AFC North: Walker's Fab 40 2011

Walker's Fab 40 snubs?

February, 26, 2011
2/26/11
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The AFC North blog completed its second annual "Walker's Fab 40" and there was a lot of debate with very good players left off the list.

Here are 10 snubs who just missed the cut:

Baltimore Ravens: Todd Heap, TE; Jared Gaither, OT; Le'Ron McClain, FB; Jarret Johnson, LB

Analysis: There were a lot of good players left off this year and many were with the Ravens. Role players like Johnson, McClain and Heap are all important to Baltimore's success. Some would have made the top 50 players in the AFC North. Gaither was a really tough call. When healthy, he's certainly a top 40 player in the division. He came in a No. 28 last year. But a full year of inactivity dropped him off this year's list.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Emmanuel Sanders, WR; Ryan Clark, S

Analysis: Sanders is an emerging young receiver who isn't afraid of big games, and Clark is a good fit for Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's scheme. Both are solid players and have a chance to make next year's list. But there were 16 Steelers total who made "Walker's Fab 40," which is by far more than any other team. So not everyone from Pittsburgh is going to make the cut.

Cincinnati Bengals: Jermaine Gresham, TE; Carlos Dunlap, DE

Analysis: I anticipate both of these rookies to make our third annual "Walker's Fab 40" in 2012. Gresham proved to be a good fit in Cincinnati’s offense but only one tight end -- Pittsburgh's Heath Miller (No. 21) -- made the list. Dunlap was a non-factor for half the season before exploding down the stretch. But we want to see more consistency for a full 16 games from Dunlap next season.

Cleveland Browns: Ben Watson, TE; Lawrence Vickers, FB

Analysis: Watson was definitely a tough player to leave off. He had a great season in Cleveland, and I thought hard about where he would fit on this list. Truth be told, Watson was No. 41 on "Walker's Fab 40." The last choice came down to Watson and Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff, and I thought, with the historic Pro Bowl year Cundiff had he deserved it more. Vickers is one of the best at his position. But similar to McClain, no fullbacks made this year's list.

Here is a complete breakdown of "Walker's Fab 40" for 2011:

Walker's Fab 40

1. Troy Polamalu, S, Steelers

2. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers

3. Ed Reed, S, Ravens

4. Haloti Ngata, DL, Ravens

5. James Harrison, LB, Steelers

6. Terrell Suggs, LB/DE, Ravens

7. LaMarr Woodley, LB, Steelers

8. Joe Thomas, OT, Browns

9. Ray Rice, RB, Ravens

10. Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers

11. Ray Lewis, LB, Ravens

12. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers

13. Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns

14. Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens

15. Maurkice Pouncey, C, Steelers

16. Lawrence Timmons, LB, Steelers

17. Anquan Boldin, WR, Ravens

18. Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals

19. Johnathan Joseph, CB, Bengals

20. Ike Taylor, CB, Steelers

21. Heath Miller, TE, Steelers

22. Hines Ward, WR, Steelers

23. Cedric Benson, RB, Bengals

24. Brett Kiesel, DE, Steelers

25. Eric Steinbach, G, Browns

26. Michael Oher, OT, Ravens

27. Chad Ochocinco, WR, Bengals

28. Casey Hampton, DT, Steelers

29. Terrell Owens, WR, Bengals

30. Alex Mack, C, Browns

31. Leon Hall, CB, Bengals

32. Josh Cribbs, WR, Browns

33. Joe Haden, CB, Browns

34. James Farrior, LB, Steelers

35. Derrick Mason, WR, Ravens

36. Andrew Whitworth, OT, Bengals

37. Aaron Smith, DE, Steelers

38. Ziggy Hood, DE, Steelers

39. T.J. Ward, S, Browns

40. Billy Cundiff, K, Ravens

Walker's Fab 40 by team

Steelers: 16 (highest Polamalu No. 1)

Ravens: 10 (highest Reed No. 3)

Browns: 7 (highest Thomas No. 8 )

Bengals: 7 (highest Palmer No. 18)

Walker's Fab 40 by position

Receivers: 7

Defensive backs: 7

Defensive linemen: 6

Offensive linemen: 6

Linebackers: 5

Running backs: 4

Quarterbacks: 3

Tight ends: 1

Kicker: 1

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 1-4

February, 25, 2011
2/25/11
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Here is the best of the best. This is the final installment of "Walker's Fab 40" for 2011.

No. 4: Haloti Ngata, defensive lineman

Ngata
Team: Baltimore Ravens

2010 stats: 63 tackles, 5.5 sacks

Last year's rankings: No. 10

Analysis: Ngata moves up six spots this year after posting his second consecutive Pro Bowl season. He recorded 63 tackles and a career-high 5.5 sacks. A case can be made that he is the NFL's best defensive lineman, and he likely will become the highest-paid player at his position by Baltimore this offseason. Ngata has a rare combination of size, strength, good feet and agility. He commands double-teams and keeps offensive linemen off Baltimore's linebackers. And when Ngata is blocked by a single player, he usually shrugs them off and stops the ball carrier or gets to the quarterback. If Ngata continues to improve, he has the potential to be one of the NFL's most dominant players on defense.

No. 3: Ed Reed, safety

Reed
Team: Ravens

2010 stats: 33 tackles, eight interceptions

Last year's ranking: No. 3

Analysis: Who else can spend the first six games on the physically unable to perform list and still lead the NFL with eight interceptions? Reed continues to be a quarterback's worst nightmare. No one is better at reading a quarterback's eyes, anticipating passes and then picking them off. Often his picks come in bunches. The future Hall of Famer had three multi-interception games this season. The Ravens do a great job of allowing Reed, 32, to stay on the back end as the last line of defense. A nerve injury in his neck has prevented Reed from making a lot of big hits. But occasionally Reed will come up and remind people that he can still dish out punishment. In Week 16 against the Cleveland Browns, Reed knocked tailback Peyton Hillis (No. 13) out the game with a hard shot to the ribs. Reed also had another big hit in the wild-card win against the Kansas City Chiefs.

No. 2: Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback

Roethlisberger
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 stats: 3,200 yards, 17 touchdowns, five interceptions

Last year's ranking: No. 2

Analysis: Offseason turmoil turned into in-season triumph for Roethlisberger. He overcame a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy to lead the Steelers to Super Bowl XLV. Roethlisberger, who was never considered a workout warrior, worked extremely hard in the offseason and during his suspension in an effort to make it up to his teammates and the Steelers organization. Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said Roethlisberger has never been better than this season, and we agree. Roethlisberger threw for 3,200 yards and 17 touchdowns in 12 games. But a key area where he has improved is reducing turnovers. Roethlisberger plays a backyard style but his five interceptions were by far the lowest of his career. At 28, Roethlisberger is now entering his prime and is really building a strong case for the Hall of Fame.

No. 1: Troy Polamalu, safety

Polamalu
Team: Steelers

2010 stats: 63 tackles, seven interceptions, one sack

Last year's ranking: No. 1

Analysis: The top three didn't change in this year's "Walker's Fab 40." Polamalu finished in the top spot for the second year in a row after winning the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award with another great season. Polamalu solidified his spot as the best defensive player in the league. There is no player like Polamalu in the NFL. He blitzes and hits like a linebacker and covers like a corner, making him the ultimate chess piece for Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Not only does Polamalu make big plays, but he makes them to close out games, and that's what separates him from other good players. His sack and forced fumble against Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (No. 14) gave the Steelers the AFC North division title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Health concerns are the only Achilles' heel (no pun intended) for Polamalu. His physical and reckless style often results in injuries, as Polamalu was hampered by ankle and Achilles issues at the end of the season.

That is the conclusion of our second annual "Walker's Fab 40" in the AFC North blog. For a recap, check out the full thread here and let the debate begin!

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 5-8

February, 25, 2011
2/25/11
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We are down to the last two groups Friday, as the AFC North blog ranks the top 40 players in the division.

No. 8: Joe Thomas, left tackle

Thomas
Thomas
Team: Cleveland Browns

2010 stats: 16 starts

Last year's rankings: No. 4

Analysis: Thomas dropped four spots in this year's "Walker’s Fab 40" but still comes in a No. 8. He was not the dominant, impenetrable left tackle he’s been in the past, but was still good enough to make the Pro Bowl. Thomas spent the early part of the season dealing with an elbow injury that was never made public because he never complained about it. But it did impact his performance. Thomas was great once again in the running game and helped Cleveland tailback Peyton Hillis (No. 13) have a breakout year. But Thomas got beat a few times in pass protection and, in fact, Cleveland’s entire offensive line took a step back as all three quarterbacks were injured this season.

No. 7: LaMarr Woodley, outside linebacker

Woodley
Woodley
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 stats: 50 tackles, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles, two interceptions

Last year's ranking: No. 8

Analysis: Woodley was arguably the NFL's best bargain. He made just $550,000 in the final year of his rookie contract and became just the second Steeler to record double-digit sacks for three straight seasons. Woodley played even better in the playoffs and recorded a sack in all three playoff games. A part of Woodley's game that goes unnoticed is his ability to set the edge against the run. Rarely do you see running backs get outside for huge gains and Woodley and teammate James Harrison are the two main reasons. Woodley has earned the right for a huge pay raise and will get it next season, either in the form of a contract extension or his franchise tag, which is worth $10.2 million this season.

No. 6: Terrell Suggs, defensive end/linebacker

Suggs
Suggs
Team: Baltimore Ravens

2010 stats: 68 tackles, 11 sacks, two forced fumbles

Last year's ranking: No. 14

Analysis: Suggs was true to his word in 2010. He said his down year in 2009 would never happen again, and a motivated and in-shape Suggs was on a tear all season for the Ravens, making his fourth Pro Bowl. Despite a bad 2009 by Suggs' standards, he came in at No. 14 in last year's "Walker's Fab 40" because we knew he was still a dominant player. Suggs proved us correct this past season by registering 11 sacks and making the Pro Bowl. Suggs also stepped up in big games and got stronger as the year went on. Including playoffs, he was unblockable at times in three exciting games this year against the AFC North champion Steelers. Suggs recorded 5.5 sacks in this season's trilogy with Pittsburgh.

No. 5: James Harrison, outside linebacker

Harrison
Harrison
Team: Steelers

2010 stats: 100 tackles, 10.5 sacks, two interceptions

Last year's ranking: No. 5

Analysis: Harrison is 32 but is showing no signs of slowing down after another Pro Bowl year. He recorded 100 tackles and had 10.5 sacks. Because of his late start, Harrison doesn't have as much wear and tear as most linebackers his age. Harrison is relentless to the quarterback and finishes plays. He is perhaps the league's best defender at forcing fumbles (six in 2010). Harrison is one of the NFL's hardest hitters and paid for it this season. With the league increasing its enforcement on big hits, Harrison was the most fined player in the NFL in 2010. He briefly contemplated retirement during the season but returned for Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl run.

The second annual "Walker’s Fab 40" will come to a conclusion next with the very best players in the AFC North. Here is the list so far.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 9-12

February, 24, 2011
2/24/11
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We are getting to the very best, as the AFC North blog continues to rank the top 40 players in the division.

No. 12: Rashard Mendenhall, running back

Mendenhall
Mendenhall
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 stats: 1,273 yards, 23 receptions, 13 touchdowns

Last year's ranking: No. 27

Analysis: Mendenhall showed growth by doing a good job of carrying Pittsburgh's offense while franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger served a four-game suspension. He kept the momentum going and had a career year. Mendenhall improved in two key areas this past season that often go unnoticed. First, he finished runs inside the goal line a lot better and was among the best tailbacks at getting in the end zone from inside the 5-yard line. Mendehnall nearly doubled his touchdown total from 2009. Second, Mendenhall's ball security (two fumbles in the regular season) improved, although prior struggles with fumbles came back to haunt him with a big turnover in Super Bowl XLV.

No. 11: Ray Lewis, linebacker

Lewis
Lewis
Team: Baltimore Ravens

2010 stats: 139 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions

Last year's ranking: No. 6

Analysis: The fact that Lewis, 35, is still one of the top players in the division is a testament to his longevity, ability and dedication to the game. The future Hall of Famer led the Ravens in tackles again with 139 and played in his 12th Pro Bowl. Lewis remains the heart and soul of the Ravens and his leadership is unmatched. He is not as athletic as he once was, but Lewis makes up for much of it with the mental ability to see plays before they develop. Tremendous film study and staying healthy has helped Lewis extend his career at the very physically-demanding position of middle linebacker. Lewis is trying to get one more ring before he retires but doesn't have many years left.

No. 10: Mike Wallace, receiver

Wallace
Wallace
Team: Steelers

2010 stats: 60 receptions, 1,257 yards, 10 touchdowns

Last year's ranking: No. 38

Analysis: Wallace made the biggest jump in this year's "Walker's Fab 40," improving 28 spots after going from a rookie second-stringer in 2009 to Pittsburgh's No. 1 receiver a year later. There were some concerns in Steeler Nation after Pittsburgh traded former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets following off-the-field issues. Entering just his second season, Wallace replaced Holmes in the starting lineup and took full advantage of the opportunity. Wallace is arguably the NFL's most dangerous deep threat, averaging an astounding 21 yards per reception. His ability to blow the top off the defense kept teams honest and opened things up for the running game and other receivers underneath. Wallace also improved his short and intermediate routes, which is his next step to becoming a complete receiver.

No. 9: Ray Rice, running back

Rice
Rice
Team: Ravens

2010 stats: 1,220 yards, 63 receptions, six total touchdowns

Last year's ranking: No. 7

Analysis: Rice is one of the NFL's most dynamic talents, although he didn't get to show it as much as he wanted to in 2010. Last season was considered a down year for Rice. He only had two 100-yard games but still rushed for more than 1,200 yards. Baltimore's offense was rarely in sync and lacked an identity. Good things usually happened when Rice touched the ball, but too many weeks went by when he didn't get enough opportunities. A lack of a deep threat at receiver and struggles on the offensive line also made it tough for Rice to break free for big gains. Baltimore has some tweaking to do on offense, and if the Ravens cure some of their issues, Rice could have the monster year next season that many expected from him in 2010.

Check out the AFC North blog Friday for the conclusion of "Walker's Fab 40," where we will have the top eight players in the division in 2011. Here's who has made the "Fab 40" so far.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 13-16

February, 24, 2011
2/24/11
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The AFC North blog continues to rank the top 40 players in the division.

No. 16: Lawrence Timmons, linebacker

Timmons

Timmons


Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 stats: 135 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions

Last year's ranking: No. 37

Analysis: Timmons made a monumental jump in "Walker's Fab 40," up 21 spots from a year ago. The former first-round pick really came into his own in his second full season as a starting inside linebacker. Timmons originally was drafted to play outside linebacker. But teammate LaMarr Woodley developed faster in that role and left Timmons searching for a new position. It took a while to learn the intricacies of playing inside, particularly against the pass. But things finally clicked this year as Timmons led the Steelers with 135 tackles. With the mental part of the game catching up to his tremendous athleticism, Timmons has Pro Bowl potential.

No. 15: Maurkice Pouncey, center

Pouncey

Pouncey


Team: Steelers

2010 stats: 16 starts

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: Speaking of Pro Bowls, Pouncey pulled off quite a feat by qualifying after his rookie season. The Steelers hit a home run in the first round by selecting Pouncey, who missed the Super Bowl with an ankle sprain but started every other game for Pittsburgh. Pouncey moves well, is great at finishing blocks and had no issues making the line calls as a rookie. At 21, Pouncey can still add weight and get stronger, and that will be the next step in his maturation process. But to already be one of the top centers in the NFL as a rookie and ranked No. 15 in "Walker's Fab 40" are impressive.

No. 14: Joe Flacco, quarterback

Flacco

Flacco


Team: Baltimore Ravens

2010 stats: 3,622 yards, 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions

Last year's ranking: No. 20

Analysis: Flacco set career-highs in passing yards (3,622), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (93.6) in his third season. But another poor outing in the playoffs by Flacco and failed expectations of reaching a Super Bowl have dominated the offseason headlines in Baltimore. Flacco is a good quarterback who still has room to grow. Showing up in big games will be key, particularly against quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rival Steelers. But Flacco is 26 and will only get better. The Ravens could also do Flacco a favor by getting a speedy deep threat to take advantage of his strong arm next season. Adding the deep ball to Baltimore's passing game will open some things up for Flacco and make the game easier.

No. 13: Peyton Hillis, running back

Hillis

Hillis


Team: Cleveland Browns

2010 stats: 1,177 rushing yards, 61 receptions, 13 total touchdowns

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: It's scary to think where Cleveland's struggling offense would be without Hillis, who was acquired last offseason in a trade with the Denver Broncos for quarterback Brady Quinn. Hillis was the Browns' leading rusher and second-leading receiver. The team only won five games, but Hillis probably accounted for three or four of the wins. The bruising running back punished defenders and often got stronger as the game wore on. But his style also results in injury, and Hillis played hurt late in the year. Cleveland needs to get Hillis more help so he be effective for 16 games. Hillis also has to prove that his career year in 2010 wasn't a fluke.

Here's who has made the "Fab 40" so far.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 17-20

February, 23, 2011
2/23/11
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We now enter the top half of "Walker’s Fab 40" in the AFC North.

Let's get to it!

Taylor
No. 20: Ike Taylor, cornerback

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 stats: 66 tackles, two interceptions

Last year's ranking: No. 29

Analysis: With linebacker LaMarr Woodley getting the franchise tag, Taylor is now Pittsburgh's biggest in-house free agent. Pittsburgh's best corner had another good season for the NFL's No. 2-rated defense, but he also will be 31 in May. Taylor stays in position and is a solid tackler, but he's not an elite game-changer at the position. Taylor's biggest weakness is his hands, which often prevents him from creating big turnovers. Taylor has 99 career pass defenses and just 11 interceptions in eight seasons. He averages only 1.4 interceptions per year.

Joseph
No. 19: Johnathan Joseph, cornerback

Team: Cincinnati Bengals

2010 stats: 42 tackles, three interceptions

Last year's ranking: No. 16

Analysis: Joseph is Cincinnati's top cornerback and its biggest priority in free agency. He recorded nine interceptions the past two seasons for the Bengals. Joseph had an ankle injury that forced him to miss four games in 2010, and the pass defense noticeably suffered without him. Teammate Leon Hall (No. 31) is great as Cincinnati's No. 2 corner but didn't play as well filling in Joseph's role. The Bengals have to decide if they are going to pay big money to keep Joseph. As a 26-year-old cornerback approaching his prime, Joseph could get a lot of interest if he hits the open market.

Palmer
No. 18: Carson Palmer, quarterback

Team: Bengals

2010 stats: 3,970 yards, 26 touchdowns, 20 interceptions

Last year's ranking: No. 12

Analysis: Palmer was one of the hardest players to rank in this year's "Walker’s Fab 40." He played his worst football in years for the 4-12 Bengals but still nearly threw for 4,000 yards. There were times when Palmer looked like a rookie quarterback, throwing into triple coverage and making mind-numbing turnovers. But Palmer also had several big games last season that showed he can still be effective. Bengals coaches also defend Palmer, saying his receivers were often not on the same page. Palmer created major headlines by recently demanding a trade from Cincinnati and threatening to retire. At 31, Palmer is on the downside of his career and only has a few good years left. The Bengals are rebuilding again but say they're not budging, creating an offseason standoff.

Boldin
No. 17: Anquan Boldin, receiver

Team: Baltimore Ravens

2010 stats: 64 receptions, 837 yards, seven touchdowns

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: Boldin was Baltimore's major offseason acquisition last year and showed flashes with three 100-yard games. He also displayed toughness and leadership in his first season with the Ravens. But Baltimore's offense for the most part underachieved and Boldin disappeared from the passing game for long stretches. That's probably more of an indictment of the Ravens' inconsistent play calling last season than it was Boldin. The team lacked a speedy deep threat, which made Baltimore's offense easier to defend. Entering his second season with the Ravens, expect Baltimore to be more consistent with finding ways to get Boldin the football.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 21-24

February, 23, 2011
2/23/11
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The AFC North blog continues to rank the top 40 players in the division.

No. 24: Brett Keisel, defensive end

Keisel
Keisel
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 stats: 33 tackles, three sacks, one interception

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: The player with the most famous beard in the NFL also had a very good season in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense. Keisel stepped up to become Pittsburgh's top defensive end when teammate Aaron Smith went down for the season in October with a triceps injury. Keisel recorded 33 tackles, three sacks and even scored a touchdown on his interception return against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Similar to Ziggy Hood (No. 38) and Casey Hampton (No. 28), Keisel didn't put up huge numbers but was instrumental in Pittsburgh's No. 1-rated run defense. He qualified for the Pro Bowl as an alternate this past season.

No. 23: Cedric Benson, running back

Benson
Team: Cincinnati Bengals

2010 stats: 321 carries, 1,111 rushing yards, seven touchdowns

Last year's ranking: No. 11

Analysis: Benson recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the first time in his career. But Benson's year wasn't nearly as good as 2009. His yards-per-carry average went down from 4.2 to 3.5, and he also had fumbling issues, losing five this past season after not losing any the year before. Benson didn't get along with former offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and often complained about the team's play calling. But Benson received 321 carries this past season, and I think being a pending free agent contributed to some of his complaints. Benson was playing for a new contract on a losing team, and at 28 this may be his last chance to cash in big as a running back. The Bengals are looking to retain the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent.

