With 20 days to go before the start of the NFL regular season, we are once again counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. Last year's list can be found and ridiculed here. There are three players on it who no longer play in the division and four more who fell off this year's list due to 2012 performance and/or current injury concerns. That means that seven of the top 20 are new to the list this year, including the man who kicks it all off for us below.
As was the case last year, these rankings are mine alone. They reflect my personal opinion based on a number of factors, including but not necessarily limited to career accomplishments, 2012 performance, performance relative to other players at the same position and value to the team. You will love some of my rankings and hate some of my rankings, and we will disagree and you will call me names and it'll be a whole lot of fun. Differences of opinion are obviously welcome, or else I'd be doing something else for a living.
The list includes seven Dallas Cowboys, five Washington Redskins, four New York Giants and four Philadelphia Eagles. It includes four defensive linemen, four wide receivers, three quarterbacks (yeah, that's right), three offensive linemen, three linebackers, two running backs and one tight end. I think this reflects the relative strengths at the various positions division-wide. (You'll note, for example, that there are no defensive backs.)
But those are all the clues you'll get for now. We hereby begin the 2013 NFC East Top 20. I hope you enjoy it.
No. 20 -- Jason Hatcher, Cowboys DL
There were a number of players under consideration for the final spot on this list, but I went with Hatcher, whose 2012 season was a bit underappreciated. On a Cowboys defense decimated by injury, Hatcher was a consistent force from his 3-4 defensive end position. He contributed as a pass-rusher, collecting 4.5 sacks and 29 quarterback hurries, and he was strong against the run as well. He demonstrated the kind of versatility the Cowboys needed up front on defense last year, and he managed to play all 16 games and act as the kind of locker-room leader he noted in the prior offseason that the team may have been lacking.
As the Cowboys transition to a 4-3 front this year, Hatcher looks like a vital piece. He can play the 3-technique spot on the interior of the defensive line, which will play to his pass-rushing strengths, but he's also strong enough to slide over and play the 1-technique defensive tackle spot if and when Jay Ratliff has to sit out. If they hadn't brought back Anthony Spencer, there was some thought around the Cowboys that Hatcher might be able to work as a 4-3 defensive end. At 31 years old, Hatcher appears to be coming into his own as an excellent NFL player, and if the defense is healthier around him this year he could take another big step forward in productivity. As it stands, he's as valuable a guy as the Cowboys have on defense, even if he's not the biggest star.