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.
To say that Browns' linebacker D'Qwell Jackson had a monster 2011 season would be an understatement. After missing practically all of the 2009 and 2010 seasons with two separate pectoral tears, he returned in 2011 to become the Browns' most productive defensive player.
Jackson racked up an astounding 158 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble and recovered three more fumbles. According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson also had 62 stops (tackles that resulted in no or negative gain).
With 1,096 defensive snaps to his name last season, no Browns defender was on the field more. That makes sense—the team generally struggled to stop the run last season, and Jackson often was the team's first, last and best line of defense against running backs.
Jackson was rewarded for his performance last year by being given a five-year contract extension worth $42.5 million, including $19 million in guaranteed money. It also secured him a spot on the AFC North top 10—clearly, you can tell which is the more valuable honor.
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