I'm counting down the top 10 players in the AFC North, one per day, as we head into the 2012 NFL season. These rankings are based on 2011 performance only and are not projections of these players' 2012 success. In a division this good, ranking just the top 10 isn't easy.
2011 wasn't the most productive season Troy Polamalu's ever had—it was a down year in general when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers pulling down interceptions—but he certainly performed well enough to be on this list.
Last season, Polamalu had 91 total tackles (the third most of any Steelers defender), one sack, two interceptions and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. That's the most tackles Polamalu has had since 2005 and the second year in a row he's notched a sack, though he's primarily used in run defense.
It was hard to decide between Polamalu and Baltimore Ravens free safety Ed Reed for the No. 10 spot—with so much talent in the division, breaking it down to the 10 best is difficult. However, I went with Polamalu over Reed simply because he made a bigger impact last season.
I know it's comparing one kind of an apple to another—free and strong safeties have different duties, although those of Reed and Polamalu overlap simply because they are such dynamic and dominant players.
Polamalu is one of a number of relatively older players in the AFC North who has yet to experience a significant drop-off in production despite aging and injury. His numbers in 2011 clearly establish him as still one of the 10 best players in the division.