A quick note before we present the top 10 defensive tackles in the NFC East: We're defining defensive tackle a little more loosely, since there are two 3-4 defenses and two 4-3 defenses in this division. So if you're a 3-4 lineman or a 4-3 tackle, you qualify for this list. Everyone else is out of luck.
1. Jay Ratliff, Dallas Cowboys: Ratliff's play fell off a little last year, as he struggled with back problems, and he's no spring chicken at this point. Still, he's the most dominant tackle in the division, and if the Cowboys use him right as a situational player, he could remain in this spot for years to come.
2. Mike Patterson, Philadelphia Eagles: The 28-year-old struggled a bit during that rough early-2011 stretch for the Eagles, but he ended up turning in one of his best seasons as a pro. Cullen Jenkins gets more love, but the super-underrated Patterson is actually a better player at this point,
3. Barry Cofield, Washington Redskins: Cofield didn't have a particularly good first year in Washington, but let's chalk that up to a lack of an offseason after joining the 'Skins following the lockout. I think hell have a much better go at things in 2012.
4. Cullen Jenkins, Philadelphia Eagles: Pro Football Focus rated Jenkins as the 10th-best defensive tackle in football, but I wasn't thrilled with what he brought to the table in his first year with the Eagles. He offered little relief when Philly struggled so bad early, and only started to kick it up a notch when it was too late. Will he be better with a full offseason in 2012? Maybe, but he's 31 now too.
5. Chris Canty, New York Giants: Canty struggled early last year but then looked like a star during the Giants' Super Bowl run. Despite a down year overall, he still graded out positively by PFF's standards.
6. Linval Joseph, New York Giants: Joseph proved to be consistent, reliable and versatile in his first full year as a starter. The 23-year-old still has to master his technique and get better against the run, but his presence made a huge difference down the stretch, as Joseph freed up those ends to wreak havoc.
7. Sean Lissemore, Dallas Cowboys: Lissemore might have been the best backup in the division last year. He obviously played limited snaps, but Pro Football Focus still rated him as the third most productive run-stopping 3-4 end in the game. Yes, the sample size is small, but it'll grow in 2012.
8. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles: I'm rolling the dice on a rookie tackle in Philly instead of going with starting 3-4 ends in Washington (Stephen Bowen, Jarvis Jenkins, Adam Carriker) and Dallas (Jason Hatcher, Marcus Spears), mainly because Cox is a physical marvel who should gain reps and make an impact right off the bat. He couldn't be in a better situation.
It's tricky trying to assess defensive tackles from different systems, because their goals aren't always aligned. Some of those honorable mentions from the Cox blurb could have great seasons, but I don't think they'll impact their teams like these eight players will.