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Saturday, February 6, 2010
Weekend mailbag: Fab 40 reaction

By James Walker
ESPN.com

"Walker's Fab 40" drew strong reactions this week in the AFC North inbox.

So let's answer some questions.

Dennis from De Pere, Wis., wants to know my "methodology" for these rankings.

James Walker: Thanks for asking, Dennis, because I noticed there was some confusion. I'm surprised how many people didn't understand the project. "Walker's Fab 40" was the AFC North blog's ranking of the top 40 players in 2010--in other words heading into the 2010 season. I took into account last year's performance. I took into account career performance. I took into account age, injuries, skills, position value and potential. With all of these things factored in, I asked myself, "Who are the top 40 players going into next season?" Next time I will probably wait until the start of training camp or the regular season to avoid further confusion. I think doing it immediately after the 2009 season threw a lot of people off.


Kovacs from Santa Monica writes: For 38 of the 40 players you abide very strictly to your "for 2010" criteria. Then you get down to the first and third ranked players in your criteria and go 100% based on reputation. Very simply put, Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed were not the first and third best players in the division THIS YEAR.

Walker: For starters, 2010 means 2010, not the 2009 season. Again, I'm baffled why that went over so many people's heads, because I never mentioned these rankings were solely based on last year’s performance. Second, there were plenty of players who made the top 40 who were injured and/or had down years in 2009. Terrell Suggs (No. 14), Shaun Rogers (No. 19), Aaron Smith (No. 25), Ike Taylor (No. 29) and Antwan Odom (No. 35) just to name a few. Yes, Polamalu and Reed were both injured. But according to "Walker's Fab 40," they are the No. 1-  and No. 3-rated players in the division heading into the 2010 season.


Justin from Bagram, Afghanistan, believes it's "a joke" that I rated Baltimore Ravens tailback Ray Rice (No. 7) ahead of Cincinnati Bengals tailback Cedric Benson (No. 11).

Walker: I respect your opinion, Justin. Both are great players who were not rated far apart. But what separated Rice for me was his versatility to catch passes out of the backfield and the ability to make long runs and receptions. If you noticed, Benson often was replaced on third downs by Brian Leonard or rookie Bernard Scott, because Benson is very limited as a receiver. Rice plays every down and is the more complete running back.


Dustin from Pittsburgh writes: You put Michael Oher (No. 23) above Aaron Smith (No. 25) on the Fab 40? Walker, you almost always know what you're talking about, but this is egregious.

Walker: Dustin, I got a lot of e-mails like these weighing the rankings of this player and that player, and it gets really tricky when you're comparing two different positions. Believe it or not, some non-Steelers fans believe Smith was rated too high. I took into account his age (33) and injury history, but I also believe he's proved over the years that he’s a quality player who is reliable. That's why I have him at No. 25. Oher, 23, is young. But all the skills that I've seen lead me to believe he's a star in the making. Heading into the 2010 season, I'm confident in ranking Oher as the No. 23 player in the division. In fact, I predict he will be rated even higher in 2011.


Anthony Mangione from Cincinnati thinks Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and punter Dave Zastudil should have made "Walker's Fab 40."

Walker: Not everyone can make the list, Anthony. I like Jackson and I think he's a good player, but I'm confident in all the linebackers I have rated ahead of him. As far as Zastudil, no kickers or punters made the cut.