The AFC North as a whole had a down year last year as a division. The Cleveland Browns pulled up the rear at 4 -12 while perennial powers Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens went 8 – 8. Only the Cincinnati Bengals had a winning record at 11 – 5, yet they couldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs. Was this a one year problem or has age the rest of the league caught up to the division?
The division is still full of a ton of talent. Today we will look at the offensive side of the ball and who makes the All AFC North team as voted on by the 4 Fansided editors for the teams. Each editor had a vote for each position. Only one position was there a tie, running back, where a quick poll helped decide the winner. We will do the same thing with the defensive side of the ball. At that point we will put our team into competition against the other divisions and let fan voting decide the best division in the NFL. Now on to the AFCN’s Offense:
Quarterback - Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben beat out Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and whoever the Browns start. He was the unanimous choice amongst all of the editors. Ben’s history of success made him an easy choice for this editor but realize that if the division is decided by who is the QB, the AFCN is probably going to lose. Big Ben is a fine QB and has done some great things in his career yet he has never been placed in the category of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and the like. Flacco is the only other QB that likely got some consideration but in the end we all voted the same.
Running Back – Gio Bernard
The running back position in the North is an interesting one. I voted for Ray Rice as I believe he has a huge bounce back season, and that he never recovered from his hip injury against the Browns. The Steelers have La’Veon Bell but as a rookie he had some injury issues and hasn’t proven himself. The Bengals have Bernard as well as the Law Firm who give them a dynamic the is interesting. Bernard won the fan vote over Rice, likely due to last season’s poor play as well as his off the field issues this off-season. So far the division doesn’t look ready to compete with the big boys.
Left Tackle - Joe Thomas
Not much of a discussion here. Thomas was voted in across the board as well he should of been. The rest of the AFCN has had some struggles with their offensive line with only the Ravens, with Eugene Monroe, having someone in place for years to come. Thomas has been a stalwart in the Pro Bowl for a reason.
Left Guard - Andrew Whitworth
Whitworth has long been a left tackle but moved inside some last year and got a majority of the votes. The Bengals also have Clint Boling who had a great season as well. Both the Ravens and the Bengals have a solid pair of guards while the Steelers have hopes for theirs and the Browns are trying to figure out what they have and who will separate themselves at the position.
Center - Alex Mack
The second Browns player on the board is Mack, who the team almost lost this off-season. The Steelers Pouncey could of been in the mix but Mack was the unanimous choice across the board. Smart in pass protection and rugged enough in run block the division editors have seen Mack shutdown the inside power that is prevalent in the division and gave him respect for it.
Right Guard - Marshal Yanda
Yanda was another selection that just made a ton of sense. For the Ravens Yanda has helped keep Flacco, who isn’t very mobile, clean in the pocket. Even though the Ravens running game wasn’t strong last year, Yanda was not the issue. Kevin Zeitler from the Bengals also got some attention here. Finally the Ravens are on the board.
Right Tackle - Andre Smith
An interesting player is Smith. Coming out of college he was overweight and looked like he had high bust potential. He struggled early in his career, especially with the Bengals picking him so high. Many noted that a player picked #6 should of moved over to the left side b now but Smith has made a home dominating on the right side. It fits his size/strength combination perfectly and the Bengals know what they have on that side of the ball. The AFCN offensive line looks stellar.
Tight End - Jordan Cameron
The Browns get on the board again with Cameron. After one huge breakout season Cameron gets the nod in a division that has always held the tight end position high. Cameron got 3 out of 4 votes, with Heath Miller getting the other. Cameron is big, fast and can run after the catch. In a league where splitting out the tight end is all the rage, Cameron fits right in that mold. He still has some work to do as a blocker but with the line the North has put together that is far less of a concern.
Wide Receiver - Josh Gordon
The final Browns player on our list may not even be a Browns player ever again. While Gordon may not play this year he is still a highly talented player. He received 3 out 4 votes with only Antonio Brown receiving the other. Gordon, along with the other 2 receivers that are on the team would cause nightmares, literal nightmares, for defenders. Gordon, with Big Ben’s ability to allude rushers and that great offensive line, can run the deep routes and score often. Next year, after sitting out a year, Gordon most likely won’t make this list but gets credit for last year’s amazing play on the field.
Wide Receiver - A.J. Green
A unanimous choice, Green is one of the Top 5, 10 receivers in the game. He sometimes gets frustrated with the play of Andy Dalton but is always making plays. He runs crisp routes, can high point the ball, has great hands and good speed at the position. With Green on one side and Gordon on the other the North have two players who can go deep, go over the middle and make huge impacts on the game.
Wide Receiver - Torrey Smith
Smith is the final player on the team. While not the perfect compliment to Gordon and Green, these 3 receivers can dominate any defensive backfield. Imagine Smith running a deep post route with either Gordon or Green running a flag route underneath. Imagine the crossing routes that would be open for one of the receivers while the other 2 take the defense deep and stretch them out. Smith has the best top line speed of the 3 but has developed into a good all around receiver.
The AFCN team has huge strengths as offensive line and receiving talent, including Cameron at tight end. QB and RB will be weak compared to most other divisions but will the rest of the stellar squad be able to make up for it? The Browns represent 4 of the 11 players selected while the Bengals have 4 as well. The Ravens and Steelers bring up the rear with 2 and 1 respectively. It will be interesting to see how many from each team earn spots on the tightly contested All AFC North Defensive Team.
Who did we miss? Who did we get wrong? Looking forward who HAS to be on the defensive team?