The NFL Draft has subsided, and NFL fans across the country are now eagerly awaiting for training camp to begin. While we will all be busy reading up on the reports and rumors, our favorite players will be training hard and gearing up for the 2017 season. Today, the focus is on the NFC East, which is slowly creeping up back to the status of NFC Beast it once boasted. Plenty of talent has been infused in all four of the teams, not mentioning the talent already on the roster. However, there are 10 players in the division that stand above the rest.
Top Players of the NFC East Heading into 2017
1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB Dallas Cowboys
The only running back in the NFL that I would take over Elliott is Le’Veon Bell. That is pretty high praise for someone who has been in the league for one season. The Cowboys went with flair over need in the 2016 NFL Draft by selecting Elliott fourth overall, netting them one of the best players at his position in a long time. Like many others, I believe that Elliott deserved the Rookie of the Year award over Prescott. Not taking anything away from Dak, but Elliott’s season was phenomenal; 1,631 yards, 5.1 yards per carry and 15 touchdowns. The Cowboys found themselves a star (pun fully intended) and have a generational talent in their backfield for the next decade.
2. Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver, New York Giants
Odell is the clear-cut best receiver in the NFC East and one of the best in the entire NFL. In his first three seasons as a pro, he has 288 receptions, 4,122 yards and 35 touchdowns. This is one of the best starts for a player in NFL history. Beckham continues to impress with his highlight reel catches and his love-hate relationships of kicking nets, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone that will slow him down. Beckham seems to have nowhere to go but up in his career as he continues to try and take his game to the next level.
3. Fletcher Cox, defensive tackle, Philadelphia Eagles
Cox is not a stats guy. He will never lead the NFL in sacks. What does Cox do that earns him the third spot? Cox is paid big money to take up two blockers every single snap, and demands offenses to change their plan of action around him. He causes havoc almost every snap and frees up his fellow lineman to get after the quarterback. He finished last season with 6.5 sacks, and will look to improve on those numbers in 2017 with his revamped defensive line.
4. Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Washington Redskins
I believe that both Carson Wentz and Kirk Cousins will ultimately have better careers than Cousins, but that does not take away what Cousins has done thus far. Cousins was originally drafted as a backup to RG3, but proved himself to be a legitimate starter in the NFL. He ended the season with 25 touchdowns and 4,917 yards along with 12 interceptions. It remains to be seen where Cousins will end up after this season, but it seems like he will be on his way out of Washington shortly. Regardless, Cousins has been fantastic and will cost any team that wants him a pretty penny.
5. Carson Wentz, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
Wentz spent much of his rookie season hitting the ground running. He didn’t even know that he would be starting until one week before opening day. Were his stats as good as Prescott’s? No. However, one needs to consider the difference in surrounding talent between the two. At the end of both of their careers, Wentz will ultimately be the better quarterback by the thinnest of margins. Wentz finished the season with 16 touchdowns and 3,782 yards along with 14 interceptions. The Eagles invested a lot to get Wentz in midnight green, and it seems like they made the right decision.
6. Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
Here’s where the fun begins. The Wentz-Prescott comparisons are going to loom over the NFC East for the foreseeable future. Prescott earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in the 2016 season, leading Dallas to an impressive 13-3 record. He tossed 23 touchdowns and 3,667 yards to only four interceptions. To me, it is splitting hairs when comparing Prescott to Wentz, as they are both primed to make the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry that much more exciting. Nonetheless, Prescott had a stellar season and looks to be Dallas’ future for the next 15 years.
7. Landon Collins, safety, New York Giants
Collins exploded onto the scene for the Giants in 2016, coming in third for the voting of the Defensive Player of the Year award behind Von Miller and Khalil Mack. I previously believed Malcolm Jenkins to be the best safety in the division, but Collins promptly proved me and many others wrong with his breakout year. Collins finished with five interceptions, 125 tackles, a fumble recovery and a touchdown. He is still a young buck at only 23 years of age, proving to be one of the most valuable defensive players in the division with all factors considered.
8. Zack Martin, right guard, Dallas Cowboys
There is no question that Martin is the best guard in the NFC East and an argument could be made that he is the best in the NFL. Martin received First Team All-Pro honors as a rookie and earned the honor again in his second season. Martin is only going to get better over time, as the Notre Dame product has proved he can be a staple for the Cowboys for the next decade.
9. Trent Williams, left tackle, Washington Redskins
Williams has possibly surpassed Tyron Smith as the best tackle in the NFC East. Smith is still fantastic, and if this list were a couple spots longer, he would be on here. Nevertheless, Williams has been the anchor for the Washington line since 2010. The five-time Pro Bowler was graded the highest left tackle in the NFL through the first 14 weeks of last season by Pro Football Focus (grade of 91.5) and has been the most stable presence for the Redskins line.
10. Jordan Hicks, linebacker, Philadelphia Eagles
Hicks is arguably the best linebacker in the division after another stellar performance in 2016. He silenced critics who doubted that he could stay healthy by starting in all 16 games for the Eagles and leading the team with five interceptions. Hicks was also responsible for 11 pass defenses, a fumble recovery and 86 total tackles. The Eagles are lucky that he is still on his rookie deal, as the budding star is going to demand quite a bit more than the $633,000 he will be making this season.