AFC East: Walker's Fab 40

Walker's Fab 40 snubs

February, 2, 2013
Not everyone could make Walker’s Fab 40. This is the best of the best in the AFC East, and this year we had another very competitive list.

Here are several good players who didn’t make the list:

Fab 40 snub: Brandon Fields, P, Miami Dolphins

2012 stats: 50.2 yard average, 29 punts inside 20

Why he missed the cut: This was a tough call to make. I think Fields is one of the top 10 punters in the NFL. However, is he one of the top 40 players in the AFC East? I went back and forth on this one but eventually placed a lower value on punters and included players who were more productive at other positions. Ultimately, could I rank Fields ahead of Miami safety Reshad Jones, who came in at No. 40? I just couldn't do it.

Fab 40 snub: Chandler Jones, DE, New England Patriots

2012 stats: 45 tackles, six sacks

Why he missed the cut: Jones started his rookie season on a tear. He had six sacks early and brought the Patriots a much-needed pass rush. However, Jones came to New England with an injury history in college, and that also hampered him in the second half of this season. Jones suffered through a bum ankle and couldn’t finish the year strong. I need to see more of Jones. Eight good games as a rookie weren’t enough. But the talent is there, and I fully expect him to be on Walker’s Fab 40 in 2014.

Fab. 40 sub: Jeremy Kerley, WR, New York Jets

2012 stats: 56 receptions, 827 yards, two TDs

Why he missed the cut: Kerley did the opposite of Jones. He was nonexistent for the first half of the season but came on strong late in the year. Some of this has to do with Santonio Holmes' season-ending foot injury. Kerley eventually became Mark Sanchez's No. 1 target when Holmes went down. Kerley continues to flash but needs to put it together for a full season. Kerley is probably most effective in the slot, but the Jets need more receivers.

Fab 40 snub: Marcell Dareus, DT, Buffalo Bills

2012 stats: 39 tackles, 5.5 sacks

Why he missed the cut: I expected much more from Dareus in his second season. He showed plenty of flashes his rookie year but definitely went through a sophomore slump and disappeared in games. Dareus also had family issues off the field this season that may have impacted his play. The Bills were 31st against the run, which is inexcusable for a unit that includes Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams.

Fab 40 snub: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills

2012 stats: 3,400 yards, 24 touchdowns, 16 INTs

Why he missed the cut: Fitzpatrick had another erratic year and was 6-10 as a starter. His numbers looked decent, but Fitzpatrick had an uncanny knack for throwing mind-boggling interceptions at the worst times. He was definitely not clutch as a quarterback. His streakiness made it difficult for the Bills to win consistently. Fitzpatrick probably played his last game in Buffalo. Rookie head coach Doug Marrone is looking for Fitzpatrick’s replacement, and it could come in the draft or free agency. Fitzpatrick is due a $3 million roster bonus in March and a $4.45 million salary that Buffalo is not expect to pay.

Thanks for checking out another fun year of Walker’s Fab 40 as we put a final bow on the 2012 season. I’m sure the debate will continue on, but it’s time for the AFC East blog to fully turn its attention to free agency and the 2013 NFL draft.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 1-4

February, 1, 2013
We have reached the conclusion of our second annual “Walker’s Fab 40” in the AFC East blog. This year’s list caused a lot of debate throughout our community.

Here are the very best players currently in the AFC East:

No. 4: Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots

2012 stats: 118 receptions, 1,354 yards, six TDs

Analysis: Welker is only 5-feet-9, but he gets the most out of his talent every single season. Welker recorded his fifth 100-catch season with the Patriots. He runs the best routes in the division and remains the best slot receiver in the NFL. The only issue with Welker is he was second in the NFL in drops last season. Welker, 31, will be an unrestricted free agent in March. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots’ offense without Welker and his immense production, but that remains a possibility. New England failed to come to a long-term agreement with Welker last year, and the one-year franchise tag increases to $11.4 million. That is too much for a one-year rental.

No. 3: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots

2012 stats: 55 receptions, 790 yards, 11 TDs

Analysis: Gronkowski had an injury-plagued year, but he is still a special talent. Gronkowski scored 11 touchdowns in limited playing time. His size, strength, wingspan and strong hands make him the NFL’s top red-zone threat when he’s healthy. Gronkowski also doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the best blocking tight ends. He is a complete player. The biggest concern with Gronkowski is injuries. How long can Gronkowski play this physical brand of football before injuries start to shorten his career?

