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.
No. 4: Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
No wide receiver in the AFC North had more receptions and more receiving yards last season than the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Wallace. He had 72 catches for 1,193 yards and eight scores in 2011, bringing his total to 2,450 yards and 18 touchdowns in the two years as the Steelers' No. 1 wideout.
Thanks to Wallace's speed (and thus his ability to get open even in the most improbable of situations), the Steelers have built themselves quite the solid passing game. Wallace's presence on the field has allowed for fellow receiver Antonio Brown to have success last year, with over 1,100 receiving yards of his own.
Wallace makes this list while Brown does not for two reasons. One is that Wallace has had two consecutive seasons in which he's proven himself one of the best receivers in the entire NFL.
Two: touchdowns. Wallace had eight in 2011 to Brown's two, and 10 in 2010, when Brown was a mostly inactive second-fiddle to Emmanuel Sanders.
Wallace can catch passes, but most importantly, he can score touchdowns. Even with some shaky route-running, he's still the Steelers' most valuable receiver, and as long as both sides can come to some sort of agreement, should remain as such for seasons to come.
I've said it before: Great receivers make good quarterbacks into great ones, and that's what Wallace has given Ben Roethlisberger. There's no better receiver in the division right now, and thus he certainly deserves top-five billing in this countdown.
No. 5: Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns
No. 6: LaMarr Woodley, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 7: A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
No. 8: Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens
No. 9: D'Qwell Jackson, LB, Cleveland Browns
No. 10: Troy Polamalu, SS, Pittsburgh Steelers