2012 PFF All-AFC North Team
The format is simple. Finding 11 guys to start on offense and defense, with four more on special teams, to field as strong a starting unit as possible for a division.
Here’s the AFC North, and links to the others:
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)
In the North, Big Ben is in a class of his own. Despite those around him faltering, as the Steelers started to show their age, he continued to excel. Despite missing time he finished seventh overall in our quarterback rankings in one of his best years for an impressive career.
Running Back: Ray Rice (BAL)
The season Rice had will be remembered for that fourth-down conversion. It highlighted how dangerous a player he is when you get the ball to him in space. Fitting then that he’d finish the year our top ranked running back in the passing game.
Fullback: Vonta Leach (BAL)
Leach is still the most punishing lead blocker around. Not many fullbacks in the league are a huge part of their rushing attack.
Tight End: Heath Miller (PIT)
The blocking of Miller is something that is always overstated, and often disappointing. He is, however, a tremendous target and his ability to do a number of things is big for the Steelers’ offense.
Wide Receivers: A.J. Green (CIN) and Anquan Boldin (BAL)
While the Steelers duo had down years by their standards, the Ravens pair put forth some fine efforts. In the end though, we’ve gone for Boldin. He doesn’t offer the same deep threat down the field, but his ability after the catch and sure hands were big for Baltimore. Green was about as much of a no brainer as possible, reinforcing what he did in his rookie year to emerge as one of the elite receivers in the league.
Tackles: Joe Thomas (CLE) and Andre Smith (CIN)
It sucks a bit for Andrew Whitworth. I mean, here’s a guy who is one of the best pass blocking tackles in the league, yet playing in the North he’s in the shadow of the premier guy in football in that regard, Joe Thomas. Still, there is one Bengals tackle who makes it and it’s a guy who earned All-Pro honors. No doubt Smith took his time, but this was the year where he became the player he was drafted to be to hold off a stiff challenge from excellent rookie Mitchell Schwartz.
Guards: John Greco (CLE) and Marshal Yanda (BAL)
Yanda was an easy pick. When you’re the best right guard in football there aren’t many teams you fail to make that you’re eligible for. The left guard was somewhat trickier. In the end Greco, despite a horror show in Week 17, was selected over Clint Boling, with the Bengal faltering big time down the stretch.
Center: Alex Mack (CLE)
Mack doesn’t get a lot of press and his nine penalties didn’t help his cause. However, since entering the league he’s been a consistent presence on the Browns line. This season probably wasn’t quite as good as his rookie year, but more than enough to place on this unit.
Edge Defenders: Carlos Dunlap (CIN) and Paul Kruger (BAL)
With Terell Suggs and the Steelers’ outside linebackers impacted by injuries, a new generation of edge defenders got a chance to prove themselves in the AFC North. Dunlap produced as we’ve become accustomed to seeing from him, notching the eighth-highest Pass Rushing Productivity score of 4-3 defensive ends. Kruger proved a different type of player compared to Jarret Johnson, struggling in the run game but consistently delivering more in the passing game.
Defensive Tackle: Geno Atkins (CIN) and Haloti Ngata (BAL)
It was close between Ngata and Ahtyba Rubin for the second spot. Rubin was a superior run defender and the Raven far more likely to pressure the quarterback (even in a down year by his standards). Neither man could compare, however, to the sheer awesomeness of Geno Atkins. Our top ranked defensive tackle on the year, he had a real season for the ages, the likes of which you feel privileged to watch.
Linebackers: Lawrence Timmons (PIT), Dannell Ellerbe (BAL) and James Harrison (PIT)
The beauty of doing teams like this is you get to mix and match a little. This division was once a haven for quality linebacker play. Not so much any more. Timmons was the most reliable performer in the division, finishing fifth overall in our rankings for inside linebackers, while Ellerbe impressed, especially when Ray Lewis went down. We didn’t feel comfortable putting Vontaze Burflict in this squad. He was impressive for an undrafted free agent, and has a lot of promise, but the run defense of Harrison (who could play in any scheme he wanted) meant he was a more deserving choice.
Cornerbacks: Leon Hall (CIN) and Joe Haden (CLE)
While the linebacker play got worse, you couldn’t say the same for the cornerback area in the AFC North, where nine of them earned positive grades. Indeed, the emergence of guys like Keenan Lewis and the unforeseen improvements of play from guys like Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Sheldon Brown, made this a particularly tricky choice. In the end, the ability of Hall to play inside and the man-to-man coverage skills of Haden got them the nods.
Safeties: Ryan Clark (PIT) and T.J. Ward (CLE)
No reputation picks here, with Ed Reed having one of the weaker years of his career. You can’t say the same for Ryan Clark who really stepped up with Troy Polamalu out. Ward, even if people weren’t paying attention to Cleveland, has become of the league’s premier in-the-box safeties, and a real building block in that secondary.
Kicker: Phil Dawson (CLV)
A quite remarkable year helps him pip Justin Tucker.
Punter: Kevin Huber (CIN)
Sometimes when you rarely talk about a punter, it’s a good thing.
Returner: Jacoby Jones (BAL)
A real difference maker at the position.
Special Teamer: Johnson Bademosi (CLE)
Made a name for himself with his play and 15 special teams tackles.
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