No. 2: Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets

2012 stats: 11 tackles, one INT, one forced fumble

Analysis: Revis only played two games after tearing his ACL. But he remains the NFL's best cornerback and the second-best player in the AFC East. No corner shuts off half the field like Revis. In an age of passing and high-scoring offenses, Revis is a rare talent who can still dominate the cornerback position. The Jets are expected to put Revis on the trade market, and he should fetch plenty of interest. Revis is rehabbing his knee, but plenty of players have come back strong from ACL tears. Revis should be no different.

No. 1: Tom Brady, QB, Patriots

2012 stats: 4,827 yards, 34 TDs, eight INTs

Analysis: Three of the top four players in "Walker’s Fab 40" are Patriots. That just shows how dominant New England has been in the AFC East. Brady is the ultimate equalizer for the Patriots that no other team can match. He's one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, and clearly the best of this era along with Peyton Manning. The quarterback gap is so large in the rest of the division that it makes New England tough to overcome. Brady, 35, still wants to play several more seasons. The title window remains open for New England as long as Brady, the No. 1 player in the AFC East, remains healthy.

The charts show the complete list of "Walker's Fab 40" following the 2012 season. As you have done all week, feel free to debate who is too high and too low.

Walker’s Fab 40: Nos. 5-8

February, 1, 2013
We are getting to the very best players in "Walker’s Fab 40." For the second year in a row, we rank the top 40 players in the AFC East.

Throughout Friday we will complete our rankings. Here are Nos. 5-8:

No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C, Miami Dolphins

2012 stats: 16 starts

Analysis: In just two years, Pouncey has quickly ascended to becoming one of the top centers in the NFL. Just like his twin brother, Maurkice, Mike has a rare blend of strength and athleticism that’s currently unmatched at the position. He has a mean streak on the field and is one of the few linemen able to effortlessly pull from the center position. Mike was a Pro Bowl snub this season. But his brother did take one of the spots, and it’s difficult to tell at this point which player is better.

No. 7: C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills

2012 stats: 1,244 yards and six TDs

Analysis: There may not be a more physically gifted player in the division than Spiller. He goes from zero-to-60 so fast and is a treat to watch in the open field. Spiller finally got enough opportunities to show what he could do in Year 3. And based on what we saw, it’s inexcusable that former Bills coach Chan Gailey kept Spiller under wraps for so long. Still, too many games went by when Spiller had single-digit carries in 2012. New Bills coach Doug Marrone would be wise not to ignore his best player in 2013.

No. 6: Vince Wilfork, DT, New England Patriots

2012 stats: 48 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles

Analysis: The Patriots’ veteran leader continues to plug away with another Pro Bowl season. Wilfork anchored New England’s ninth-ranked run defense with a combination of size, strength and smarts. He also has surprising athleticism for a player his size. Wilfork and quarterback Tom Brady are the final holdovers from New England’s last Super Bowl victory in 2004. Even at age 31, Wilfork is showing no signs of slowing down.

No. 5: Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins

2012 stats: 53 tackles, 15 sacks, three forced fumbles

Analysis: Wake was dominant for the Dolphins despite facing constant double teams. He produced a career-high 15 sacks and made it to his second Pro Bowl. Wake cashed in with a big contract last year but never let up. If anything it made him work harder to become a better player. Wake particularly improved last season at setting the edge against the run, which contributed to him becoming an all-around player and not just a pass-rushing specialist. Miami’s front seven was a problem for opponents and Wake was a primary reason.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 9-12

January, 31, 2013
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:

No. 12: Jake Long, LT, Miami Dolphins

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.

No. 11: Antonio Cromartie, CB, New York Jets

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.

No. 10: Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots

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.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 13-16

January, 31, 2013
The AFC East blog continues its rankings of the top 40 players in the division.

Here are Nos. 13-16:

No. 16: Paul Soliai, DT, Miami Dolphins

2012 stats: 29 tackles, one sack

Analysis: There will be plenty of debate on who is better between Soliai and teammate Randy Starks, who came in at No. 17 of "Walker’s Fab 40." Starks has the numbers and made the Pro Bowl. However, Soliai is the true engine behind Miami's stout run defense. Soliai's job is to take on constant double teams. His ability to consistently occupy two defenders allows other players like Starks and linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett to flourish. Despite only registering 29 tackles, Soliai led the Dolphins with eight tackles for losses this past season.

