NFC East Top 20: No. 3 Dez Bryant

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. 3 -- Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys WR

(Last year: No. 16)

Bryant has long been a player in possession of tremendous promise -- a clear top talent who was held back by some off-the-field issues that threatened to derail his life as well as his career. But in 2012, with those issues under control via the help of some much-publicized and ridiculed rules governing his off-field activities, Bryant blossomed into a third-year star. He caught 92 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, emerging in the second half of the season as a trusted game-breaking target for quarterback Tony Romo.

Bryant is a physical mismatch for almost any defender in the league due to his size, speed and athleticism. He's a threat to take a short pass the whole way or to beat the cornerback deep. He can outfight defenders for the ball. He can make tough catches on the sideline. He's a do-it-all threat at wide receiver, and he's only 24 years old.

Having emerged over the second half of the 2012 season as one of the dominant players in the game at his position, Bryant is poised to keep shooting up the ladder of NFL stardom. His connection with Romo is only going to get more comfortable and more explosive as the two continue to work together. He had a great training camp and a strong preseason and looks poised to justify his ranking as one of the very best players in the league for a long time to come.

The rest of the rankings:

4. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins

5. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

6. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants

7. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys

8. Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins

9. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants

10. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys

11. Jason Peters, OT, Eagles

12. Sean Lee, LB, Cowboys

13. Trent Williams, OT, Redskins

14. Evan Mathis, OG, Eagles

15. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants

16. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles

17. Anthony Spencer, DE, Cowboys

18. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins

19. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins

20. Jason Hatcher, DL, Cowboys