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. 1: DeMarcus Ware, Defensive End, Dallas Cowboys
Back in May, I used 863 words to explain why Ware is still the NFC East's best player, and—surprisingly—I'm standing by that not-so-wild claim seven weeks later. Though if you follow that link, you might notice that I clearly exercised my right to rethink the rest of my top 10 from the spring. I've replaced Jason Babin, Justin Tuck and Nnamdi Asomugha with Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Brian Orakpo.
Yet the top four remain the same, and I continue to fervently support Ware as the top dog.
I do worry about Ware. He'll be 30 this season and wear and tear could begin to set in, especially if his neck gives him trouble again. Yet that was the case last year, and the four-time All-Pro still managed to pick up a ridiculous 19.5 sacks.
I'd like to repeat a qualifier that I used back in May, because I think it's crucial here:
This, like most sports discussions, is subjective and personal. We all have different standards, rules and sets of criteria that we use to determine a player's value. What's more, I should clarify that I don't believe non-quarterbacks are capable of influencing football results in the same way that quarterbacks are. So while Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Michael Vick are surely more important to their respective teams than Ware is, I'm arguing that Ware is a more dominant overall player.
With that in mind, no one in this division has consistently dominated his peers like Ware has the last half-decade, and until that changes, he'll lead these rankings.
Ware's been an All-Pro four of the last five seasons (no other player in the division has received that honor more than twice in the same time frame), and he has never missed a game in his seven-year career.
He single-handedly was responsible for 46 percent of Dallas' 42 sacks in 2011, and Pro Football Focus ranked him as the most effective pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker in the game. He's been top four in those rankings each of the last four seasons.
It baffles me that Ware has yet to win the defensive player of the year award, but it appears he has enough gas in the tank to make several more runs at it. For that to happen, he might have to stop continually flirting with Michael Strahan's single-season sack record (22.5) and finally hook up with history.
Not only does Ware believe he can accomplish said feat, he's not ready to rule out a 25-sack campaign. Would a quarter-century-sack season really surprise any of us?
That's why he's the best player in the league's most popular division.