All-AFC North picks: Defense and special teams

September, 1, 2008
9/01/08
2:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

In part two of our Monday series, we take a look at our preseason picks for the All-AFC North on defense and special teams.

Defensive ends: Aaron Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers; Corey Williams, Cleveland Browns

Skinny: With three teams in the division playing a 3-4 defense full-time or at some points in games, it's hard to pick two impact defensive ends. Smith of Pittsburgh and Cleveland's Williams are the two players that somewhat fit the description. Both will have to play well and stay healthy for their units to perform at its peak.

Honorable mention: Robert Geathers, Cincinnati Bengals

Defensive tackles: Shaun Rogers, Cleveland Browns; Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens

Skinny: Despite his prior reputation, Rogers has shown no signs of slacking in Cleveland. If the Browns get 16 games of all-out effort from Rogers he will be the most dominant tackle in the division. Baltimore's Ngata nudges Casey Hampton for the second spot on our team, because Hampton needs time to work his way into shape and could get off to a slow start.

Honorable mention: Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh Steelers

Outside linebackers: Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens; James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers

 
 Kevin Terrell/Getty Images
 Ray Lewis is still the premier middle linebacker in the division.

Skinny: If Suggs didn't play angry enough, he's searching for a new contract and will take it out on his opponents this year. Harrison is a late bloomer but knows how to get to the quarterback with ease.

Honorable mention: Bart Scott, Baltimore Ravens

Middle linebacker: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens

Skinny: Lewis remains the best middle linebacker in the division. Lewis will have to be all-world for the Ravens to win games this year, so expect him to be in top form.

Honorable mention: James Farrior, Pittsburgh Steelers

Cornerbacks: Johnathan Joseph, Cincinnati Bengals; Chris McAlister, Baltimore Ravens

Skinny: Yes, the best young cornerback in the AFC North resides in Cincinnati. Joseph should have a stellar year even if the Bengals' defense does not. McAlister was banged up in 2007, but makes a world of difference in Baltimore's scheme when healthy.

Honorable mention: Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers

Safeties: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers; Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens

Skinny: These two are no-brainer picks as long as injuries do not get in the way. Polamalu is battling a hamstring injury but should be fine. Reed's shoulder injury is a bigger concern in Baltimore.

Honorable mention: Sean Jones, Cleveland Browns

Kicker: Shayne Graham, Cincinnati Bengals

Skinny: This was a very tough decision because there is not much that separates a solid group of four kickers in the AFC North. A case could be made for each kicker to earn the top spot, but we're going with "Money Graham" this season by a slight margin.

Honorable mention: Jeff Reed, Pittsburgh Steelers

Punter: Sam Koch, Baltimore Ravens

Skinny: Koch is quietly off to a solid start to his career and has the potential to get better. With that offense in Baltimore, Koch will have a lot of opportunities to put up great numbers this season.

Honorable mention: Dave Zastudil, Cleveland Browns

Return specialist: Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland Browns

Skinny: It's scary to think that Cribbs started returning kicks just three years ago. Some of the best returners in the league have done it throughout college and high school, but Cribbs got a late start and found his football calling. Cribbs, who Cleveland likes to call the 12th man on offense, has gotten better each year and could be even more dangerous in 2008.

Honorable mention: Yamon Figurs, Baltimore Ravens

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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