No. 15: Jerod Mayo, LB, New England Patriots

2012 stats: 147 tackles, three sacks

Analysis: Mayo is exactly the player New England expected coming out of the draft. He's physical, smart, reliable and doesn't make many mistakes. Mayo led the Patriots with 147 tackles past season year to earn for his second Pro Bowl berth. He will never wow you with athletic ability or incredible play making. But Mayo constantly does his job and stays around the football. He fits the Bill Belichick mold well.

No. 14: Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills

2012 stats: 76 tackles, five interceptions, four forced fumbles

Analysis: Mario Williams got the big-money contract, but Byrd was the best and most consistent playmaker on Buffalo's defense this past season. Byrd is a ball-hawking safety who led the Bills in interceptions and was fourth in tackles. As a result, Byrd made the Pro Bowl as an alternate this season. Byrd is a pending unrestricted free agent who will get plenty of interest if he hits the open market. But Buffalo will wisely look to keep Byrd via a contract extension or a one-year franchise tag.

No. 13: Nick Mangold, C, New York Jets

2012 stats: 16 starts

Analysis: Mangold has built a reputation as one of the NFL's top centers. However, fighting through injuries and up-and-down play in 2012 ended Mangold's streak of four consecutive Pro Bowls. Mangold also anchored an offensive line that wasn't very good. The Jets failed to run the football consistently and couldn’t protect quarterbacks Mark Sanchez or Greg McElroy. Once Mangold gets healthy again, he should be back to his Pro Bowl form. But the Jets need better offensive linemen around Mangold.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 17-20

January, 30, 2013
The AFC East blog continues its rankings of the top 40 players currently in the division.

Here are Nos. 17-20:


No. 20: Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills

2012 stats: 79 receptions, 1,046 yards, six touchdowns

Analysis: Johnson quietly put together his third straight 1,000-yard season. Johnson isn't the biggest or fastest receiver, but he does a great job getting the most out of his talent. Johnson also is a strong competitor who isn't afraid to go after the NFL's top corners. Johnson is not an elite receiver, but he's pretty good. It would be nice if the Bills got Johnson more assistance next season. He's been the only reliable receiver in Buffalo in recent years.


No. 19: Andy Levitre, G, Bills

2012 stats: 16 starts

Analysis: Levitre is a very good guard who is versatile. He has started multiple positions in Buffalo and might be the team's best offensive lineman. Levitre also does not get enough credit for his toughness and durability. He has a streak of 64 straight starts and never missed a game in four seasons. Levitre will be an unrestricted free agent in March and is ready to cash in. Will the Bills pay up to keep Levitre, or will it be another team?


No. 18: Mario Williams, DE, Bills

2012 stats: 46 tackles, 10.5 sacks, two forced fumbles

Analysis: The perception of Williams' $100 million contract certainly came into play this season. Just on the surface, Williams' 10.5 sacks would be considered a success for most NFL defensive ends. But when you factor in Williams received the largest contract ever in Buffalo and only played well in spots, you feel Williams' first season with the Bills was a disappointment. No matter your viewpoint, Williams did flash the ability to be a dominant defensive end. Talent-wise, Williams should be near the top of this list, but inconsistency brings him down. New Bills coach Doug Marrone and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine need to get the most out of their most expensive player every week.


No 17: Randy Starks, DT, Miami Dolphins

2012 stats: 27 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one INT

Analysis: Starks made the Pro Bowl as an alternate and is one of the anchors of Miami's stout run defense. He was hard to move in the middle and showed enough athleticism to also register 4.5 sacks and an interception. Starks and fellow defensive tackle Paul Soliai caused a lot of problems for opposing offensive lineman. Miami would like to keep this pair together. However, Starks won't come cheap, and Miami has to decide if it wants to pay up.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 21-24

January, 30, 2013
The AFC East blog continues its second annual "Walker’s Fab 40," where we rank the top players in the division.

Here are Nos. 21-24:

No. 24: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets

2012 stats: 70 tackles, five sacks, three forced fumbles

Analysis: Wilkerson came on strong this season and showed why the Jets made him a first-round pick out of Temple in 2011. He was fourth on the Jets in tackles and second in sacks, which is hard to do as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Wilkerson got stronger and became harder to block as the season went on. The Jets' play in the second half of the season went downhill but Wilkerson continued to shine. He played at a Pro Bowl level in November and December and should only get better.