No. 22: Hines Ward, wide receiver

Ward
Team: Steelers

2010 stats: 59 receptions, 755 yards, five touchdowns

Last year's ranking: No. 15

Analysis: Ward didn't put up big numbers this past season, recording just 59 receptions. He's now 34 and didn't have starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games of the season. But Ward's leadership and toughness helped get Pittsburgh to its third Super Bowl since the 2005 season. He's also one of the smartest players in the NFL, who continues to get open despite his age and lack of speed. Much of what Ward does for Pittsburgh cannot be measured by statistics. The future Hall of Famer remains a devastating run blocker and also tutored second-year receiver Mike Wallace to become arguably the most dangerous deep threat in the NFL and Pittsburgh's new No. 1 receiver.

No. 21: Heath Miller, tight end

Miller
Team: Steelers

2010 stats: 42 receptions, 512 yards, two touchdowns

Last year's ranking: No. 22

Analysis: Miller's statistics also were down after missing two games with a concussion and playing four games without Roethlisberger at quarterback. But Miller remained a consistent blocker for Pittsburgh tailback Rashard Mendenhall, and Miller remains one of the NFL's most well-rounded tight ends. He has great hands, is tough running after the catch and always falls forward for extra yards. Roethlisberger often calls Miller the best at his position, although the quarterback is clearly biased. But with a healthier season in 2011 and a full year playing with Roethlisberger, Miller's numbers should be up again next season.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 25-28

February, 22, 2011
2/22/11
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The AFC North blog continues to rank the top 40 players in the division.

No. 28: Casey Hampton, nose tackle

Hampton
Hampton
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 stats: 20 tackles, one sack

Last year's ranking: No. 21

Analysis: Hampton continues to stuff the run at a high level. But at this stage he is a specialist and a two-down player. Hampton is the consummate plugging nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. He's hard to move off the ball, stops running plays at the point of attack, and allows teammates like James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and Lawrence Timmons to run around and finish the plays. One of Hampton's best efforts of the season was during the AFC Championship Game, when he helped stuff the New York Jets on a big fourth down play at the goal line. Hampton recorded 20 tackles and one sack in 15 games last season. But his production in the middle of Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense will never be measured by statistics.

No. 27: Chad Ochocinco, receiver

Ochocinco
Ochocinco
Team: Cincinnati Bengals

2010 stats: 67 receptions, 831 yards, four touchdowns

Last year's ranking: No. 13

Analysis: Ochocinco continued his trend of inconsistency. He had his second down season in three years, which hurt the Bengals' offense. You knew it wouldn't be a good year early when Ochocinco had two offseason reality television shows, which cut into his training. He never seemed to make the Bengals his No. 1 priority, and at 33, Ochocinco cannot afford to just show up and have Pro Bowl-caliber seasons. But I do I have Ochocinco ranked ahead of Terrell Owens, because Ochocinco, when healthy and focused, is more explosive at this stage in their careers. He's four years younger than Owens, and could definitely help a contending team if he's traded out of Cincinnati. The Bengals are rebuilding and looking to go younger at receiver.

No. 26: Michael Oher, left tackle

Oher
Oher
Team: Baltimore Ravens

2010 stats: 16 starts

Last year's ranking: No. 23

Analysis: Oher dropped three spots in "Walker’s Fab 40" after an inconsistent sophomore season which included a switch to left tackle. Oher had a stellar rookie year in 2009, and looked at home at right tackle. But issues with former left tackle Jared Gaither forced Baltimore to do some shuffling. Oher was decent, but not great, on the left side. He had problems with pre-snap penalties and struggled more with his pass blocking and footwork protecting quarterback Joe Flacco's blind side (no pun intended). Baltimore's offensive line as a whole also took a couple steps back. Flacco was sacked 40 times in the regular season, and the running game was up and down. It will be interesting to see what Baltimore does with Oher in 2011 after seeing him play both positions for a full season.

