(Editor’s note: second in an eight-part series on each team’s trending players from 2010).
The AFC North is known for its linebackers (among other things), and several LBs had breakout years in 2010 — including some guys that didn’t get a whole lot of notice, like James Farrior, Chris Gocong and Marcus Benard. It was the defensive side of the ball that really seemed to get better in the division, but the same definitely couldn’t be said of the offenses.
Two of the biggest offensive names in the division saw their fortunes take a definite dip for the worse, one of whom has his own TV show, the other whose life was the basis of a movie.
Read on with our look at the biggest upwards and downwards trenders from the North.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (13-5)
Moving On Up: S Dawan Landry (-7.9 to +10.9)
In 2009, Landry got better as the season went on, but still had a substandard year. In 2010 he wasn’t always consistent in coverage, but he became a force in the Raven run defense and contributed to it being one of the best in the league. He went from 17 stops to 35 while playing fewer snaps in 2010, looking well and truly back from the injury that ruined his 2008 season.
Had a Bad Year: RT Michael Oher (+11.6 to -18.9)
The switch from right side to the left hasn’t gone well. Oher didn’t look good in two of the five games he played left tackle last year, and this year he continued that trend. In 2009 Oher was excellent with his run blocking and more than competent as a pass block, but everything kind of went wrong on the left side. He suffered a knee injury late in the season, and that definitely seemed to affect his play negatively. He wasn’t terrible in 2010, but has some work to do in rebuilding the rep he created as a rookie.
Give This Guy More Snaps: DT Brandon McKinney (+5.6 in 232 snaps)
Although the Ravens’ defensive line is already fairly crowded, McKinney made a case for himself to be more involved. He got a chance to start a few games in the middle of the season and saw increased playing time during the Ravens playoff games, and showed glimpses of being a good player especially at stopping the run. With Redding and Gregg playing inconsistently this season, McKinney may see his opportunity arise next year. The last thing the rest of the AFC North needs is another dominant run stopper on the Ravens roster.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (4-12)
Moving On Up: DT Pat Sims (-8.0 to +1.1)
In 2009 the Bengals had a strong defense but a weak defensive line — which included Sims. The defensive line saw some improvement in our grades this year, none more than Sims. A lot of his increase in production came from rushing the passer, where he went from getting pressure on 4.6% of his pass rushes to 7.5%.
Had a Bad Year: WR Chad Ochocinco (+8.8 to -2.9)
Not only did we see a less entertaining Ochocinco on the field in 2010, but also a less productive one. He had more drops, caught fewer touchdowns, and had fewer yards per catch this year compared to last. He also was one of the worst receivers at blocking this year. We expected fireworks out of “Batman and Robin,” but got inconsistency and a lot of losses.
Give This Guy More Snaps: HB Bernard Scott (+4.0 rushing rating in 181 snaps)
In his second year in the league, Scott was a clear No. 2 behind Cedric Benson but made a case to be No. 1. He had a very nice 4.9 yards per carry along with forcing six missed tackles, and no fumbles. Cedric Benson only averaged 3.5 yards per carry and graded -1.8 in the run game, and has gotten 300+ carries two years running. If Scott can show improvement as an all-around back, it might be time to lighten his load and use both backs.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (5-11)
Moving On Up: ILB Chris Gocong (-1.7 to +18.5)
The transition from a 4-3 OLB to a 3-4 ILB isn’t always the easiest one, but Gocong pulled it off. After being a little below average in everything in his last year with the Eagles, he became a dominant force on the Browns defense as a run stopper. He was able to get pressure on 14% of his pass rushes, and was strong in terms of pass defense as he only allowed 21 catches all year.
Had a Bad Year: RT John St. Clair (+2.9 to -9.4)
St. Clair started the entire season at right tackle in 2009 with mixed results. In 2010 St. Clair missed part of the season due to an ankle injury, but he didn’t look good before and after the injury occurred. He saw his pass blocking decline, and had more penalties in 2010 despite playing in fewer games. Due to his slump and large salary, he was released by the Browns this week.
Give This Guy More Snaps: OLB Marcus Benard (+8.5 in 355 snaps)
Benard really thrived in 2010, and was quietly one of the league’s most productive pass rushers. He had 34 combined pressures in just 255 snaps, a rate of 1 in 7.5 rushes — almost identical to Clay Matthews’ ratio of one per 7.53 rushes. Benard could be next year’s Cameron Wake if the Browns decide to play him full time.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (15-5)
Moving On Up: ILB James Farrior (+3.6 to +30.3)
Farrior quietly had one of the most dramatic improvements of any player this year, not exactly what you’d expect from a veteran. In 2009 he had four games with a run stop rating above one, and three with a rating below one. In 2010 his good games went up to seven, and his poor ones went down to one. He went from getting pressure on 12% of his blitzes to 14%. He also lowered both the completion percentage of opposing quarterbacks who threw at him, as well as the receivers’ yards per catch.
Had a Bad Year: LG Chris Kemoeatu (+2.0 to -25.7)
When Willie Colon went down for the season with injury, Kemoeatu was expected to be one of the better offensive linemen for the Steelers. Instead he allowed 28 combined pressures, which is very high for a guard. He led all guards with 14 penalties, and had a -9.8 run block rating. The Steelers made it to the Super Bowl in spite of their offensive line, and Kemoeatu’s struggles continued in the biggest game of the year.
Give This Guy More Snaps: RB Isaac Redman (+5.5 in 215 snaps)
In his first year on the active roster after being undrafted, Redman saw a handful of snaps each game and looked impressive with the handoffs he was given. He had 4.9 yards per run, with 3.4 of those coming after contact and forced 11 missed tackles. Those are good numbers and with more snaps the Steelers could very well have a nice one-two punch running the ball in 2011.