Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 37-40

February, 21, 2011
As we mentioned this weekend, it's that time again.

This week the AFC North blog will rank the division's top 40 players in 2011. This is a culmination of career consistency, last year's performance and how good these players project entering next season.

It should be a fun week. So let's get it started.



No. 40: Billy Cundiff, kicker

Team: Baltimore Ravens

2010 stats: 26 of 29 field goals, 40 touchbacks

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: No kicker had a more complete season in 2010 than Cundiff. Not only was he nearly automatic with field goals, but Cundiff also tied the NFL record for touchbacks with 40. Cundiff represented the AFC in the Pro Bowl after his stellar season. A case can be made that no player made a bigger improvement. In training camp, Cundiff's roster spot was in jeopardy, as he competed with veteran kicker Shayne Graham. But recently Cundiff got long-term security with a five-year extension with Baltimore.



No. 39: T.J. Ward, safety

Team: Cleveland Browns

2010 stats: 123 tackles, two interceptions

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: Ward made a name for himself in his rookie season. With the Browns lacking playmakers, it didn't take long for the second-round pick to establish himself as an enforcer for Cleveland's defense. Ward led the Browns in tackles and made numerous big hits. He has good athleticism and is constantly around the football. Ward will only get better as the Browns continue to add more talent around him.



No. 38: Ziggy Hood, defensive end

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 stats: 20 tackles, three sacks, 10 starts

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: There were a lot of concerned people in Steeler Nation when starting defensive end Aaron Smith went down for the season with a triceps injury Oct. 24. In the past, that has spelled doom for the Steelers. But this year was different. Pittsburgh had been grooming Hood since drafting him in the first round two years ago. He held up well for the AFC champions and played a major role in Pittsburgh's No. 1 run defense. Hood also showed the ability to occasionally get to the quarterback, which is what made Smith the prototype 3-4 defensive end. Now with starting experience, Hood has a bright future.



No. 37: Aaron Smith, defensive end

Team: Steelers

2010 stats: 15 tackles, six starts

Last year's ranking: No. 25

Analysis: Smith remains a solid player but had another injury-plagued season. The Steelers were hoping to get limited snaps out of him for the postseason, but Smith could not recover in time from triceps surgery. Now Smith, 34, has the entire offseason to heal and get back on track. He has been instrumental in helping Hood develop and play the very difficult role of defensive end in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter



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