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.
The Cincinnati Bengals weren't projected to be much of a contender in 2011. Too much change, combined with a lockout-shortened offseason program, was believed to doom the team, especially with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton leading the offense.
But Dalton was helped immeasurably by the presence of another rookie—wide receiver A.J. Green. The Bengals' first-round pick lived up to his billing, as he helped elevate the Bengals to a 9-7 regular season record and into the playoffs.
There's nothing like a top-tier receiver to make a rookie quarterback both look better and be more comfortable in his new role, and that's just what Green provided Dalton last season. Green had 65 receptions on 116 targets in 15 games, for 1,057 yards and seven scores, and he averaged 70.5 receiving yards per game.
Green had the third-most receiving yards in the AFC North last season, and he looks in every way poised to become one of the league's most elite receivers. He clearly proved that he's worthy of a spot in the division's top 10.