Best Players by Position... All-AFC North Team

As I sit back and admire the AFC North this offseason, I'm wondering how I'd feel about this division if I were a fan of the NFC South, our inter-conference competition this year. Who's the most threatening quarterback? Who's gonna destroy my quarterback?  Who's got the best line?


QUARTERBACK: Options: Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Joe Flacco

With three very quality QBs in the division, its a tough pageant to judge.  While the hype hasn't ceased to accumulate around Flacco, he doesn't have the credentials.  His rookie and 2nd year QB ratings (80.3 and 88.9 respectively) are impressive, but until he actually does break 4000 yards and/or 30 tds, he can't be considered.  Until then he's an excellent game manager over a hell of a running game.  If we take into account skill and clutch performance only, Big Ben is the pick with 2 rings and better overall numbers, but without Santonio and Colon, and the additions by Cincinnati (Bryant, Shipley, and Gresham) I'm worried about facing Palmer.  DECISION: Palmer

RUNNING BACK: Options: Rashard Mendenhall, Cedric Benson, Ray Rice, Jerome Harrison

Unfortunately for my Nati brethren, this one's a no brainer.  Jerome still isn't proven as a full-timer and Mendenhall is a bruiser but fragile and limited.  Benson was monstrous last year but... Ray Rice is ridiculous.  Despite his 1,339 yards, 5.3 average per carry, and 7 tds, only one number matters, 78.  Seventy-eight frickin' catches last year, those are 2nd wideout numbers on top of his excellent rushing work (plus when he's "down" he's not really down, his knee never touched.)  DECISION: Rice

WIDEOUT: Options: Hines Ward, Chad Ochocinco, Anquan Boldin

Anquan Boldin, an excellent receiver in his own right, still has to be tested as a team's true number 1 receiver.  He'll be drawing way more of the secondary's attention than Mason, so no schooling the second cornerback across from Larry Fitz anymore.  Hines and Ocho create quite a duel.  The only advantage in Ward's favor are his blocking skills.  Receiving-wise though, Chad wins in the speed, hands, and route-running categories.  DECISION: Ochocinco

TIGHT END: Options: Heath Miller, Todd Heap, Ben Watson

Whatever "options" there are. They all fall short of Heath Miller, a rookie during Pitt's first Superbowl victory. Heath has solidified an already top-tier run scheme and contributes heavily in the passing game, especially as a large, sure-handed redzone target. Todd Heap did have a good season last year (and started all 16 games) so he deserves the honorable mention. DECISION: Miller

RIGHT TACKLE: Options: Andre Smith, Jared Gaither, Tony Pashos

After Willie Colon went on IR,  and while Andre Smith is yet unproven, and Tony Pashos is attempting a comeback in Cleveland, we're left with one man standing, one really big man. Gaither's 340+ pounds can move any defensiveman, and can protect well enough to have played mostly Left Tackle: DECISION: Gaither

LEFT TACKLE: Options: Max Starks, Andrew Whitworth, Michael Oher, Joe Thomas

As I know the most about Whit, his major flaw is a knack for ill-timed holding penalties, but he crushes in the run game, and holds up to top tier rushers. With Big Ben holding the ball so long, the inflated O-line sack statistics shouldn't reflect poorly on Starks, but do make it difficult to judge his play. Oher did a great job on the right side last year, but we can't call him the best blind-sider until he plays the position. Joe Thomas, however, is rock solid as the cornerstone of Cleveland's line, mobile, aggressive but disciplined, and strong as an ox-bear. DECISION: Thomas

GUARD: Options: Chris Kemoeatu, Bobbie Williams, Ben Grubbs, Eric Steinbach

This positions has to be the closest 4-way competition. Every team has one excellent Guard. Williams and Kemoeatu are 340 lb. maulers, Steinbach is a featherweight pulling guard and Grubbs falls somewhere in between. Even though each of these players have their own strengths, I would call Grubbs the best overall. Grubbs is quick enough to shut down interior speed-rushers, big enough to make lanes for Ray Rice, and is the least penalized of these Guards. DECISION: Grubbs

CENTER: Options: Justin Hartwig, Kyle Cook, Matt Birk, Alex Mack

Hartwig had a bad year in '09 giving up 7 sacks, however Birk, Cook, and Mack all played exceptionally well with minimal sacks allowed and penalties. Its hard to give the nod to Cook or Mack over Birk, since he's been in the league since '98 and knows all the tricks. Cook really held his own but Alex Mack is Birk's real competition, with an amazingly effective rookie campaign last year. DECISION: Birk

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Options: Casey Hampton, Domata Peko, Haloti Ngata, Shaun Rogers

