With the NFL Draft a distant memory and the regular season still over a month away, NFL fans are at something of a loss right now. Given the down time, the Last Word on Sports team will be breaking down the best players in each division, starting with the AFC East.
Note that positional value is not factored in this list – this is all based on who is the best at their respective job on the field. Also note that this list does not include players who have opted out of the 2020 season.
Top Players of the AFC East Heading Into 2020
1. Stephon Gilmore
The AFC East has an abundance of cornerback talent, but the top spot on this list was an easy choice. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore is the top cornerback in football and the best player in the AFC East. The former first-round pick plays more man coverage than just about anyone and usually doesn’t have much in terms of safety help. Despite this difficult job, Gilmore annually has some of the best numbers when targeted and a high PFF grade. Outside of Aaron Donald, there might not be a better defensive player in the league.
2. Tre’Davious White
Tre’Davious White might not be on the same level as Gilmore, but he’s not far behind. The former first-round pick was a starter right out of the gate and has only improved during his three seasons in the league. Last year, White recorded a league-leading six interceptions, broke up 17 passes, and earned First-Team All-Pro honors for his fantastic coverage work. If he can continue his upward trajectory, he could challenge Gilmore for the title of the NFL’s best cornerback.
3. Byron Jones
Byron Jones might not be a big-play machine like some other corners, but he’s stout in coverage and rarely gives up easy completions. There’s a lot to be said for a player like that, and he’s more than deserving of the massive contract he received in free agency. Miami struggled to stop opposing passing attacks last season, and Jones’ presence should be a welcome addition to one of the weaker secondaries in football.
4. Stefon Diggs
Stefon Diggs is one of the most underrated wide receivers in all of football. When he’s on the field, there’s nothing he cannot do. The former fifth-round pick might just be the best route runner in the game and is capable of getting open at all three levels of the field. Even when he’s not open, Diggs is the best contested catch specialist in the league. Josh Allen should be thanking his lucky stars that the Bills managed to bring in a receiver of this caliber.
5. Shaq Mason
The fact that his 2019 season was considered underwhelming speaks to just how high Shaq Mason’s standard of play is. The former fourth-round pick spent his entire collegiate career in a triple-option offense and essentially had to learn how to pass block on the fly. He managed to learn that, and then some, as he’s simply immovable at his best.
6. Joe Thuney
The New England Patriots have a gift for finding talented offensive linemen throughout the draft, and Joe Thuney is no exception. The former third-round pick started right out of the gate as a rookie and has slowly developed into one of the best guards in football. He can stand up to just about everyone in the pass game and can create wide-open lanes in the run game. He might not be Quenton Nelson, but he’s just in the tier below that.
7. Devin McCourty
Devin McCourty might just be the most important defensive player of New England’s second dynasty. Selected in the first round back in 2010, McCourty spent his early years at cornerback before permanently transitioning to safety midway through 2012. Ever since that change, the Rutgers product has been one of the best deep safeties in the league. Blessed with incredible speed and even better football intelligence, McCourty is a huge reason that New England is able to run so many of their defensive schemes. If they didn’t have his ability to take away the deep pass, New England’s aggressive coverage philosophy would never work.
8. Lawrence Guy
Lawrence Guy might not be the biggest name on this list, but there are few players capable of doing their job better than the 6’4”, 315-pound defensive tackle. Guy excels at eating up space in the middle, clogging up run lanes, and freeing blockers so that others can make plays. It’s thankless work, but somebody has to do it, and there aren’t many that do it better than him.
9. Julian Edelman
Even without Tom Brady, Julian Edelman is going to be a problem for opposing defenses. The former college quarterback is as tough as they come, and downright impossible to cover in the short part of the field. His lateral agility and quickness are second to none and he should take to the role of Cam Newton’s security blanket.
10. Micah Hyde
Rounding out the list is Buffalo Bills safety Micah Hyde. The former fifth-round pick has dramatically outplayed his draft stock, both with the Bills and during his time with the Green Bay Packers. Hyde, a one-time Pro Bowler, doesn’t dominate at any one thing but is above-average at multiple roles. He can hold his own in the run game and has the ability to make plays in coverage while taking away tight ends and deep passes.
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