New York Giants: 2013 NFC East Top 20

NFC East Top 20: No. 2 Eli Manning

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
10:00
AM ET
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.

Manning
No. 2 -- Eli Manning, New York Giants QB

(Last year: No. 1)

No, Manning did not have his best year in 2012. He'd be the first to admit it wasn't his best work, and that's one of the reasons the Giants didn't get back to the playoffs and why he surrenders the top spot on this list to the player he barely edged out for it a year ago.

However, while Manning was the third-best quarterback in his division last year, he's still the one with two Super Bowl MVP awards and the one you'd almost certainly pick to start one must-win game for you if you were choosing among NFC East quarterbacks. A down year for Manning still meant 3,948 yards and 26 touchdown passes, and he actually threw one less interception than he did in the 2011 regular season. He is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and based on his pre-2012 numbers there's little reason to think he won't be back well over 4,000 yards and a 60 percent completion rate in 2013.

Numbers aren't the whole Manning story, of course. He's a proven winner. He's an unquestioned, experienced and venerated leader in his own locker room. He leads weekly meetings with his receiving corps -- film sessions in which, the receivers say, Manning is the only one who talks and they all just listen and soak it all in. He is as vital to the success of his offense as Robert Griffin III is to his, he's just not as new or exciting. Manning hasn't missed a game since his rookie season, and his reliable, steadying presence is the biggest reason the Giants enter every season certain they can contend for a playoff spot. They may not always make it, but when they do, Manning makes them a threat to cash in with a Super Bowl title. If you judge quarterbacks on winning and championships, it's easy to see why Manning ranks this high on this list.

The rest of the rankings:

3. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
4. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
5. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles 6. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants 7. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
8. Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins
9. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
10. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
11. Jason Peters, OT, Eagles
12. Sean Lee, LB, Cowboys
13. Trent Williams, OT, Redskins
14. Evan Mathis, OG, Eagles
15. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
16. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
17. Anthony Spencer, DE, Cowboys
18. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
19. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
20. Jason Hatcher, DL, Cowboys
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.

Pierre-Paul
No. 6 -- Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants DE

(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:

7. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys

8. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
9. Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants 10. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
11. Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles 12. Sean Lee, LB, Cowboys
13. Trent Williams, OT, Redskins
14. Evan Mathis, OG, Eagles
15. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
16. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
17. Anthony Spencer, DE, Cowboys
18. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
19. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
20. Jason Hatcher, DL, Cowboys

NFC East Top 20: No. 9 Victor Cruz

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
10:30
AM ET
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.

No. 9 -- Victor Cruz, New York Giants WR

(Last year: No. 10)

Cruz
Cruz
After Cruz's brilliant breakout 2011, the question was whether he could do it again. Though he might not have delivered as many breathtaking big plays as he did during that Super Bowl season, Cruz increased his reception total from 82 to 86, and his touchdown total from nine to 10. He's an ideal slot receiver in the Giants' passing offense, creating mismatches against linebackers, safeties and No. 3 cornerbacks with his speed and his precision. Perhaps most importantly, he's clearly a receiver that Giants quarterback Eli Manning trusts to be open under almost any circumstances.

Cruz's production numbers rank him among the top wide receivers in the league. The only thing that keeps him from moving further up a list like this one is that he hasn't demonstrated the ability to win matchups on the outside the way a traditional No. 1-type receiver should. As a result, the Giants prefer to keep him in the slot, where he can dominate, and look for other options on the outside to complement him and Hakeem Nicks. That's better for the Giants and better for Cruz, who just keeps putting up those gaudy numbers with no end in sight.

The rest of the rankings:

10. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys

11. Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
12. Sean Lee, LB, Cowboys
13. Trent Williams, OT, Washington Redskins
14. Evan Mathis, OG, Eagles
15. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
16. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
17. Anthony Spencer, DE, Cowboys
18. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
19. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
20. Jason Hatcher, DL, Cowboys

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