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.
There's no shortage of defensive talent in the AFC North, which is what makes it so hard to determine the exact order of the division's best players. But this list most certainly wouldn't be complete without one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' top linebackers, LaMarr Woodley.
In 2011, Woodley had 39 tackles, nine sacks and an interception, though he missed six total games with a hamstring injury. Of those nine sacks, an impressive 7.5 of them came during the four-game span in which fellow linebacker James Harrison was sidelined with a broken orbital bone, showing that Woodley is more than capable of stepping up when the pressure is high.
In 10 games, Woodley managed to do more than a number of other linebackers in the league. Though the Steelers defense has received its fair share of criticism (you know, that "old, slow, over" comment by Warren Sapp last year that has gained so much traction), as long as Woodley is on the field, it's still a fast and brutal linebacking corps.
Had he been fully healthy last season, Woodley would likely have had better stats and a better showing in the AFC North top 10. But what he did accomplish proves he's earned himself a spot on this list.