- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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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. And if you want to read any of the other posts that have run since we started this series, you can find them all here, in this link.
(Last year: No. 5)
His sack total dropped from 16.5 in 2011 to 6.5 in 2012, but watching Pierre-Paul play last year didn't reveal that significant a drop-off. He faced more double-teams and shouldered more responsibility due to the struggles of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora on the other side of the line. And while he might not have been as proficient at bringing down quarterbacks as he was during his breakout sophomore season, Pierre-Paul remained a disruptive presence in the opponent's backfield. He was credited with 43 quarterback hurries and was strong against the run as well.
Pierre-Paul is only 24, and there's little reason to believe he can't be the kind of sack artist he was in 2011 at some point (or at many points) in his future. He's got freakish speed and athleticism to go with his massive size, has learned the NFL game extremely quickly and has already played at the highest possible level in the biggest possible games. You can call Pierre-Paul a "bounce-back" candidate in 2013, but I don't think he has to bounce quite as far back as those sack numbers might make it look. This is an elite pass-rusher who has yet to enter his prime, and he's a sky's-the-limit type of player, this year and in years to come.
The rest of the rankings: