- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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We are now getting to the top of "Walker's Fab 40." All week, the AFC East blog ranked the top players in the division.
Here are Nos. 9-12:
2012 stats: 12 starts
Analysis: It was just a couple of seasons ago when Long was arguably the best left tackle in the NFL. But those times have changed after back-to-back struggling seasons and numerous injuries. Long is on the decline but he's still better than 80 percent of starting left tackles. That will make Long one of the more interesting unrestricted free agents this offseason. Reportedly, Long is seeking $10 million per year. The Dolphins know better than anyone that is a high price for a struggling and injury-prone player. But that doesn't mean another team won't offer Long a large contract based on past performance and name value.
2012 stats: 35 tackles, three INTs
Analysis: Sometimes adversity brings out the best in a player, and that was apparent in 2012 with Cromartie. He raised his game to a new level after star cornerback and teammate Darrelle Revis went down for the year with a knee injury. Cromartie proved he can still be a No. 1 cornerback and guarded the opponent’s best receivers most of last season. Thanks to Cromartie, New York was second in the NFL in pass defense despite not having Revis most of the season. Cromartie's length and athleticism consistently gave receivers fits. He even showed the willingness to lay a few big hits, which is not his strength. The performance landed Cromartie in the Pro Bowl and also could lead the Jets to putting Revis on the trade market.
2012 stats: 51 receptions, 483 yards, five TDs
Analysis: New England tight ends just could not stay healthy this season. When Hernandez was out, teammate Rob Gronkowski was healthy. But when Gronkowski was out, Hernandez was healthy. Neither tight end really caught their stride in 2012, although the Patriots' offense did fine shuffling them in and out of the lineup. Still, Hernandez is a unique and versatile talent. He has a knack for making dynamic plays and is surprisingly elusive for his size. Hernandez and Gronkowski, also known in the AFC East blog as the "Boston TE Party," will be a matchup problem for opponents for many years to come.
No. 9: Logan Mankins, G, Patriots
2012 stats: 10 starts
Analysis: Mankins had arguably the toughest season of his career, but it was still enough to get voted into the Pro Bowl. Mankins is one of the toughest players in the NFL. He returned early from a torn ACL and made it back for Week 1 of the regular season. Mankins also suffered through hip and calf injuries that hampered his play. Still, Mankins remains one of the top guards in the NFL. He just needs to get back to 100 percent for the Patriots.