No. 25: Eric Steinbach, guard

Steinbach
Steinbach
Team: Cleveland Browns

2010 stats: 16 starts

Last year's ranking: No. 26

Analysis: Steinbach makes his second consecutive "Walker's Fab 40" list after another solid year for Cleveland. He is the third offensive lineman for the Browns to make this year's list, joining center Alex Mack (No. 30) and left tackle Joe Thomas (TBD). The trio is still pretty young, and should be together for another few seasons in Cleveland. Steinbach is lighter than most guards, but is good in space and has the ability to pull, which is important. Browns running back Peyton Hillis often ran behind Steinbach and Cleveland's left side during his breakout season, when he recorded 1,177 rushing yards.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 29-32

February, 22, 2011
2/22/11
11:00
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The AFC North blog continues to rank the top 40 players in the division.

No. 32: Josh Cribbs, WR/KR

Cribbs
Cribbs
Team: Cleveland Browns

2010 stats: 23 receptions, 292 yards, one touchdown

Last year's ranking: No. 9

Analysis: Cribbs took a huge fall in "Walker’s Fab 40." Maybe Cribbs was overrated last year or he's being underrated some this year. But Cribbs came in at No. 32 after an abysmal season. He played most of the season with dislocated toes, and didn't show any explosiveness. Cribbs didn't contribute much on offense and added 982 total return yards on special teams. But Cribbs averaged just 20.4 yard per kick return, and his longest return was for 37 yards. He also put the ball on the ground five times. Next season will be a big year for Cribbs to prove 2010 was merely a down year. When healthy, he can be one of the division's most dynamic players.

No. 31: Leon Hall, cornerback

Hall
Hall
Team: Cincinnati Bengals

2010 stats: 44 tackles, four interceptions

Last year's ranking: No. 18

Analysis: Hall is another player who took a dip in this year's ranking. The Bengals' cornerback dropped 13 spots to No. 31 after a down year. Hall struggled when teammate Johnathan Joseph was hurt last season. Hall is perfect for the role as Cincinnati's No. 2 cornerback. But he was beat too many times for big plays when trying to guard the opposing team's best receiver. Hall remains a physical corner and a solid tackler. He recorded four interceptions in 2010. But with Joseph potentially becoming a free agent, Hall might have to step his game up and take over the No. 1 corner role in Cincinnati in 2011.

No. 30: Alex Mack, center

Mack
Mack
Team: Browns

2010 stats: 16 starts

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: Mack barely missed the cut last year and was one of several Fab 40 snubs. But this was the first time the second-year pro put together a full season of great football, and he made his first Pro Bowl as an alternate for the AFC. Combined with teammates Eric Steinbach and Joe Thomas, who are both higher on this list (hint, hint), the Browns have one of the NFL's strongest offensive lines on the left side. The trio helped pave the way for Browns tailback Peyton Hillis to have a breakout season. Mack also worked closely with rookie quarterback Colt McCoy, helping him get comfortable and show flashes in his first NFL action.

No. 29: Terrell Owens, receiver

Owens
Owens
Team: Bengals

2010 stats: 72 receptions, 983 yards, nine touchdowns

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: At 37, T.O. still proved he has something left in the tank. After signing a one-year contract right before training camp, Owens led the team in receptions (72), receiving yards (983) and touchdowns (nine). He had several big games, but it didn't translate into victories for the last-place Bengals (4-12). Cincinnati lost six more games than it did from a year ago, when the Bengals won the division. Now Cincinnati is rebuilding and will go with younger receivers such as Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell and Jordan Shipley. The Bengals won't re-sign Owens. But after his production last season, another team might give him a shot.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 33-36

February, 21, 2011
2/21/11
4:00
PM ET
The AFC North blog continues to rank the top 40 players in the division.

Whitworth
Whitworth
No. 36: Andrew Whitworth, left tackle

Team: Cincinnati Bengals

2010 stats: 16 starts

Last year's ranking: No. 36

Analysis: Whitworth is Cincinnati's best offensive lineman. He is underrated but versatile and received some Pro Bowl consideration this year. Whitworth helped pave the way for Bengals tailback Cedric Benson to have his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Whitworth also took over the leadership role from the Bengals when longtime offensive tackle Willie Anderson left the team. The Bengals could use more veteran leaders and players like Whitworth, but they're in very short supply in Cincinnati, which finished fourth in the division at 4-12. Whitworth is durable and started all 16 games three of the past four seasons.