No. 23: LaRon Landry, S, Jets

2012 stats: 99 tackles, two INTs, four forced fumbles

Analysis: Landry was one of the best signings in the division in 2012. Landry came to the Jets on the cheap with durability concerns. But he played his way into the Pro Bowl by being an enforcer and establishing a physical presence. New York had the NFL's second-best pass defense, even after star cornerback Darrelle Revis was lost for the season. Landry was a missile looking to unload on players coming across the middle. Unfortunately for the Jets, Landry could be a goner. He's an unrestricted free agent looking for a long-term extension following his Pro Bowl season. The Jets may not have the cap space to pay Landry to stay.

No. 22: Eric Wood, C, Buffalo Bills

2012 stats: 14 starts

Analysis: Wood is on the cusp of being one of the top centers in the NFL. He is strong, mobile, smart and has all the tools you want at the position. There is a reason C.J. Spiller had large creases to run up the middle last season, and Fred Jackson the year before that. Wood holds his blocks well and uses his feet to drive and position defenders. The biggest issue with Wood is his durability. He's struggled with leg and knee injuries the past two years.

No. 21: Sebastian Vollmer, RT, New England Patriots

2012 stats: 15 starts

Analysis: Vollmer is one of the most underrated players in the AFC East. He's also one of the top right tackles in the NFL, although that's a position that garners most of the attention on the left side. Vollmer has done a standout job protecting the front side of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Vollmer also is tough and plays well through pain. He will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and the Patriots wisely want him back.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 25-28

January, 29, 2013
The AFC East blog continues its second annual "Walker’s Fab 40," where we rank the top players in the division.

Here are Nos. 25-28:

No. 28: Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins

2012 stats: 968 yards, six touchdowns

Analysis: Bush proved in Miami that he can be an every-down back. He rushed for more than 2,000 yards the past two seasons. Now, Miami has to decide whether to bring Bush back. At times, he was the Dolphins' only consistent playmaker on offense. Bush still tends to run east and west too often, which Miami's coaching staff doesn't like. But Bush also is capable of reeling off big plays. Bush had two runs of 40 yards or more and six runs of 20 yards or more. He's also dangerous in the passing game, although Miami didn't use Bush enough in that area.

No. 27: Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots

2012 stats: 1,263 yards, 12 touchdowns

Analysis: Ridley had a breakout season for the Patriots in 2012. He set new career highs in his second season with 1,263 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Defenses focused heavily on quarterback Tom Brady and the passing game, and Ridley took advantage. Opponents could not put eight in the box against Ridley, and he showed explosiveness to consistently get to the second level. Ridley averaged 4.4 yards per attempt in his first full year as a starter. He still has a penchant for untimely fumbles. But overall Ridley has been a very good find for New England as a 2011 third-round pick.

No. 26: Nate Solder, LT, Patriots

2012 stats: 16 starts

Analysis: Solder stepped in for the retired Matt Light and performed well. The former 2011 first-round pick appears to be a long-term starter at left tackle for the Patriots. Solder has good feet and mobility. He had the huge assignment of protecting Brady’s blindside and stepped up to the challenge. Perhaps the best thing about Solder is he's only entering his third season has yet to reach his ceiling.

No. 25: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OT, New York Jets

2012 stats: 16 starts

Analysis: Ferguson did not have a great season, but the same can be said for New York’s entire offensive line. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez struggled mightily, in part, because he didn’t have good pass protection. Sanchez was sacked 34 times in 15 starts. Ferguson, 29, is not an elite left tackle. But he’s still good enough. The Jets have two pieces in place with Ferguson and center Nick Mangold. But the other three spots on the offensive line need an upgrade.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 29-32

January, 29, 2013
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:

No. 32: Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots

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.

No. 30: Karlos Dansby, LB, Miami Dolphins

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.

No. 29: David Harris, LB, New York Jets

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.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 33-36

January, 28, 2013
The AFC East blog continues its second annual "Walker’s Fab 40," where we rank the top players in the division.

Here are Nos. 33-36:

No. 36: Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets

2012 stats: 1,063 yards, eight touchdowns

Analysis: Longtime readers of the AFC East blog know I don't like playing Greene as a featured tailback. He doesn't make enough big plays and averaged just 3.9 yards per carry this past season, which is a formula for a lot of three-and-outs. However, Greene deserves credit for notching his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Greene had 276 carries thanks to the Jets' ground-and-pound philosophy. Greene is entering free agency and wants to be paid like a featured back. The Jets, who are over the cap, most likely will not overpay to bring Greene back to New York.

No. 35: Brian Hartline, WR, Miami Dolphins

2012 stats: 74 receptions, 1,083 yards, one TD

Analysis: Hartline had a career year in 2012, and it came at the perfect time. Hartline will be an unrestricted free agent and should be able to cash in. Hartline is not a true No. 1 receiver, but he was in Miami. When rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill needed a big play, he looked to Hartline to deliver. But teams were able to shut down Hartline when he was the focus of the defense. He had nine games this year of four catches or fewer. Hartline will be a quality No. 2 option for a team that already has a legit No. 1 receiver. Perhaps Miami could pay to keep Hartline and pair him with a bigger free-agent receiver like Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe or Mike Wallace.

No. 34: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins

2012 stats: 3,294 yards, 12 TDs, 13 INTs

Analysis: Tannehill exceeded everyone's expectations as a rookie. He was projected to hold a clipboard for the entire season but impressed Miami’s coaches right away to earn the starting job in the preseason. Tannehill showed toughness, poise and potential to win seven games in his first season. Because of Tannehill's rapid development, the Dolphins were in wild-card contention in the final month of the season. Tannehill showed a lot of physical tools. He can make all of the throws and has good mobility to run for first downs. Tannehill’s touchdown-to-interception ratio wasn't great, but that will improve when he gets a better supporting cast.

No. 33: Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets

2012 stats: 20 receptions, 272 yards, one TD

Analysis: Holmes fell off the map after a season-ending foot injury in the fourth game. But the former Super Bowl MVP is still a good receiver. Holmes got open consistently in 2011 but was rarely on the same page with struggling quarterback Mark Sanchez -- who is not in Walker’s Fab 40. Holmes has to prove he can come back from a broken bone in his foot. But we feel comfortable still placing Holmes among the top 40 players in the division.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 37-40

January, 28, 2013
It's that time of year again!

The 2012 football season is in the books, and it was another year of ups and downs in the AFC East. For the second straight year only one team -- the New England Patriots -- made it to the playoffs. But that doesn't mean there is not plenty of talent throughout the division.

Here is our second annual "Walker's Fab 40" in the AFC East blog. We will rank the top players in the division throughout the week until we get to the very top.

Here are Nos. 37-40:

No. 40: Reshad Jones, S, Miami Dolphins

2012 stats: 95 tackles, one sack, four INTs

Analysis: Jones showed flashes of potential in the past. But he really came on strong and played consistent, quality football for the Dolphins in 2012. Jones was the best playmaker in Miami's inconsistent secondary. He showed the ability to make big tackles as well as read the quarterback's eyes and pick off four passes. Jones' arrow is pointing up and Miami appears to have a keeper on the back end. The Dolphins need to do a better job of surrounding Jones with more depth and talent in the secondary next season.

No. 39: Sean Smith, CB, Dolphins

2012 stats: 59 tackles, two INTs

Analysis: We saw the best of Sean Smith and the worst of Sean Smith in 2012. There were weeks when Smith looked like a potential Pro Bowler. He did masterful jobs defending Pro Bowl receivers Reggie Wayne of the Indianapolis Colts and A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals. But there were also weeks when Smith couldn't get out of his own way, giving up too many big pass plays and committing penalties. Smith has the physical tools to be a No. 1 corner but has never put it together for 16 games. Now that Smith is an unrestricted free agent, I'm curious to see if Miami or other teams offer to pay Smith for his potential or the corner he currently is.

No. 38: Kyle Williams, DT, Buffalo Bills

2012 stats: 46 tackles, five sacks

Analysis: The best part of Williams' season is he returned from an Achilles/foot injury and played all 16 games. The bad part of Williams' season is he wasn't the same dominant and explosive player we saw before the injury. Williams still made plays up the middle, as evident by his five sacks. However, Buffalo's run defense was horrendous and underachieved this past season. In my opinion, Williams did not have a Pro Bowl year, but he did make the team as an alternate. Perhaps Williams and Buffalo's entire defensive line will be more consistent next season under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

No. 37: Rob Ninkovich, DE, New England Patriots

2012 stats: 58 tackles, eight sacks, five forced fumbles

Analysis: Ninkovich is a quiet Patriot who usually shows up in big spots. He showed his versatility by playing both defensive end and outside linebacker. Ninkovich is a smart player with high effort and good technique. He is one of the best in the AFC East at stripping the ball once he gets to the quarterback. Ninkovich plays his role perfectly with the Patriots, and they know how valuable he is to the defense.

