This week, Last Word On Pro Football will be selecting starting lineups consisting of the best players from each division. In this article, the AFC North offense is the focus.
2017 AFC North All-Division Team: The Offense
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger
Since his 2004 Rookie of the Year season, Ben Roethlisberger has been consistently great. Unlike Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, there’s no question that Big Ben is elite. Truthfully, there’s no other quarterback in the North that even comes close. Although Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton is good, he’s nowhere near Roethlisberger. And the Browns…well, their quarterback situation is intriguing, I suppose. In any case, Big Ben is still the best in the division.
Running Back: Le’Veon Bell
Another Steeler making the list, Le’Veon Bell is the premier AFC North running back. Really though, he might be one of, if not the best running back in the NFL. Bell’s talent is unmatched, and his speed and power mix is the best in the NFL by far. Only David Johnson really comes close, but playing for the Cardinals, he’s nowhere near the AFC North. Even if 2017 is Bell’s last year in Pittsburgh, he’ll definitely make it a great one.
Wide Receiver: Antonio Brown
Rounding out Pittsburgh’s “Killer B’s” is (possibly) the NFL’s best receiver, Antonio Brown. If you disregard Julio Jones in Atlanta, he is absolutely the best receiver in the league. In 2016, Brown collected a beastly 1,284 yards. On his career, he has 8,377 yards and exactly 50 touchdowns. Clearly, Brown is the best in the division at catching passes. But who lines up on the other side of him?
Wide Receiver: A.J. Green
Take a moment to imagine what could be if Antonio Brown lined up next to A.J. Green. Wow. Despite having a down year in 2016, Green is still the division’s penultimate best receiver. While only grabbing four touchdowns last season, he has 49 on his career since Cincinnati drafted him in 2011. Fans should absolutely expect Green to rebound from his mediocre 2016 and have a stellar campaign this season.
Slot Receiver: Jeremy Maclin
Ah, a glimmer of hope in the Baltimore Ravens wide receiver room. After Steve Smith decided to hang up his cleats at the end of last season, Flacco’s target options looked bare. But have no fear, Raven faithful; Jeremy Maclin is here to save the day. Although Maclin is already 29, that doesn’t change what his abilities can do for the Ravens. Maybe, just maybe, Flacco can pull some true magic out of Maclin in 2017.
Tight End: Tyler Eifert
When he’s not sidelined with an injury, Tyler Eifert is one of the most fearsome tight ends in the NFL. However, he’s a bit like New England’s Rob Gronkowski. Gronk, although great when he’s healthy, just so happens to see the injury bug a lot. But that doesn’t change the fact that normally, both Eifert and Gronk are the best in their division. Hopefully for Eifert and his next contract, he can stay healthy throughout 2017.
Left Tackle: Joe Thomas
There was no doubt about this one. No doubt at all. Joe Thomas is one of the NFL’s all-time great offensive line talents. Having not missed a snap in basically a decade, Thomas is incredibly durable and resilient. Additionally, he just so happens to be the best left tackle in the league while doing that. That combination of durability and talent absolutely warrants a spot on this list.
Left Guard: Marshal Yanda
There’s a serious case for Marshal Yanda being the best guard in the entire NFL. In a division based on the running game and the offensive line, Yanda might be the best interior lineman talent. At the very least, he’s the best left guard in the AFC North. He’s been in six Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl. Those accolades definitely count for something.
Center: Maurkice Pouncey
This one was almost a tie with Cleveland’s J.C. Tretter, but Maurkice Pouncey ultimately won out. Pouncey and his brother, Mike, are among the best centers in the NFL. Although there aren’t really any flashy stats in the way of centers, the tape tells the story. Even as a center, Pouncey jumps off the page with his ferocious run blocking and pass protection. The Steelers have built one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, and Pouncey is (quite literally) at the center.
Right Guard: Kevin Zeitler
When the Browns signed Kevin Zeitler in the off-season, fans were right to be excited. One of the league’s top right guards, coming to the lowly Cleveland Browns? Truly amazing. With Zeitler, Thomas, and Tretter, Cleveland is becoming very interesting in the trenches. Hopefully for the Browns offense as a whole, these pieces really do fit together.
Right Tackle: Marcus Gilbert
This one is pretty simple. In the absence of Mike Wright, Marcus Gilbert is absolutely the best right tackle in the NFL. How good is he? Well, a couple years ago, he completely shut down eventual Super Bowl MVP Von Miller for an entire game. Case closed.
Be sure to check out the AFC North All-Division Team for defense and special teams.