In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post.
No. 8. -- Justin Tuck, Giants DE
Having apprenticed under Michael Strahan at an early age, Tuck seemed destined to emerge as one of the top all-around defensive players in the NFL. He has been one of the dependable anchors of the New York Giants defensive lines that have helped deliver two of the last five Super Bowls. And while teammates such as Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul may have produced more highlight plays or better sack numbers, Tuck has been the best player on the Giants' defense since Strahan retired.
He's made two Pro Bowls in the past five years, and unlike some of his 4-3 defensive end peers, he's known for more than just sacks. Tuck consistently grades out among the best at his position against the run. He's able to move inside and play defensive tackle when the Giants decide they need to load up on pass rushers. His versatility is a critical part of the Giants' team success and the individual success others have had around him. And he's a willing and sober voice of reason around younger players in a Giants locker room whose hallmark is cohesion and development.
A year ago, Tuck would have been higher on this list. He's coming off a down year that was plagued by injuries and, he says, forced him to consider his future in the game. But his reinvigorated return to action in late December coincided with the start of the Giants' run to the Super Bowl, and that's no coincidence. Teams have players without whom they just don't seem to operate correctly, and Tuck is such a player for the Giants.
Rankings so far:
9. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles
10. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
11. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
12. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
13. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys
14. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
15. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
17. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles
20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants