2012 AFC North: Ranking the Division's Top 5 Wide Receivers
Despite their hard-nosed pasts, the AFC North teams have actually had some pretty good receivers in their respective histories.
The Steelers had Hall of Famers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann in the 70s and future Hall of Famer Hines Ward until his retirement this past offseason. Cincinnati boasted Carl Pickens and Cleveland landed Paul Warfield.
But with the passing explosion in the NFL, more receivers are becoming household names, especially in the AFC North.
So who are the division's Top 5 receivers? Let's get to it.
5. Greg Little, Cleveland Browns
This could have easily been the Ravens Torrey Smith, but to me, Smith is a little too one dimensional at this point in his career.
As a rookie last season, Little led the Browns with 61 receptions and 709 yards on a team that really struggled throwing the ball. The former second round pick in 2011 has been reportedly working overtime to get acquainted with 2012 first round pick Brandon Weeden and looks poised to be a major player for the Browns this year.
I'm not sure if Little is a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL, but I do think that he has the potential to be. If Weeden can prove he's worth the pick the Browns spent on him, Little could be in line for a big 2012 season.
4. Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens
In 2010, the Ravens landed their first true "star" receiver in Boldin, but Boldin's underachieved a little since coming to Baltimore.
This has something to do with the fact that the Ravens throw a lot less than the Cardinals did, but still Boldin has never even topped 900 yards in his two years with the Ravens.
With that said, Boldin is still one of the most dangerous receivers in the division.
In 14 games last season, Boldin hauled in 57 catches for 887 yards and three touchdowns. Outside of Ray Rice, Boldin is still the clear No. 1 option for quarterback Joe Flacco.
It's pretty obvious that Boldin's best days are behind him and he could soon be passed on the depth chart by Torrey Smith if Smith can learn to run proper routes. But Boldin is still one of the toughest and grittiest receivers in the league and is one of the best over the middle of the field.
In my mind, the 31-year-old still has a lot of football in front of him.
3. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
In just his second season with the Steelers and after only three starts (according to pro-football-reference.com), Brown, a former sixth round pick, topped the 1000-yard mark.
He finished his 2011 campaign with 69 catches for 1108 yards and two touchdowns and is quickly becoming one of Ben Roethlisberger's favorite targets.
Brown does a lot of things well for the Steelers, but most of all, he embodies that Pittsburgh mentality. He's a great compliment to Mike Wallace and works very well over the middle. Brown has drawn a lot of comparisons Anquan Boldin.
Brown may have recorded only three starts last season, but he was clearly the Steelers No. 2 option, and in some cases, he became the go-to-guy.
With Hines Ward retired, the sky's the limit for Brown and the Steelers passing offense.
2. Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers
Over the past two seasons, there has been no more consistent wide receiver in the AFC North than the Steelers' Mike Wallace.
Wallace came off a 1,257 yard season in 2010 to post 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. The fourth-year receiver also added 12 receptions to his 2010 total, compiling 72 in 2010.
Despite a lingering contract situation, Wallace is still the Steelers main threat in the passing game. Not only does his vertical ability open up plays underneath for Pittsburgh, but it creates some big ones too.
Who will be the AFC North's best receiver in 2012?
I highly doubt the contract situation will work its way onto the field and with starting running back Rashard Mendenhall expected to miss significant time, I fully expect Wallace to be the main weapon on the Steelers offense.
1. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
With the last two seasons that Mike Wallace put up, it's kind of hard to go against him. But seeing what A.J. Green did last year and what he's capable of doing in the future is downright scary.
In 15 games last season, Green hauled in 65 passes for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns all while leading the Bengals back to the Playoffs and making the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
Green has elite size, speed and hands and the only real knock on him is that he's a little too thin.
I've been a big fan of Green since his time at Georgia and I think he'll benefit from the addition of rookies Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, as defenses won't be able to key on him as much.
Bengals fans should look for Green to be an elite receiver in this league for the next decade plus and may always keep Cincinnati in contention.
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