The AFC North blog continues to rank the top 40 players in the division.
WhitworthNo. 36: Andrew Whitworth, left tackle
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
2010 stats: 16 starts
Last year's ranking: No. 36
Analysis: Whitworth is Cincinnati's best offensive lineman. He is underrated but versatile and received some Pro Bowl consideration this year. Whitworth helped pave the way for Bengals tailback Cedric Benson to have his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Whitworth also took over the leadership role from the Bengals when longtime offensive tackle Willie Anderson left the team. The Bengals could use more veteran leaders and players like Whitworth, but they're in very short supply in Cincinnati, which finished fourth in the division at 4-12. Whitworth is durable and started all 16 games three of the past four seasons.
MasonNo. 35: Derrick Mason, receiver
Team: Baltimore Ravens
2010 stats: 61 receptions, 802 yards, seven touchdowns
Last year's ranking: No. 30
Analysis: Mason is 37 but continues to be productive for the Ravens. Despite sharing the spotlight last season with weapons like Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Mason still recorded 61 receptions for 802 yards and seven touchdowns. Mason is quarterback Joe Flacco's security blanket. The two have solid timing on short and intermediate routes. Baltimore's offense as a whole didn't live up to expectations. The Ravens could use another deep threat to go with Mason and Boldin next year, which could make Baltimore an early contender. Mason is only playing for championships at this stage of his career and hopes to get one next season with the Ravens.
FarriorNo. 34: James Farrior, linebacker
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2010 stats: 109 tackles, six sacks
Last year's ranking: No. 24
Analysis: Farrior, 36, is another aging player who continues to be productive for Pittsburgh. He was solid against the run this year (109 tackles) and also recorded six sacks. But the Steelers had their issues against the pass, particularly against very good teams. Opponents attacked the middle of Pittsburgh's defense by spreading the Steelers out, and Farrior is not as athletic in space as he once was. Pittsburgh has to find a way to mask this weakness. But Farrior's leadership is extremely valuable and he's good enough against the run that he remains an important member of the Steelers' defense. He said after Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XLV loss that there's still plenty of good football left in the team. The Steelers are counting on veterans like Farrior to prove the critics wrong again next season.
HadenNo. 33: Joe Haden, cornerback
Team: Cleveland Browns
2010 stats: 64 tackles, six interceptions, one sack
Last year's ranking: N/A
Analysis: Haden led all rookies with six interceptions. Haden always relied on his natural athleticism, but former Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan did a good job of teaching him proper technique. Once Haden combined the two, he really took off in the second half of the season. Haden continued to show improvement, eventually worked his way into the starting lineup and quickly established himself as Cleveland's No. 1 cornerback. He's a solid, fundamental tackler with very good ball skills.
We will continue "Walker’s Fab 40" on Tuesday and throughout the week in the AFC North blog.