EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When we ranked the top 100 defensive players and the top 100 offensive players in the NFL last summer, Jason Pierre-Paul's brilliant 2011 season was still fresh in our minds. Even his 2012 season, without the prior year's gaudy sack totals, was an impressive one from the standpoint of disruption and quarterback hassle. The New York Giants defensive end ranked No. 13 among defensive players in last year's poll.
But the 2013 season was downright damaging to the perception of Pierre-Paul as an elite pass-rusher, and he tumbled 35 spots to No. 48 on defense in this year's rankings.
We have been over this before, and it stands as one of the most important questions the 2014 Giants face: Now fully healthy for the first time since mid-2012, can Pierre-Paul return to his 2011 form and play like one of the best defensive players in the league? He's still just 25 years old, not yet in his prime, and he's motivated to (a) prove last year was an injury-caused fluke and (b) that he deserves a huge new contract in free agency next year.
If Pierre-Paul returns to dominant form, the Giants have a chance to be a very good defense this year. Which would be very important, since the offense clearly remains a work in progress at best. But if Pierre-Paul muddles through another average year, whether for health reasons or other reasons, the pass rush and the defense as a whole will struggle. He's the most important player on the Giants' defense and the one on whom the most pressure rests.
So my prediction is this: If Pierre-Paul isn't much higher on this list next year than he is right now, he won't be a Giant anymore, and neither will a lot of other people.