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Monday, March 12, 2012
Top 15 free agents in AFC North

By Jamison Hensley

Wallace-Webb-Benson
Mike Wallace, left, Lardarius Webb, center, and Cedric Benson are some of the big-name free agents the AFC North has to offer this offseason.
Here are my rankings for the top 15 free agents in the AFC North:

1. Ray Rice

Ravens | Running back

Status: Franchise player

Comment: The only current free agents who have been more valuable to their team than Rice are Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Rice produced an NFL-best 2,068 total yards in 2011.

2. Mike Wallace

Steelers | Wide receiver

Status: Restricted free agent

Comment: At the age of 25, he's one of the most promising wide receivers in the league. Wallace's 3,206 yards receiving are the second most during a player's first three seasons, ranking behind Anquan Boldin.

3. Ben Grubbs

Ravens | Guard

Status: Unrestricted

Comment: He's not flashy and he's not better than teammate Marshal Yanda. But Grubbs will make any offensive line significantly better and proved that last year when he returned from a toe injury.

4. Lardarius Webb

Ravens | Cornerback

Status: Restricted

Comment: He was the most improved player on the Ravens' team last season, going from a nickelback to one of the best cornerbacks in the division. Webb became so savvy that he began baiting quarterbacks into mistakes.

5. Reggie Nelson

Bengals | Safety

Status: Unrestricted

Comment: Nelson has gone from being a first-round bust in Jacksonville to a coveted free agent in Cincinnati. He allowed some big plays early last season, but he was stingy in pass defense late in the season.

6. Jarret Johnson

Ravens | Outside linebacker

Status: Unrestricted

Comment: Johnson won't give you much in the pass rush anymore but he'll give you all-out effort in stopping the run.

7. Cedric Benson

Bengals | Running back

Status: Unrestricted

Comment: He's a grinder who will gain 1,000 yards rushing and six touchdowns as your starting running back but won't break 4 yards per carry.

8. Peyton Hillis

Browns | Running back

Status: Unrestricted

Comment: Hillis has the potential to be a top-10 running back or the No. 1 distraction in the locker room.

9. Dimitri Patterson

Browns | Cornerback

Status: Unrestricted

Comment: He rebounded as the Browns' third cornerback and seems ready for another shot at a starting role, a position he struggled with in Philadelphia.

10. Phil Dawson

Browns | Kicker

Status: Franchise player

Comment: Few kickers have been more dependable at any distance than Dawson over the past decade.

11. Frostee Rucker

Bengals | Defensive end

Status: Unrestricted

Comment: Rucker has always been productive when healthy and he took the starting job from Michael Johnson midway through last season.

12. Manny Lawson

Bengals | Outside linebacker

Status: Unrestricted

Comment: Lawson was surprisingly more effective against the run than the pass in his first season in Cincinnati.

13. Jameel McClain

Ravens | Inside linebacker

Status: Unrestricted

Comment: A strong run-stopper who stepped up his play in Ray Lewis' absence but can be a liability in pass coverage.

14. Mike Nugent

Bengals | Kicker

Status: Franchise player

Comment: Longtime journeyman was the league's most accurate kicker until late in the season when he missed four field goals over the final three games.

15. William Gay

Steelers | Cornerback

Status: Unrestricted

Comment: Gay was a pleasant surprise for the NFL's top-ranked pass defense, taking back the starting cornerback job that he lost in 2010.