Domata Peko, while an excellent DT, doesn't quite fit in here because of his "slight" frame.  Though he's a physical presence on the line, he doesn't squash centers like these other nosetackles.  Shaun Rogers deserves plenty of consideration here with great consistent production over the years, but Cleveland's Run-D knocks him out.  Hampton (if he returns) and Ngata are both key components to some of the best defensive rankings in the last decade, but Ngata has athleticism.  Not that 'I-wont-fall-over' type of "athleticism" you hear people talk about with some nosetackles, Haloti lines up everywhere and moves like a 270 lb speed rusher if he wants to.  DECISION: Ngata

DEFENSIVE END: Options: Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, Robert Geathers, Antwan Odom, Trevor Pryce, Robaire Smith

Robaire is mainly a one-dimensional run-stopper, and honestly, none of the DEs in the AFC North are that scary unless you count Haloti Ngata as an end. Trevor Pryce and Aaron Smith are both great players, but at 34 years old are definitely old-timers who will see their snaps go to younger linemen. Brett Keisel is also an excellent 3-4 end, and 3 years younger than Aaron Smith, but the ends still aren't the frightening position in most 3-4 schemes,  they eat space and the OLBs are the trouble makers (unless its Seymour/Warren). Robert Geathers is a good multi-dimensional end but doesn't really excel anywhere and Odom is coming of an Achilles injury, but If I can't pick Ngata, I wan't Odom. His 5-game, 8-sack showing before the heel popped showed a dominating force who not only got to the passer, but came up big in the run game with 18 solo tackles. Though Pittsburgh's ends have been more consistent and will kill you against the run, watching Odom beat Green Bay last year single-handed was pretty impressive. DECISION: Odom

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Options: James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Terrell Suggs, Rey Maualuga, Keith Rivers

The only debate here is which Steeler to choose. Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita will have to play in Cleveland before they're mentioned. Terrell Suggs gets his hits in but definitely disappears for games. Rey and Rivers are loaded with potential but still have to prove they are great players. Woodley has been getting a lot of attention as a premier pass-rusher lately, but it's still Harrison who really terrifies. How many fumbles has James caused in the last 3 years? Ummm... 19, and then there's the 34.5 sacks and 278 tackles. On any given play he could rip the tackle's arm off, force a fumble with it, and take it to the house. DECISION: Harrison

INSIDE LINEBACKER: Options: James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, Dhani Jones, Ray Lewis, D'Qwell Jackson

It'd be easy to say Ray Lewis here without much thought, but not if we take a closer look. Lewis and Farrior are really old but have had amazing careers, and continue to produce pro-bowl numbers. In anticipation of the upcoming season, though, I'd be worried about one of the youngsters. Dhani has done great work in Cincy, and D'Qwell is a tackling machine when healthy, but Lawrence Timmons is my pick. Last year (Timmons' 3rd year in the league) he played in 14 regular season games, starting 13, and proved to be quite the playmaker with 78 tackles, 7 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 4 passes defensed. DECISION: Timmons

CORNERBACK: Options: Johnathan Joseph, Leon Hall, Domonique Foxworth, Eric Wright

The number of interceptions shared by Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, Will Allen, and William Gay last year is 1. Lardarius Webb and Joe Haden have potential but can't yet be counted. Foxworth and Wright had very similar seasons in '09, gathering in 4 picks a piece and more than their share of tackles in the secondary. Joseph and Hall are also on common statistical ground with 6 interceptions and over 20 passes defensed each, and tackling skills to close down on the run. Joseph has the physical skills to matchup with any speed or size, while Hall is a technician and a slight bit more physical. Generally, Hall is matched up on the number one receivers, though, because he's never out of position. DECISION: Hall

SAFETY: Options: Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed

These are two serious injury liabilities this year, but they're also the only two AFC North safeties that can be considered here. Both are amazing players who set the tone for their respective hard-nosed defenses. This year I give the edge to Troy. Reed is still trying to get to where he feels he can even play in 2010 (hip surgery), while Troy will have had plenty of time to recover from his dings. I expect him to be back to his old menacing self. DECISION: Polamalu



My attempt at an outsider's perspective brings me to an All-AFC North team which has been heavily scrutinized, weeded, and trimmed...

QB- C. Palmer, ALTERNATE- B. Roethlisberger

RB- R. Rice, ALT-C. Benson

WR- C. Ochocinco, H. Ward, ALT- A. Boldin

TE- H. Miller, ALT- T. Heap

OT- J. Thomas, J. Gaither, ALT- A. Whitworth

OG- B. Grubbs, B. Williams, ALT- C. Kemoeatu

C- M. Birk, ALT- A. Mack

DT- H. Ngata, C. Hampton, ALT- D. Peko

DE- A. Odom, A. Smith, ALT- B. Keisel

OLB- J. Harrison, L. Woodley, ALT- T. Suggs

ILB- L. Timmons, ALT- R. Lewis

CB- L. Hall, J. Joseph, ALT- D. Foxworth

(Sepulveda, Dawson, Cribbs, and Zbikowski on Special Teams)

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Cincy Jungle's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Cincy Jungle's writers or editors.

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