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.
There is only one player on our list who is not, nominally, a starter on his own team. That speaks to the incredible quality of depth the Giants have at the defensive line position and to how great a player Umenyiora has been and still is. The big issue with him over the past couple of years was a contract dispute that kept him out of training camp practices and generally soured public opinion on him as a player. And last year, injuries limited him to nine regular-season games while the emergence of Jason Pierre-Paul pushed him to third on the Giants' pass-rusher depth chart.
But no team has a third pass-rusher the quality of Umenyiora. Very few have two, and quite frankly there are plenty that don't have even one. He ranks ninth in sacks among active players, and of the eight ahead of him only two -- Jared Allen and DeMarcus Ware -- started their careers more recently. In those nine regular-season games last year, as a bench player, Umenyiora collected nine sacks and forced two fumbles. In four postseason games, he came up with 3.5 more sacks and another forced fumble. In 2010, as a 16-game starter, he had 11.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles. He is, in the parlance of the cliche-happy coaches of our time, a guy who makes plays. He makes them in large quantities and he makes them with flair. His sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan toward the end of the Giants' playoff victory over Atlanta in January was an act of athleticism sure to be featured prominently if Cirque du Soleil ever does a show called "Fotbail."
Umenyiora is a year away from free agency, and if he's able to stay healthy I believe he will put up numbers this year that will rank him among the most sought-after defensive players on next year's market. He's a pure pass-rusher, and there's always a market for those. He graded out pretty well against the run in 2010 when he was a starter. He's a two-time Super Bowl champion, well liked in his locker room, 30 years old and still uniquely productive when he's on the field. All he needs is a fully healthy season to remind everyone why he still belongs in the discussion of the league's elite sack artists.
Rankings so far:
18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles
20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants