- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
The AFC East blog continues its rankings of the top 40 players in the division.
Here are Nos. 9-12:
No. 12: Logan Mankins, G
Team: New England Patriots
Stats: 15 starts
Analysis: Mankins, a perennial Pro Bowler, is a grinder. He is relentless in the running or passing game. His style can get under some opponent's skin. Members of the New York Giants defense called Mankins and New England's offensive line "dirty" and "cheap" leading up to the Super Bowl. Mankins responded that it was a compliment. I also like Mankins' toughness and durability. He missed one game this season, when other Patriots offensive linemen were dropping left and right. Mankins has missed just seven games in his seven-year career at guard.
No. 11: Karlos Dansby, LB
Team: Miami Dolphins
Stats: 103 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception
Analysis: Dansby isn't the best linebacker in the NFL, as he proclaims, but he's still very good. Dansby and fellow linebacker Kevin Burnett (No. 39) set the physical tone for the Dolphins on a weekly basis. Teams struggled to run on Miami, because the team was stout up the middle. Dansby is a sure tackler and takes on blockers well. I think he's Miami's most consistent defensive player. Dansby has recorded 100 tackles or more in three of the past four seasons.
No. 10: Fred Jackson, RB
Team: Buffalo Bills
Stats: 934 yards, 6 touchdowns, 39 receptions
Analysis: Jackson was probably the hardest player to rank in "Walker's Fab 40." Based on the eye test and players I saw in person, Jackson was without a doubt one of the top players in the AFC East. But he also turns 31 next week and is coming off a season-ending leg injury. How well will Jackson bounce back in 2012? Will he be the same player we saw for 10 games this past season? No one has the answers yet to these questions. But Jackson's skills are plentiful. He's a powerful runner who always falls forward and has surprisingly great hands for a player his size. Jackson also was one of the best bargains in the NFL in terms of salary. The Bills plan to give him a well-deserved raise.
No. 9: Aaron Hernandez, TE
Stats: 79 receptions, 910 yards, 7 touchdowns
Analysis: I'm not sure many know how talented Hernandez truly is, given that he plays in Rob Gronkowski's shadow. Hernandez, who is a better pure athlete than "Gronk," might be a top-five tight end if he wasn't playing second fiddle in New England. Hernandez is versatile. He is the team's best vertical threat and could also play a little running back if needed. Hernandez is elusive and difficult to tackle. The Patriots are very fortunate to have both tight ends playing together for the next couple of years. There's a very good chance that one of them -- probably Hernandez -- bolts in free agency when the time comes; the Patriots can't pay both Pro Bowl-type money. Gronkowski is a Pro Bowl player now, and Hernandez has that potential with more opportunities.