We're counting down the top 10 players in the NFL's most popular division. This is based mainly on what went down in 2011, but we've projected a little as well. Whittling it down to two handfuls of guys was no easy task—it felt as though a couple dozen Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins were worthy of the top 10.
No. 7: Trent Cole, Defensive End, Philadelphia Eagles
I promise this list won't be filled entirely with Eagles the rest of the way, and it's just a coincidence that—spoiler alert!—we're only midway through a run of players from Philadelphia in the top 10.
Cowboys and Giants fans probably won't love me for the next couple of days, but I promise they'll be satisfied when we get into the top half of the list (or is it the bottom half? Whatever, the one with the better players than the other half).
Cole has for years been considered one of the most underrated players in football—something that's been stated so often that it's probably safe to assume he's no longer classified that way. But it took quite a while for him to finally gain widespread recognition for his contributions up front in Philly.
Find me an active 4-3 defensive end who combines the ability to rush the passer and defend the run as well as Cole. I'll admit that we sportswriters toss out words like "versatile" and "consistent" to describe great athletes too often. It's not as though we're lying, but such terms are so cliché that we sometimes fail to appreciate true versatility and consistency.
Trent Cole, though, is the Webster's-worthy definition of those two traits.
He's received a negative rating from Pro Football Focus just four times in 29 games the last two seasons, and he was PFF's top-ranked 4-3 end against the run in both 2009 and 2010. The website called him "the most complete player at his position."
I only hope Cole doesn't begin to wear down in upcoming seasons.
He's going to turn 30 this year, and he missed more than one game last season for the first time in his seven-year career. But he'll continue to benefit from a deep defensive line rotation, and the Eagles obviously feel strongly enough about Cole's future that they rewarded him with a six-year contract extension in March.
And we feel strongly enough about him right now that we're prepared to say that there are only half a dozen NFC East players who can consider themselves his equal.