Coming soon: Walker's Fab 40

January, 27, 2013
It's baaaaaack!

Our second annual "Walker's Fab 40" will take place this week in the AFC East blog. This is when we rank the top 40 players currently in the division, which is sure to cause debate.

Be on the lookout. "Walker's Fab 40" begins on Monday.

Walker's weekend mailbag

February, 18, 2012
Let's see what’s in the AFC East mailbag this week.

Daniel Tait from Leesburg, Ga., writes: I keep seeing Riley Reiff in mock drafts going to the Dolphins but the same guys are saying how deep tackle is this year. Why wouldn’t the Dolphins draft a stud DE especially going to a 4-3? Then, get a DT and RT.

James Walker: The Dolphins are hard to get a feel for because they can go in a lot of different directions, Daniel. I don’t think right tackle is the biggest need, but I wrote this week that I’m not fully against it. It’s a big need for the Dolphins and Jake Long is coming off a season-ending bicep injury. The Dolphins need a starter on the right side and potential insurance on the left.

Robert Romano from Florida writes: If the Dolphins won't be able to land Matt Flynn in free agency, would they be better of trading up in the draft for RG3, or take a chance on Peyton Manning?

Walker: Manning is the first option for Miami, Robert. He won’t be on the free-agent market for long, and the Dolphins can’t afford to wait by chasing other players. Once Manning goes off, then it’s time to look to other players like Flynn and Robert Griffin III.

Preston Smith from South Hadley, Ma., writes: Obviously, the Giants, Ravens and Steelers match up very well against the Patriots. What do the Patriots have to do in terms of personnel to beat these opponents?

Walker: Great question, Preston. It all starts with defense. New England is a offensively dominant team that is very beatable when it can’t score in bunches. The Patriots struggle most when they can’t score in the 30s, and that’s what the Giants, Ravens and Steelers do consistently.

Dan from New Jersey writes: What do you think of Shonn Greene? Do you think the Jets will acquire Trent Richardson? Do you think they would be a good combo?

Walker: I think Greene and Richardson would be a great combo, Dan. Unfortunately it’s not going to happen. Richardson is projected to be a top-10 pick. He could go in the top five. The Jets pick No. 16.

Daniel Rufer from New York, NY, writes: What should the Jets do about Jim Leonhard?

Walker: The Jets have to move on, Daniel. Unfortunately Leonhard suffered a major knee injury late in the season. He won’t be healthy in time for free agency and could be a question mark for the start of next season. The Jets can’t afford to wait on Leonhard. They have two big holes to fill at safety and I anticipate the draft being big for that.

Matt from Buffalo wants to know if the Buffalo Bills’ new offer to Steve Johnson is a sign they will hammer out a contract extension.

Walker: It’s a good step in the right direction, Matt. I still think it’s 50-50. If Johnson hits the open market, I think he’s a goner. Another team may be able to offer the type of money he’s looking for and that will take the Bills out of the running. I think Buffalo has a firm grasp on how much the team think Johnson is worth and its not willing to budge too much to overpay.

Joe from Pennsylvania writes: Do you think Chan Gailey will effectively find a way to get both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller involved in the Buffalo offense next season?

Walker: It’s a challenging problem, but a good problem to have, Joe. I’m confident in Gailey’s offensive mind. But one thing he struggled with last year was finding a way to get Spiller the ball when Jackson is on the field. Playing Spiller as a part-time receiver is not the answer. He’s a first-round pick at running back. I think Gailey needs to lower the workload for Jackson next season, especially coming off a season-ending injury, and get Spiller more carries.

Comment and complaint department

"Walker's Fab 40" generated plenty of debate this week. Here are the comments and complaints this week in the AFC East:

Dustin Ghoreishi from Kennewick, Wa., writes: Hey James, I have been following your AFC East top 40 breakdown and so far I am in agreement with the list. However, in my opinion Brandon Marshall should easily be a top five player. Not only is he one of the most dominant players in the division, he racked up stellar numbers without a consistent quarterback and inside a very vanilla offensive system. I just wanted to hear your comments on his season as a whole and where he ranks in the AFC East and NFL as a whole.

AJ from Niagara Falls, NY, writes: Stevie at 18? That's an insult. His first year where he is the main target and has back to back 1,000 yard seasons deserves top 10. Top 10 receiver in the league at that.

