The AFC North blog will take a look at the top five division players at a position each day this week. This is a projection for the 2012 season, so predicted progress and decline has been factored into the rankings.
Today, it's a look at the offensive linemen. I know they're being short-changed by having the centers, guards and tackles all lumped into one blog, but that's how we're going to fit all of the offensive rankings in for the week.
1. Joe Thomas, Browns offensive tackle: He's the most talented lineman in the division and he'll be motivated after a below-average season, at least by Thomas' standards. He allowed a career-low 3.5 sacks, according to Pro Football Weekly, but he was flagged a career-worst six times for false starts. When Thomas is on top of his game, few can beat him.
2. Marshal Yanda, Ravens guard: He was the best right guard in football and he continues to get better each season. What you admire about Yanda is his ability to fight through numerous injuries while allowing few sacks (two last season).
3. Andrew Whitworth, Bengals offensive tackle: Playing in the same division with Thomas often overshadows Whitworth's effectiveness. He's become just as important for the Bengals off the field as a team leader.
4. Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers center: There's no question that Pouncey is the most gifted center in the league. But injuries continue to stop him from reaching his full potential.
5. David DeCastro, Steelers guard: I know, putting a rookie in the top five seems absurd. But it's not too far out of the box when you consider he's the best guard to come out of the draft since Steve Hutchinson in 2001.