AFC East: AFC East top 25

AFC East's best: No. 21 Bart Scott

June, 24, 2011
The countdown of my top 25 AFC East players continues, one weekday at a time ...

About the choice: Scott is the spiritual leader of a defense that ranked third in total yards allowed and third against the run. He forms one of the league's best inside linebacker tandems with the underrated David Harris. Scott was second on the team with 94 tackles, 28 more than the player who finished third. Scott recorded a sack, seven tackles for losses, 13 quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a recovery.

Key fact: Ball carriers broke two tackles against Scott last season, Football Outsiders found. Only three NFL players had less than two while recording at least 50 tackles.

Hint about No. 20: He hasn't gotten much mainstream attention yet, but he's emerging as one of the best young players at his position.

Previous picks:

AFC East's best: No. 22 Randy Starks

June, 23, 2011
The countdown of my top 25 AFC East players continues, one weekday at a time ...

No. 22 Randy Starks, Dolphins defensive lineman

About the choice: Starks' statistical production dipped after a strong 2009 campaign, but he still played well enough to make his first Pro Bowl roster. Starks is versatile and can play anywhere on the line. The Dolphins started the season opener at nose tackle, but were forced to move him when first-round pick Jared Odrick got hurt. Starks finished with 30 tackles, three sacks, six quarterback hits, three passes defensed and a fumble recovery.

Key fact: Football Outsiders data had Starks making a stop (45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down or 100 percent on third down) on a team-high 92 percent of his plays.

Hint about No. 21: He's the first of four undrafted players on my list.

Previous picks:

AFC East's best: No. 23 Dustin Keller

June, 22, 2011
The countdown of my top 25 AFC East players continues, one weekday at a time ...

No. 23 Dustin Keller, Jets tight end

About the choice: Keller's speed and athleticism makes him one of the NFL's most dangerous tight ends. He can go long stretches without posting big stats because the Jets don't implement him consistently, but he led them with 55 receptions last year and was third with 687 yards and five touchdowns. He also led the Jets with 14 catches in the playoffs.

Key fact: In a three-game span during Santonio Holmes' suspension, Keller had 17 catches for 241 yards and five touchdowns.

Hint about No. 22: Before he turned 23 years old, he had played in 44 NFL games and started 31 of them.

AFC East's best: No. 24 Kendall Langford

June, 21, 2011
The countdown of my top 25 AFC East players continues, one weekday at a time ...

No. 24 Kendall Langford, Dolphins defensive end

About the choice: Langford remained under the radar in a Dolphins' defense that featured the NFL's all-time highest-paid linebacker (Karlos Dansby), a top candidate for the sacks title (Cameron Wake), a Pro Bowl defensive lineman (Randy Starks) and a franchise-tag recipient (Paul Soliai). But Langford had another strong campaign after becoming an immediate starter out of Hampton in 2008. He recorded 47 tackles, three sacks, six tackles for losses, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

Key fact: Langford's strip-sack of Mark Sanchez in Week 14 led to the game's lone touchdown in a 10-6 victory over the New York Jets.

Hint about No. 23: ESPN Stats & Information says 82.4 percent of his third-down catches moved the chains. Three third-down catches did not, and two of them were touchdowns.

AFC East's best: No. 25 Rob Gronkowski

June, 20, 2011
One at a time each weekday over the next month, I'll share my list of the top 25 AFC East players.

The rundown is based on where players are before free agency commences. The lockout might end and players on expiring contracts possibly could join other teams before they're revealed on the countdown. If that happens, the rankings will march on. We can't swap in a new No. 10 in mid-July.

Here we go ...

No. 25 Rob Gronkowski, Patriots tight end

About the choice: The rookie from the University of Arizona was an instrumental component to the Patriots' reconstituted offense. He was a big target for Tom Brady on third downs and in the red zone. Gronkowski tied Antonio Gates and Marcedes Lewis for the touchdown lead among NFL tight ends. Gronkowski shared touches with fellow rookie Aaron Hernandez and scored his 10 touchdowns on just 42 catches. Gronkowski is a better in-line blocker than Hernandez and should be a dangerous tight end for years to come if he can avoid injuries.

Key fact: Gronkowski became only the fourth player to score double-digit receiving touchdowns in Patriots history, joining Randy Moss, Stanley Morgan and Jim Colclough.

Hint about No. 24: A Google search of his name will turn up more hits about something that happened in practice than anything he has done in a game.