Sean from Allentown, Pa., writes: Not trying to be a jerk, but how is Darrelle Revis ahead of Wes Welker and Gronk?

Walker: Dustin, Marshall is overlooked in general, but he‘s not the NFL’s best receiver. I think his No. 8 ranking is very fair for where he stands. He’s a No. 1 receiver but doesn’t have elite speed and drops a lot of passes. I’d like to see him play with a very good or elite quarterback. A.J., Johnson is a good receiver but he‘s not a Pro Bowler. It‘s debatable of whether he‘s a true No. 1 receiver. I think his ranking is far also. Sean, Revis is hands down the best cornerback in the NFL. The No. 2 corner back is not even close. Can you say the same about Welker and Rob Gronkowski being, hands down, the best at their positions with a distant No. 2?

Stephen from Buffalo, NY, writes: My question is a request for clarification: Over the year it was determined that Matt Moore was the second best quarterback in the AFCE and you support the idea that Moore is a average QB and think the Dolphins should pursue a franchise player at the position. Does this mean that you do not think Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mark Sanchez -- the third and fourth quarterbacks in the AFC East -- are the answers either? Do you think the Bills and Jets should be pursuing other options as well?

Walker: Good question, Stephen. I did the “Sanchez-Fitz-Moore Watch” so we won’t debate the point all offseason. Yes, Moore won it and therefore is the better quarterback. But that doesn’t mean Moore can get Miami to the Super Bowl. The Dolphins know that and are making it no secret that they are looking for someone who can. The difference with the Jets and Bills is they believe Sanchez and Fitzpatrick are their long-term solutions. New York and Buffalo believe their quarterbacks can win a championship. They’ve said it publicly and with their wallets by making them some of the highest-paid players on the team.

Tom from Indianapolis, writes: You said earlier that Ryan Fitzpatrick's broken ribs should not be taken into account when evaluating his season. In my opinion, that's very hard to say. Did you not evaluate Rob Gronkowski's performance in the Super Bowl differently given that he had a high ankle sprain? If not, then why aren't you writing about how he had a horrible game and "melted in the spotlight"? I'm not saying Fitzpatrick is a great quarterback, but I think his play was hindered by the broken ribs, and it at least deserves mentioning.

Walker: Fair point, Tom. Although I think comparing a one-game scenario in the Super Bowl to poor play in the second half of the season is different. My point was if Fitzpatrick wasn’t healthy enough to help the team he should have sat out. If he decides to play hurt, especially for a long stretch, he’s fair game. I think comparing Jake Long’s situation is more accurate. He had various injuries but never complained. Long also had arguably his worst seasons. Injuries did play a part in both cases.

DJ Eberle from Albany, NY, writes: How can you not consider the Bills to be one of the top teams going into next year? They are a couple pieces away, and the only reason they dropped off this season was because of injuries. When you lose nine players to the IR who are regular starters your team is going to have negative affects.

Walker: It all depends on what do you consider a “top team,” DJ. I consider a top team a potential division winner next season. It’s early and I’m not ready to make predictions. But I will say the Bills have a lot of work to do to win the AFC East. Therefore, I’m not ready to say they are a top team.

If you have additional questions, comments or even homer statements, feel free to send them to our AFC East inbox.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 1-4

February, 17, 2012
We conclude "Walker’s Fab 40" with the four best players in the AFC East.

Here are our rankings for Nos. 1-4:

No. 4: Wes Welker, WR

Team: New England Patriots

2011 stats: 122 receptions, 1,569 yards, nine touchdowns

Analysis: Welker put together his best season in 2011. He set new career highs in yards (1,569) and touchdowns (nine). Welker also was one catch short of his career high in receptions. The Patriots love overachievers who get the most out of their talents, and Welker is a perfect example. He gets open a ton despite lack of size and blazing speed. He's the best route runner in the AFC East and is very sure-handed, although many will probably remember his big drop in Super Bowl XLVI this season. Welker also is one of the top unrestricted free agents. But New England is expected to re-sign him with a long-term extension or the franchise tag.

No. 3: Rob Gronkowski, TE

Team: Patriots

2011 stats: 90 receptions, 1,327 yards, 17 touchdowns

Analysis: Is this ranking too high for a 22-year-old tight end who's only in his second season? Possibly. But of all the players we've watched in person, Gronkowski may have been the most impressive in the division. He had a record-setting year with 17 receiving touchdowns and a nose for the end zone unlike any other player we've seen in a while. Gronkowski has a special combination of size, strong hands and a long wingspan to make difficult catches look easy. He also runs downhill like a freight train and is hard to bring down. Many criticized Gronkowski's loose and care-free personality. But no one can question his toughness and effort on the field.