Mason
Mason
No. 35: Derrick Mason, receiver

Team: Baltimore Ravens

2010 stats: 61 receptions, 802 yards, seven touchdowns

Last year's ranking: No. 30

Analysis: Mason is 37 but continues to be productive for the Ravens. Despite sharing the spotlight last season with weapons like Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Mason still recorded 61 receptions for 802 yards and seven touchdowns. Mason is quarterback Joe Flacco's security blanket. The two have solid timing on short and intermediate routes. Baltimore's offense as a whole didn't live up to expectations. The Ravens could use another deep threat to go with Mason and Boldin next year, which could make Baltimore an early contender. Mason is only playing for championships at this stage of his career and hopes to get one next season with the Ravens.

Farrior
Farrior
No. 34: James Farrior, linebacker

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 stats: 109 tackles, six sacks

Last year's ranking: No. 24

Analysis: Farrior, 36, is another aging player who continues to be productive for Pittsburgh. He was solid against the run this year (109 tackles) and also recorded six sacks. But the Steelers had their issues against the pass, particularly against very good teams. Opponents attacked the middle of Pittsburgh's defense by spreading the Steelers out, and Farrior is not as athletic in space as he once was. Pittsburgh has to find a way to mask this weakness. But Farrior's leadership is extremely valuable and he's good enough against the run that he remains an important member of the Steelers' defense. He said after Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XLV loss that there's still plenty of good football left in the team. The Steelers are counting on veterans like Farrior to prove the critics wrong again next season.

Haden
Haden
No. 33: Joe Haden, cornerback

Team: Cleveland Browns

2010 stats: 64 tackles, six interceptions, one sack

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: Haden led all rookies with six interceptions. Haden always relied on his natural athleticism, but former Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan did a good job of teaching him proper technique. Once Haden combined the two, he really took off in the second half of the season. Haden continued to show improvement, eventually worked his way into the starting lineup and quickly established himself as Cleveland's No. 1 cornerback. He's a solid, fundamental tackler with very good ball skills.

We will continue "Walker’s Fab 40" on Tuesday and throughout the week in the AFC North blog.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 37-40

February, 21, 2011
2/21/11
11:00
AM ET
As we mentioned this weekend, it's that time again.

This week the AFC North blog will rank the division's top 40 players in 2011. This is a culmination of career consistency, last year's performance and how good these players project entering next season.

It should be a fun week. So let's get it started.

Cundiff

Cundiff


No. 40: Billy Cundiff, kicker

Team: Baltimore Ravens

2010 stats: 26 of 29 field goals, 40 touchbacks

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: No kicker had a more complete season in 2010 than Cundiff. Not only was he nearly automatic with field goals, but Cundiff also tied the NFL record for touchbacks with 40. Cundiff represented the AFC in the Pro Bowl after his stellar season. A case can be made that no player made a bigger improvement. In training camp, Cundiff's roster spot was in jeopardy, as he competed with veteran kicker Shayne Graham. But recently Cundiff got long-term security with a five-year extension with Baltimore.

Ward

Ward


No. 39: T.J. Ward, safety

Team: Cleveland Browns

2010 stats: 123 tackles, two interceptions

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: Ward made a name for himself in his rookie season. With the Browns lacking playmakers, it didn't take long for the second-round pick to establish himself as an enforcer for Cleveland's defense. Ward led the Browns in tackles and made numerous big hits. He has good athleticism and is constantly around the football. Ward will only get better as the Browns continue to add more talent around him.

Hood

Hood


No. 38: Ziggy Hood, defensive end

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 stats: 20 tackles, three sacks, 10 starts

Last year's ranking: N/A

Analysis: There were a lot of concerned people in Steeler Nation when starting defensive end Aaron Smith went down for the season with a triceps injury Oct. 24. In the past, that has spelled doom for the Steelers. But this year was different. Pittsburgh had been grooming Hood since drafting him in the first round two years ago. He held up well for the AFC champions and played a major role in Pittsburgh's No. 1 run defense. Hood also showed the ability to occasionally get to the quarterback, which is what made Smith the prototype 3-4 defensive end. Now with starting experience, Hood has a bright future.

Smith

Smith


No. 37: Aaron Smith, defensive end

Team: Steelers

2010 stats: 15 tackles, six starts

Last year's ranking: No. 25

Analysis: Smith remains a solid player but had another injury-plagued season. The Steelers were hoping to get limited snaps out of him for the postseason, but Smith could not recover in time from triceps surgery. Now Smith, 34, has the entire offseason to heal and get back on track. He has been instrumental in helping Hood develop and play the very difficult role of defensive end in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

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