AFC North: player survey

AFC North survey recap

July, 17, 2009
7/17/09
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

This week the AFC North blog concluded its first player survey. During the offseason, we polled 32 players--eight from each division team--on a series of questions leading up to the 2009 season.

In case you missed any portion of it, we have the full recap:

Thanks to all 32 players who participated in this year's AFC North survey. You know who you are.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Coming off a thrilling Super Bowl XLIII victory and two titles in the past four seasons, it is no surprise that the Pittsburgh Steelers were the dominant team among their peers in the 2009 AFC North player survey.

In our final installment of the series, a pair of Steelers once again reigns supreme for the categories of top quarterback and toughest player.

Best QB: Ben Roethlisberger

When it comes to quarterbacks, it was clear that winning matters most when gaining respect among players in NFL locker rooms.

"You can't argue with two Super Bowls," said one rival when voting for Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger as the division's best quarterback.

 
  Kirby Lee/NFL/Getty Images
  Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl titles under his belt.

Said another opponent, "It's not even a question."

According to AFC North players, the only real question in this category turned out to be who is the second-best quarterback in the AFC North.

Most opponents were split nearly down the middle between Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals and Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens. Palmer edged Flacco by a 7-5 vote to earn second place.

But it was telling that Flacco earned considerable respect from his peers after a stellar rookie season in which he led the Ravens to the AFC Championship Game. During that run, Flacco became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to win two road playoff games, against division champions Miami and Tennessee.

"I like the kid," one division rival said of Flacco. "He's poised."

But in the process of doing the survey, it also became apparent that some are still taking a wait-and-see approach with Flacco as he enters his second season.

"[The Ravens] didn't put Flacco in a lot of tough positions," one player said. "They protected him."

Also, when it came to deciding between Flacco and Palmer, there seemed to be a divide between veterans and younger players, who appeared to base their opinions more on last season as opposed to Palmer's overall career.

Palmer suffered two major injuries (knee, elbow) in the past four seasons and started only four games in 2008.

"These young guys haven't seen Palmer when he's healthy," said one veteran, shaking his head.

Surprisingly, Cleveland Browns quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn also received one vote apiece, which means every team was represented in this category. Quinn and Anderson both saw playing time in 2008 and are competing for the starting job this season.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of this survey question was that Roethlisberger more than doubled the tally of the second-place quarterback.

A year or two ago, Roethlisberger versus Palmer may have been a valid debate. But Roethlisberger's addition of another Super Bowl victory to his resume in February clearly puts him over the top, according to his AFC North peers.

Best QB in AFC North
Player Team Votes
1. Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh Steelers 18
2. Carson Palmer Cincinnati Bengals 7
3. Joe Flacco Baltimore Ravens 5
4. (tie) Derek Anderson Cleveland Browns 1
Brady Quinn Cleveland Browns 1
NOTE: Players could not vote for themselves or teammates.

Toughest Player: James Harrison

There are a lot of tough opponents in the AFC North, as evidenced by the 11 different players who received votes. But in the end, Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers beat out Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis in a very close vote.

 
  Larry French/Getty Images
  Pittsburgh's James Harrison edged Baltimore's Ray Lewis as the division's toughest player.

The reigning defensive player of the year received 10 of 32 votes while Lewis, a future Hall of Famer, was second with eight votes. The two linebackers combined for more than half (56 percent) of the total tally.

"Harrison's tough," one player said. "People forget he is a beast on special teams too."

Said another rival, "He's nasty to deal with for four quarters."

Meanwhile, an interesting subplot developed while surveying the division on the toughest player: It became clear what player was the most disliked in the AFC North.

At least one person each in the lock
er rooms of the Browns, Bengals and Ravens considered voting for Steelers receiver Hines Ward in this category. But they couldn't bring themselves to do it, mostly because they disagreed with the way Ward plays the game.

"I really don't want to vote for Hines," said one rival, who voted for someone else. "But he's definitely a tough player."

In the end, Ward finished tied for third with three votes.

Players from three of the four AFC North teams received votes, including Baltimore defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs (3), Browns return specialist Joshua Cribbs (1) and defensive end Aaron Smith (2) of the Steelers. No one from the Cincinnati Bengals was selected for toughest player in the division by their peers.

Toughest Player in AFC North
Player/Position Team Votes
1. James Harrison, OLB Pittsburgh Steelers 10
2. Ray Lewis, ILB Baltimore Ravens 8
3. (Tie) Hines Ward, WR
Terrell Suggs, LB
Pittsburgh Steelers
Baltimore Ravens
3
5. Aaron Smith, DE Pittsburgh Steelers 2
6. (Tie) Joshua Cribbs, WR/KR
Jamal Lewis, RB
Ben Roethlisberger, QB
LaMarr Woodley, OLB
Derrick Mason, WR
Haloti Ngata, DL
Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens
1
NOTE: Players could not vote for themselves or teammates.

Another player survey coming

July, 14, 2009
7/14/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The AFC North blog will continue its summer series on player surveys Wednesday.

In our final installment, we will examine who players in the division believe is the top quarterback and toughest player in the AFC North. Feel free to make guesses in the comments section on these two topics before Wednesday's blog.

In case you missed it, here are previous posts on the smartest and best all-around players and breakout player in the AFC North.

Player survey: Breakout player

July, 7, 2009
7/07/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

In a division filled with quality defenses, it was only fitting that a young, up-and-coming linebacker caught the most attention of his AFC North peers.

In the closest vote of the entire player survey, Cincinnati Bengals second-year linebacker Keith Rivers edged linebacker Lawrence Timmons of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn by one vote to become the 2009 pick for breakout player.