No. 2: Darrelle Revis, CB

Team: New York Jets

2011 stats: 52 tackles, four interceptions, one touchdown

Analysis: When it's all said and done, Revis will be an all-time great. That's how confident I am in Revis' abilities. He's the best cover corner I've seen since I started covering the NFL in 2004. The way he sticks to receivers and is almost always in the right position is amazing to watch, considering how hard it is now to play the position. The bar is so high that people are shocked when receivers get a couple catches on Revis. He's, by far, the best corner in the league. Revis, 26, is in the prime of his career and you hope the Jets aren't wasting it with failures in the locker room and at other positions. New York may not get another shutdown corner as good as Revis for a long time.

No. 1: Tom Brady, QB

Team: Patriots

2011 stats: 5,235 yards, 39 touchdowns, 12 interceptions

Analysis: Brady continues to amaze, even at the advanced football age of 34. He threw for the second-most yards (5,235) ever by a quarterback, although some of that shine will be taken off by New England falling short in the Super Bowl. As long as Brady is healthy, the Patriots will be favored to win the AFC East. The quarterback gap is so wide in the division that it's difficult for other AFC East teams to compete with New England on a consistent basis. Brady wants to play until he's 40. He certainly has the skills and acumen to do it. But the biggest question is will Brady's body hold up? He's suffered nagging injuries the past two seasons that are starting to add up. Most recently, Brady was nursing a left shoulder injury late in the season and throughout the playoffs.

That concludes our first annual "Walker's Fab 40" in the AFC East division. Here is the complete list for 2012:

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 5-8

February, 17, 2012
We are down to the very best players in the AFC East.

Here are our rankings for Nos. 5-8:

No. 8: Brandon Marshall, WR

Team: Miami Dolphins

2011 stats: 81 receptions, 1,214 yards, 6 touchdowns

Analysis: Marshall said it himself: If he had an elite quarterback, he would be mentioned among the best receivers in the game. I didn't like how he virtually threw Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore under the bus, but you can't disagree with his rationale. Besides a penchant for a few drops, Marshall has rare attributes for a receiver. He has size, strength, decent enough speed and he competes hard all the time. The Dolphins started 0-7 and Marshall never quit. He was dedicated all season and put up great numbers with Moore and Chad Henne as his quarterbacks. Marshall also lit up the Pro Bowl with a record four touchdown receptions. It's further proof of how dangerous Marshall can be with a great quarterback. The Dolphins are searching for one this offseason.

No. 7: Jake Long, LT

Team: Dolphins

2011 stats: 14 starts

Analysis: When healthy, Long and Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns are the NFL's two best left tackles. Both have similar skills, but Long had arguably his most inconsistent year in 2011. Long didn't complain about his various injuries, but it certainly affected his play all season. He eventually tore his biceps muscle in December and was knocked out for the season. Long is the complete package as a left tackle — talent, work ethic and smarts. The only thing holding him back lately is health, which makes you wonder if injuries are becoming chronic with Long.

No. 6: Vince Wilfork, DT

Team: New England Patriots

2011 stats: 53 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 entertaining interceptions

Analysis: Wilfork, 30, is starting to get up in years. But the eight-year veteran is coming off arguably the best season of his career. He set a career high with 3.5 sacks, something not typically asked of him, and he also had the two most exciting interceptions in the NFL last season. Wilfork had a chance to return both picks and ran through a few tackles along the way. For all of New England's issues on defense, Wilfork is certainly not one of them. He is the best overall defender the Patriots have and one of the best defensive players in the division.

No. 5: Nick Mangold, C

Team: New York Jets

2011 stats: 14 starts

Analysis: It's debatable if Long is the best left tackle in the NFL. But in my book there's no debate that Mangold is the league's best center. Mangold has all the attributes you want in a center. He's physical, smart and has enough athleticism to move in open space. New York built its entire offensive line around Mangold. That's part of the reason why the group fell apart when Mangold missed two games with an ankle injury. Mangold played with a bum ankle nearly the entire second half of the 2011 season and still played at a Pro Bowl level. He's one of the toughest and best offensive linemen in football.