All-AFC North picks: Offense
September 1, 2008 12:00 PM
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Now that we've traveled to see every team in minicamp, training camp and the preseason, it's time to make our All-AFC North picks for 2008.
Let's start with the offense.
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Skinny: Roethlisberger has the ability and big contract to match what should be a tremendous year in 2008. He has full command of this offense and rarely misses a throw he should make. The only question is can the offensive line keep Roethlisberger upright and healthy all season?
Honorable mention: Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals
Running back: Willie Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers
Skinny: "Fast Willie" tells us his leg is fine. We tend to believe him. Parker led the NFL in rushing before his injury last December. Therefore, health questions aside, there's no reason to believe he won't have another productive season for Pittsburgh. Rookie Rashard Mendenhall will get some of Parker's carries, but it could turn out to help keep Parker fresh in games.
Honorable mention: Jamal Lewis, Cleveland Browns
Fullback: Lawrence Vickers, Cleveland Browns
Skinny: This pick is tricky and the one we are least sure about. Vickers had a tremendous year in 2007. But he hasn't looked all that impressive this offseason and word from the Browns is that he needs to pick it up. We want to pick Lorenzo Neal of the Baltimore Ravens, but he was signed by a new team late in preseason and he's coming off a broken leg. That would be too risky.
Honorable mention: Lorenzo Neal, Baltimore Ravens
Wide Receivers: Braylon Edwards, Cleveland Browns; Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh Steelers
Skinny: Cleveland's Edwards is a nightmare to cover one-on-one because he can blow by you or jump over you. If Edwards cures his occasional case for the dropsies, we will begin mentioning his name next to those of Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Sure, the Holmes pick might have caught you off guard. But the Steelers' top deep threat has been the most impressive receiver in the division this offseason and we feel he's due for a monster season. Also, both receivers in Cincinnati are battling injuries.
Honorable mention: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati Bengals.
Tight end: Kellen Winslow Jr., Cleveland Browns
Skinny: In a division stacked with quality tight ends, Winslow remains a cut above the competition. Coming off an 82-catch, 1,106-yard season, Winslow is the one tight end in the AFC North that's dynamic enough to completely change the course of a game.
Honorable mention: Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers
Center: Jason Brown, Baltimore Ravens
Skinny: Jason Brown is a name not many people know, but you will this season. The four-year veteran has been the stable force on Baltimore's offensive line and has versatility to play the center and both guard positions at a high level.
Honorable mention: Hank Fraley, Cleveland Browns
Guards: LG Eric Steinbach, Cleveland Browns; RG Bobbie Williams, Cincinnati Bengals
Skinny: Steinbach is coming of a Pro Bowl year for the Browns and, teamed with Joe Thomas, should have another stellar year on Cleveland's left side. Cincinnati's Williams has never been flashy, but he is consistent. He started all 16 games last year and played in 98.7 percent of the team's snaps in 2007.
Honorable mentions: LG Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals; RG Kendall Simmons, Pittsburgh Steelers
Tackles: LT Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns; RT Kevin Shaffer, Cleveland Browns
Skinny: Thomas is an easy pick, as he might be the best left tackle in the NFL by season's end. But picking a right tackle is where it gets dicey. We're going with the proven commodity here in Shaffer. Some of the other right tackle candidates in the AFC North are too inexperienced and unproven.
Honorable mentions: LT Marvel Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers; RT Stacy Andrews, Cincinnati Bengals
Check back later today for our All-AFC North defensive and special teams for 2008.
All-AFC North picks: Defense and special teams
September 1, 2008 2:00 PM
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
In part two of our Monday series, we take a look at our preseason picks for the All-AFC North on defense and special teams.
Defensive ends: Aaron Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers; Corey Williams, Cleveland Browns
Skinny: With three teams in the division playing a 3-4 defense full-time or at some points in games, it's hard to pick two impact defensive ends. Smith of Pittsburgh and Cleveland's Williams are the two players that somewhat fit the description. Both will have to play well and stay healthy for their units to perform at its peak.
Honorable mention: Robert Geathers, Cincinnati Bengals
Defensive tackles: Shaun Rogers, Cleveland Browns; Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens
Skinny: Despite his prior reputation, Rogers has shown no signs of slacking in Cleveland. If the Browns get 16 games of all-out effort from Rogers he will be the most dominant tackle in the division. Baltimore's Ngata nudges Casey Hampton for the second spot on our team, because Hampton needs time to work his way into shape and could get off to a slow start.
Honorable mention: Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh Steelers
Outside linebackers: Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens; James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers
Skinny: If Suggs didn't play angry enough, he's searching for a new contract and will take it out on his opponents this year. Harrison is a late bloomer but knows how to get to the quarterback with ease.
Honorable mention: Bart Scott, Baltimore Ravens
Middle linebacker: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
Skinny: Lewis remains the best middle linebacker in the division. Lewis will have to be all-world for the Ravens to win games this year, so expect him to be in top form.
Honorable mention: James Farrior, Pittsburgh Steelers
Cornerbacks: Johnathan Joseph, Cincinnati Bengals; Chris McAlister, Baltimore Ravens
Skinny: Yes, the best young cornerback in the AFC North resides in Cincinnati. Joseph should have a stellar year even if the Bengals' defense does not. McAlister was banged up in 2007, but makes a world of difference in Baltimore's scheme when healthy.
Honorable mention: Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers
Safeties: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers; Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens
Skinny: These two are no-brainer picks as long as injuries do not get in the way. Polamalu is battling a hamstring injury but should be fine. Reed's shoulder injury is a bigger concern in Baltimore.
Honorable mention: Sean Jones, Cleveland Browns
Kicker: Shayne Graham, Cincinnati Bengals
Skinny: This was a very tough decision because there is not much that separates a solid group of four kickers in the AFC North. A case could be made for each kicker to earn the top spot, but we're going with "Money Graham" this season by a slight margin.
Honorable mention: Jeff Reed, Pittsburgh Steelers
Punter: Sam Koch, Baltimore Ravens
Skinny: Koch is quietly off to a solid start to his career and has the potential to get better. With that offense in Baltimore, Koch will have a lot of opportunities to put up great numbers this season.
Honorable mention: Dave Zastudil, Cleveland Browns
Return specialist: Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland Browns
Skinny: It's scary to think that Cribbs started returning kicks just three years ago. Some of the best returners in the league have done it throughout college and high school, but Cribbs got a late start and found his football calling. Cribbs, who Cleveland likes to call the 12th man on offense, has gotten better each year and could be even more dangerous in 2008.
Honorable mention: Yamon Figurs, Baltimore Ravens