This offseason, ESPN.com granted anonymity to 32 players -- eight from each AFC North team -- on select topics that will be revealed throughout July. The players surveyed could not vote for themselves or their teammates.

AFC North Breakout Player
As voted by 32 anonymous players in the division:
Player Pos. Team Votes
1. Keith Rivers LB Bengals 6
(Tie) 2. Lawrence Timmons LB Steelers 5
Brady Quinn QB Browns 5
4. Brian Robiskie WR Browns 3
(Tie) 5. D'Qwell Jackson LB Browns 2
Chris Henry WR Bengals 2
Joe Flacco QB Ravens 2
(tie) 8. Cedric Benson RB Bengals 1
Limas Sweed WR Steelers 1
Eric Wright CB Browns 1
Rey Maualuga LB Bengals 1
Carey Davis FB St
eelers
1
Santonio Holmes WR Steelers 1
Syndric Steptoe WR Browns 1
* Note: Players surveyed could not vote for themselves or teammates.

Rivers led an extremely diverse group of breakout players with six votes, while Timmons and Quinn received five votes apiece. An astounding 14 different players were selected, which was the most of any survey question. They ranged from all different positions such as receivers linebackers, tailback, and even a fullback (Carey Davis of Pittsburgh).

But in the end, Rivers stood atop the list.

"It means a lot," Rivers told ESPN.com after learning of the results recently in Bengals minicamp. "I think it means players felt I was doing well, even though it was only through seven games. It's great to know that I had an effect on the guys in this league that I play against, and I just hope to build on that."

So far, defensive players have dominated this year's AFC North survey. In addition to Rivers, Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed and Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu were voted by opponents as the best all-around and smartest player in the division, respectively.

The definition of a breakout player can vary. So ESPN.com did not preclude anyone from being chosen for this particular category. For instance, if a player surveyed thought Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could be considered a breakout player, despite two Super Bowl victories, he went on the list.

 
  Tom Hauck/Getty Images
  Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers had his rookie season cut short by a broken jaw.

This explains several votes for players such as Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who broke through last year in leading his team to the AFC title game, or Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes, who was the Super Bowl XLIII MVP in February. But minus those two exceptions, AFC North players were pretty unified across the board on what they considered a breakthrough season.

In 2008, Rivers broke his jaw in the seventh game, which ended his first NFL season. At the time of his injury, Rivers was a candidate for defensive rookie of the year honors and finished with 37 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble.

Rivers got to play every team in the division once last season, which was enough to earn the respect of his peers.

"He's solid," said one rival player who voted for Rivers. "I think this could be a good year for him."

Other notable players who received multiple votes included another young linebacker in Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson (2), who led the NFL in tackles last season, and a pair of receivers in Brian Robiskie (3) and Chris Henry (2).

Said one future opponent of the rookie Robiskie: "He's a polished receiver and his dad [Terry] being a coach will help his learning process."

Another AFC North player had an even bigger projection for Henry.

"I bet he gets 1,000 yards this year," the player said confidently.

AFC, NFC Breakout Players
ESPN.com's NFL experts have teamed up to examine "The State of NFL Nation," a weeklong look at the biggest questions facing the league. In this installment, we take on 2009 breakout stars.
AFC | NFC

Overall, every division team had at least one representative. The Browns had the most players selected for this particular category with five. But the fact that 14 players total were chosen for this survey question also highlights the depth of young players in the AFC North.

"It's great because I think it brings more competition to our division," Rivers said. "I think this is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, and with the continued young, great players that we're getting in this division it makes it that much better."

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The AFC North blog will post more results from our player survey Tuesday. This time, we will examine who opponents believe will be the breakout player in the division this season.

There were a lot of candidates and interesting selections for this category, including some names that may surprise you. Feel free to take some guesses in the comments section leading up to tomorrow's post.

Also, in case you missed it, here is last week's player survey blog on the smartest and best all-around player in the AFC North. Safeties Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens won those categories, respectively.

 
  Getty Images
  Baltimore's Ed Reed, right, and Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu were voted best all-around and smartest player by their AFC North peers.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Both are versatile safeties.

The two also are perennial Pro Bowlers and unique talents.

And according to their peers, Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers are the best all-around player and smartest player, respectively, in the division.

During the offseason, ESPN.com's AFC North blog surveyed 32 players and granted them anonymity -- eight from each team in the division -- on topics that will be revealed periodically during July. The players surveyed could not vote for themselves or their teammates.

This week we take a look at Reed, who was voted best all-around player, and Polamalu, who was selected the division's smartest player. As evidence of their dominance, both safeties finished second in the other category too.

Best All-Around Player: Ed Reed

When it came to choosing the top all-around player in the AFC North, Reed and Polamalu accounted for 21 votes -- more than two-thirds of the 32 players surveyed.

But Reed (14) still received twice as many votes as Polamalu (7), who was tied with teammate James Harrison (7) for second place in this category.

"I feel he's just a great player," one opponent said of voting for Reed. "You have to be aware of him at all times."

Reed received multiple votes from players of the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Steelers. 

(Read full post)

Player surveys coming soon

June, 30, 2009
6/30/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

As I hinted last week, I have an exciting project coming to the AFC North blog for the month of July.

Over the past two months, I surveyed dozens of players in the division, representing all four teams, for an anonymous survey on the AFC North.

The cool thing about this project is these results are not mine or the opinion of some other analyst. It's coming straight from the players who go head-to-head against one another on Sundays. To make it fair, the only rule was they couldn't vote for players on their own team.

The survey blogs will run gradually throughout the next three weeks. Tomorrow we will debut who opponents believe is the best all-around football player in the AFC North and the smartest player in the division.

Until then, feel free to take your best guess on these two survey questions.

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