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. 2: Jason Pierre-Paul, Defensive End, New York Giants
There might not be a better NFL player under the age of 25 than Pierre-Paul, who emerged as one of the best all-around 4-3 defensive ends in football in his second pro season. Considering that he's only been playing the game of football for six years, it's hard to see a proverbial ceiling.
The 2010 first-round pick is an athletic marvel, and already one of the best closers in football. Not only is he coming off a 16.5-sack sophomore season, but Pro Football Focus rated him as the fourth-best 4-3 end in the league against the run.
JPP's critics could point to the fact that PFF rated him as only the 22nd most productive pass-rushing 4-3 end in the league, but that also shows how good Pierre-Paul is at closing. Chris Long had twice as many pressures last season, but JPP had more sacks.
To fully understand how versatile Pierre-Paul is, you just have to look at his 86 tackles. He was the only player in football with double-digit sacks and over 70 tackles. In fact, not a single other member of the 80-tackle club had more than eight sacks. He had 16.5.
I'd like to see him register more takeaways, but let's give it time. Pierre-Paul only took up football as a junior in high school, and he's still learning (via ProvidenceJournal.com). He's only 23, and yet he might actually be further from his prime than the majority of players in his age group.
In my mind, JPP has emerged as a Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner. Even without projecting based on trajectory, he's one of the top few players in this division. When considering what the future might hold, I actually had a tough time leaving him out of the top spot.