AFC North: 2011 Linebacker Power Rankings

The AFC North had the most linebackers (three) in the top 10 of any division in this week's positional Power Rankings.

[+] EnlargeJames Harrison and LaMarr Woodley
AP Photo/Tom E. PuskarThe Steelers boast two of the NFL's best linebackers in James Harrison, left, and LaMarr Woodley.
This should not be a surprise. Linebackers are the strength of this division, and that's especially the case for the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, who are perennial contenders.

Pittsburgh's James Harrison (No. 2) and LaMarr Woodley (No. 8 ) both made the list. So did Baltimore's Ray Lewis (No. 5). Ravens teammate Terrell Suggs just missed the cut and finished 11th. Lawrence Timmons of the Steelers also registered a vote and finished 15th.

Rating middle and outside linebackers was very difficult and not an exact science. But on my ballot, I decided to put more emphasis on pass-rushers than middle linebackers, because pressuring the quarterback is the most effective way to stop an offense in what's become a pass-heavy league. That is why you see players like DeMarcus Ware on my ballot ahead of Patrick Willis, Clay Matthews Jr. ahead of Jerod Mayo and Suggs ahead of Lewis. But all are great linebackers and probably interchangeable in these rankings, depending on what you prefer defensively.

Here is the full list:

ESPN.com's linebacker Power Rankings

1. Patrick Willis, 49ers

2. James Harrison, Steelers

3. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys

4. Clay Matthews Jr., Packers

5. Ray Lewis, Ravens

6. Jerod Mayo, Patriots

7. Brian Urlacher, Bears

8. LaMarr Woodley, Steelers

9 (tie). Tamba Hali, Chiefs

9 (tie). Jon Beason, Panthers

Walker's linebacker Power Rankings

1. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys

2. Patrick Willis, 49ers

3. James Harrison, Steelers

4. Clay Matthews, Packers

5. Jerod Mayo, Patriots

6. Brian Urlacher, Bears

7. Terrell Suggs, Ravens

8. LaMarr Woodley, Steelers

9. Ray Lewis, Ravens

10. London Fletcher, Redskins

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