Counting Down the Top 10 Players in the AFC North: No. 1, Ray Rice
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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.
In a division rife with defensive talent—so much so, that a top 10 list isn't adequate to hold them all—the AFC North's top player is on the offensive side of the ball. Ray Rice isn't your typical running back—he's the do-it-all workhorse of the Baltimore Ravens offense, leading the league in total yards from scrimmage last year.
Rice had 291 carries for 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns along with 76 receptions for 704 more yards and three scores last year. He had the second-most receiving targets of any Raven, with 104, and his 76 receptions were the most of any offensive player in the AFC North.
Where would you rank Ray Rice in the AFC North?
Reliable, durable and a guaranteed playmaker, Rice easily earned himself the honor of being the division's best player last season. Currently embroiled in a contract holdout after being given the Ravens' franchise tag this offseason, the team needs to work hard to find a deal that is both reasonable and also pays Rice what he's worth.
There's little indication that he'll fail to match his 2011 production this season, and on an inconsistent and often anemic Ravens offense, Baltimore desperately needs to have him on the field. Versatile, sure-thing running backs like Rice are anything but a dime-a-dozen, and his contributions to the Ravens last year were a major reason why they advanced all the way to the AFC Championship game.
Defense is the AFC North's calling card, surely, but in 2011, the division's best player was easily Rice.
Honorable mentions: Ed Reed, free safety, Baltimore Ravens; Haloti Ngata, defensive tackle, Baltimore Ravens; James Harrison, linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers; Phil Taylor, defensive tackle, Cleveland Browns; Geno Atkins, defensive tackle, Cincinnati Bengals; Antonio Brown, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 2: Terrell Suggs, LB, Baltimore Ravens
No. 4: Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 5: Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns
No. 6: LaMarr Woodley, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 7: A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
No. 9: D'Qwell Jackson, LB, Cleveland Browns
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