NFC East Top 20: No. 19 Brian Orakpo

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. And if you want to read any of the other posts that have run since we started this series, you can find them all here, in this link.

No. 19 -- Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins LB

(Last year's rank: 14)

There were players who dropped off of last year's list due to poor 2012 performance and injury issues, and clearly, this ranking indicates that Orakpo nearly met that same fate. But this ranking speaks to the extent to which I believe in Orakpo as a disruptive pass-rushing force when he's healthy. He is healthy right now, he's having a strong training camp and claims to have addressed his season-ending pectoral muscle injury more effectively than he did the year before. So I have decided to give him the benefit of the doubt based on the 28.5 sacks he had in his first three NFL seasons and my expectations for what he can do this year if he plays all 16 games.

The Redskins defense continues to be designed around the idea of Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan as edge pass-rushers, which means it's set up for those guys to pile up sacks. Kerrigan is entering his third NFL season, so he's likely to draw more attention than he did as a rookie in 2011, the last time Orakpo was healthy and playing alongside him for an extended period of time. All of this, plus the fact that it's the final year of Orakpo's contract, lead me to believe that big things are in store for a player who's shown the ability to be a top pass-rusher when he's been healthy. If he'd been healthy last year, I believe he'd rank higher on this list. If he doesn't stay healthy this year, I may regret including him. But if he does (and if he re-signs in Washington), I expect him to rank much higher on the 2014 list.

The rest of the rankings:

20. Jason Hatcher, DL, Dallas Cowboys