AFC North locker-room leaders

July, 22, 2011
7/22/11
1:30
PM ET
Leadership is a huge part of pro football. The league has so much talent and parity that the teams with the best leaders truly can gain an edge.

With that in mind, we take a look at the locker-room leadership for each AFC North team and provide a grade.

Baltimore Ravens

Lewis
Lewis
Locker-room leader: LB Ray Lewis

Analysis: In their first year of existence, the Ravens were fortunate not only to draft a future Hall of Famer but also to get one of the best leaders and motivators in NFL history. Lewis is synonymous with the Ravens, and his leadership is a major part of his legacy. At 36, Lewis is not the same player he was a decade ago, but he continues to play at a high level to keep the Ravens in contention. Lewis makes the players around him better -- many defensive free agents who left Baltimore over the past 15 years didn't have the same success elsewhere.

Grade: A

Cincinnati Bengals


Whitworth


Locker-room leader: LT Andrew Whitworth

Analysis: Whitworth is one of the league's underrated players and also an underrated leader. He took over the leadership void left behind by former longtime offensive tackle and mentor Willie Anderson. Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer never had that "take charge" attitude, which was one of the biggest criticisms of him in Cincinnati. The Bengals are hoping Andy Dalton can be different in that way. Overall, Cincinnati doesn't have enough leaders, and that's one reason this team struggles to win consistently. Whitworth wears that hat well, but there's only so much one person can do.

Grade: B-

Cleveland Browns


McCoy


Locker-room leader: QB Colt McCoy

Analysis: McCoy deserves credit for displaying natural leadership right away as a rookie for the struggling Browns. Once McCoy became the starter, he claimed the Browns as his team. McCoy also played the biggest role in organizing players-only workouts. But eventually, it's going to come down to what McCoy does on the field. He had mixed results as a rookie, throwing for 1,576 yards, six touchdowns and nine interceptions. He's just 2-6 as a starter, and wins and losses will eventually determine whether Cleveland's locker room continues to follow a young, inexperienced quarterback.

Grade: C+

Pittsburgh Steelers

Farrior
Locker-room leader: Various veterans

Analysis: Pittsburgh has a unique locker-room culture because there isn't a clear-cut leader. If you surveyed the team, some players would say linebacker James Farrior, others would say Hines Ward or Ryan Clark or Troy Polamalu. As a group, Pittsburgh's veterans usually do a good job of keeping younger players productive and in check. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin doesn't have many major issues with his team during the season, because it's usually squashed in the locker room before it reaches the coach's desk. Recent off-the-field distractions this summer caused by Hines Ward and James Harrison prevent Pittsburgh from getting a better grade.

Grade: B+

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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