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.
Joe Thomas might very well be the best left tackle in the entire league. In 2011, according to Pro Football Focus, he was the second-best tackle in the NFL, giving up just 21 quarterback pressures in 654 pass blocking snaps (in contrast, Harvey Dahl, their No. 1 tackle, had far fewer snaps and thus fewer pressures allowed).
That being said, it was ultimately a down year for Thomas, with things simply not going right for the entirety of the Browns' offense line. It was a down year for offensive tackles in general, however, so Thomas' relatively high number of quarterback pressures allowed still puts him at the top of the tackle pack.
His numbers should improve this season as the Browns' offensive line as a whole has gotten better in the past months. A combination of the best left tackle in the game plus an upgrade at quarterback should put the Browns in a far better position to snag some wins.
Tackle is not the most glamorous position in the league, and guys who protect the quarterbacks generally only get recognition when they do their job wrong. However, Thomas transcends the idea of offensive linemen as afterthought—he's simply that good. Of course, this warrants him a spot in the AFC North's top 10, without question.
No. 6: LaMarr Woodley, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 7: A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
No. 9: D'Qwell Jackson, LB, Cleveland Browns
No. 10: Troy Polamalu, SS, Pittsburgh Steelers