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Wednesday, July 24, 2013
AFC North's top players under 25

By Jamison Hensley

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. put together his list of the top players under the age of 25 , and the AFC North placed three players on it. It should be noted that Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green couldn't be considered because he turns 25 before the season (his birthday is next week, in fact). Green would have ranked high on this list, even though the top five (Andrew Luck, J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III) are pretty stout.

This is an Insider article, so you'll need a subscription to view the entire list. But here are the AFC North players who made the cut:

Pouncey
14. Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers center

Hensley: I was surprised to see Pouncey so high on this list because interior linemen often go overlooked in these types of articles. This is a fair ranking for Pouncey, who is already a three-time Pro Bowl player. He sits just behind the likes of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and New York Giants pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul.

Kiper: He'll never be a star, but Pouncey is a steady player in the middle of the Steelers offensive line, and figures to be there for a long time, just like it always seems to go with Steeler centers.

Haden
20. Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns cornerback

Hensley: Haden is the best cornerback under 25 and should have been ranked higher on this list. The only cornerback who ranked above him was the Arizona Cardinals' Patrick Peterson (No. 11), who gets more attention because of his return skills. Haden has the potential to get better but there are questions about work ethic and maturity.

Kiper: Haden has a bright future given his experience, strong track record of health and young age, the question is whether it'll be with the Browns after 2014. The other question is whether he'll graduate from reliably good to an elite-level corner.

Smith
21. Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver

Hensley: I believe Smith deserves to be slightly higher on this list. He is often considered the third wheel of his draft class, behind Green and Julio Jones. But Smith has scored 15 touchdowns in 32 games and has a career average of 17.1 yards per catch. That's just as explosive as Jones (18 touchdowns, 16.2-yard average). This is a big year for Smith, who replaces Anquan Boldin as the team's No. 1 wide receiver.

Kiper: By this time next year Smith will be 25, but we'll also know if he's capable of taking on the role of a true No. 1 wideout for a good team, or if he's better as a complementary target. Currently, he's the best receiving option the Ravens have, so if his production doesn't spike you can expect them to be looking for help in 2014.