forced fumble and blocked the field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. His standout performance in a game that featured almost no defense by either team otherwise helped the Giants end a four-game losing streak and secure a victory that would prove crucial in their ability to overtake the Cowboys for the division title. Still just 23 years old, he's already among the most feared defensive players in the NFL, and his potential appears to be nearly unlimited.

Rankings so far:

6. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants

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