In our latest series, the Last Word on Sports NFL department will be selecting the best players in each division by position. The defense and special teams of the NFC East will be the focus here. Without further ado, let’s delve into who made the cut.
2020 NFC East All-Division Team: Defense/Special Teams
Defensive End: DeMarcus Lawrence, Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is coming off a down year after signing a $105 million contract extension last off-season. While he had double-digit sacks in the two years prior, Lawrence only had five in 2019. Despite this, Lawrence’s talent still jumps out to those who watch, earning him a spot on this list. With the addition of the next member on the list, Lawrence should rebound in 2020.
Defensive End: Everson Griffen, Cowboys
Newly signed Cowboys defensive end Everson Griffen should form a fearsome tandem with Lawrence. Griffen’s coming off a Pro Bowl year with the Minnesota Vikings, where he was featured next to another star defensive end in Danielle Hunter. Now playing with America’s team, look for Griffen to ‘star’ once again in the NFC East.
Defensive Tackle: Jonathan Allen, Washington
Jonathan Allen is an emerging star for the Washington Football Team. The former 2017 first-round pick is coming off a year with six sacks and seven tackles for loss. With the change from a 3-4 defensive end to a 4-3 defensive tackle under new Head Coach Ron Rivera, Allen should see more success in his natural position. Allen will be a part of a Washington defensive line that features four other first-round picks, including 2020 second overall selection Chase Young. The nearby talent will take the pressure off Allen as he will not face constant double teams and can take advantage of one-on-one matchups.
Defensive Tackle: Fletcher Cox, Eagles
Outside of Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, there might not be a better player at the position than Philadelphia Eagle Fletcher Cox. While last year was not his best, with only 3.5 sacks, he still was a stalwart in the middle of the Eagles defense. In the NFC East, he stands above the rest at his position and is someone opposing teams in the division always gameplan around.
Outside Linebacker: Leighton Vander Esch, Cowboys
Since entering the NFL, Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has been one of the best at his position. While only playing in nine games before injuring his neck, he collected 72 tackles keeping pace with his 140 tackles in his rookie year. With a healthy 2020, Vander Esch should retain his spot on this list.
Outside Linebacker: Cole Holcomb, Washington
Washington linebacker Cole Holcomb is the most underrated player on this list. After being drafted in the fifth round in 2019, the rookie amassed 105 tackles and three forced fumbles. Holcomb was a bright spot for a 3-13 Washington Football Team. Now under a new coach and in a new system, Holcomb should garner more attention for his talents.
Middle Linebacker: Jaylon Smith, Cowboys
Pro Bowl linebacker Jaylon Smith is coming off a 142 tackle season in 2019. Since recovering from a horrific collegiate injury, Smith has been consistently at the top of his position. His game thrives off his athleticism that allows him to fly around the field and make plays. An elite player in the division, look for Smith to remain on this list for years to come.
Cornerback: Darius Slay, Eagles
New to the NFC East in 2020, Eagles cornerback Darius Slay has had his fair share of battles against the division’s best wideouts. In 2019, he allowed zero touchdowns in the games he played against Amari Cooper and Terry McLaurin as a member of the Detroit Lions. Now, Slay will get to face them twice a year. Slay proved with the Lions that he is in the conversation for the best cornerback in the league and he’ll look to remain there with his new team.
Cornerback: James Bradberry, Giants
James Bradberry emerged as a potential shutdown corner in his final season with the Carolina Panthers. After signing a lucrative contract in free agency with the New York Giants, Bradberry will look to build off a year where he grabbed three interceptions while only allowing one touchdown. Bradberry will look to prove his status as one of the league’s best with a new team in a new division.
Safety: Landon Collins, Washington
Landon Collins has played his entire career in the NFC East. After leaving the Giants in free agency last year, he signed with Washington, where he once again saw success. While Collins did not make as many game-changing plays for a Washington defense that struggled in totality, he did collect 117 tackles in just 15 games in a box safety role. With more turnovers in 2020, Collins can secure his spot as the division’s best safety once again.
Safety: Rodney McLeod, Eagles
Longtime Eagles safety Rodney McLeod started all 16 games last year getting two interceptions and fumbles. McLeod often flies under the radar on the Eagles defense, but he always gets the job done. With the departure of his counterpart Malcolm Jenkins, McLeod is taking on a new leadership role in 2020 that should amount to more opportunities for him on the field.
Kicker: Jake Elliott, Eagles
Kicker Jake Elliott has been a model of consistency. He made 100% of his field goals inside of 40 yards and added two 50+ yard field goals in 2019. With the addition of a 64% touchback ratio on kickoffs, Jake Elliott is a reliable player for the Eagles and an All-Division kicker for this list.
Punter: Tress Way, Washington
Washington Football Team punter Tress Way earned his spot on this list after averaging 49.6 yards per punt in 2019. His longest punt of the season was 79 yards. While punters often fail to receive recognition, Way made the Pro Bowl last season making him the best punter in the division.
Returner: Steven Sims Jr., Washington
One year after being an undrafted free agent signee for Washington, Steven Sims Jr. finds himself on the All-Division team as a returner. In Week 12, Sims Jr. had his best return taking a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions. Overall, Sims Jr. averaged 25.6 yards per kick return during his breakout campaign.