AFC North Top 25: Top-ranked player

July, 27, 2012
7/27/12
12:00
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The AFC North blog is continuing its series on the top 25 players in the division with No. 1:

BEN ROETHLISBERGER

Steelers quarterback

[+] EnlargeRoethlisberger
Jason Bridge/US PresswireFew quarterbacks are better than Ben Roethlisberger at improvising to make big plays.
Why Roethlisberger is ranked No. 1: Roethlisberger is an elite, Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning would all be ranked as the top players in their divisions, and Roethlisberger has earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath. Roethlisberger has put up the impressive numbers (4,000 yards passing and 100-plus quarterback ratings) over his career, but those who watch him know his value goes beyond statistics.

Roethlisberger carried the Steelers' offense last season and he did it through pain. He sprained his foot (which required a metal plate in his shoe), broke his right thumb and then suffered a high-ankle sprain. He was still able to lead the division with 4,077 yards passing, 21 touchdowns and a 63.2 completion rate. Roethlisberger threw five touchdowns against Tennessee, out-dueled Brady and beat Cleveland in the first meeting on one leg. He isn't a coveted player in fantasy football, but ask NFL coaches who they would want to lead a last-minute drive with the game on the line. Big Ben would be on that list with his "backyard football" style of extending plays and making that laser throw into the end zone while on the run.

One could argue that Roethlisberger shouldn't be at the top of this list because he's not going to be at the top of his game this year. He is learning a new system under first-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley. I see the change from Bruce Arians to Haley as a positive for Roethlisberger, especially if Haley can duplicate the passing success from his days running the Arizona Cardinals offense.

Roethlisberger's reputation is built on being a winner. In his eight seasons, he's led the Steelers to the playoffs six times and guided them to the Super Bowl three times (winning twice). The scary part is he just turned 30, which is hitting the prime of a quarterback's career.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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