- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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The AFC East blog continues its second annual "Walker’s Fab 40," where we rank the top players in the division.
On Tuesday we take a look at Nos. 29-32:
2012 stats: 40 tackles, two INTs
Analysis: Talib was a nice surprise for the Patriots, who made a cunning move to acquire the often-troubled corner in a midseason trade. Talib focused on football in New England and showed many of the physical tools that made him a former first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Talib is athletic with good size. He showed he was big enough to battle with sizable receivers and fast enough to stay with quicker players. The Patriots realized this and played a lot more man-to-man coverage after acquiring Talib. More proof of his importance was how much New England's pass defense fell apart after Talib injured his thigh in the first quarter of the AFC Championship Game.
No. 31: Brandon Spikes, LB, Patriots
2012 stats: 92 tackles, one sack, five forced fumbles
Analysis: Spikes is one of the hardest hitters in the AFC East, as evident by his five forced fumbles. He is also known as an enforcer whose hits have caused concussions in the past. Spikes brings toughness and a much-needed mean streak to New England's defense. The Patriots were ranked ninth against the run in large part due to the physicality of the front seven. Spikes does struggle in pass coverage and is a bit stiff in open space. That was made apparent a few times this season, along with his struggles guarding tight ends in the AFC title game loss to the Baltimore Ravens. But Spikes brings much more pros than cons to New England's defense.
2012 stats: 131 tackles, one sack
Analysis: Dansby has been known to say over-the-top things. For example, Dansby says he will be a Hall of Fame linebacker. Dansby is not that good, but he's solid enough to land at No. 30 in "Walker’s Fab 40." Dansby is stout against the run and doesn't miss many tackles. He had four double-digit tackle games this past season, and his tackle production actually increased late in the year despite an arm injury. But if Dansby wants to be one of the all-time great linebackers, he needs to make more big plays for the Dolphins. Just one sack and zero interceptions are not enough.
2012 stats: 123 tackles, three sacks
Analysis: Harris continues to be a rock while the rest of New York's linebackers showed their age in 2012. Harris recorded 123 tackles, which is the most for him since 2009. Unfortunately for Harris, other linebackers like Bart Scott and Calvin Pace didn't step up their games, and New York's usually stout run defense suffered. The Jets were an awful 26th against the run. Expect a lot of turnover in New York under new general manager John Idzik. The Jets will get younger and cheaper next season. But Harris is one of the few high-paid veterans who is a keeper.