The AFC North blog continues to rank the top 40 players in the division.
No. 16: Lawrence Timmons, linebacker
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2010 stats: 135 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions
Last year's ranking: No. 37
Analysis: Timmons made a monumental jump in "Walker's Fab 40," up 21 spots from a year ago. The former first-round pick really came into his own in his second full season as a starting inside linebacker. Timmons originally was drafted to play outside linebacker. But teammate LaMarr Woodley developed faster in that role and left Timmons searching for a new position. It took a while to learn the intricacies of playing inside, particularly against the pass. But things finally clicked this year as Timmons led the Steelers with 135 tackles. With the mental part of the game catching up to his tremendous athleticism, Timmons has Pro Bowl potential.
No. 15: Maurkice Pouncey, center
2010 stats: 16 starts
Last year's ranking: N/A
Analysis: Speaking of Pro Bowls, Pouncey pulled off quite a feat by qualifying after his rookie season. The Steelers hit a home run in the first round by selecting Pouncey, who missed the Super Bowl with an ankle sprain but started every other game for Pittsburgh. Pouncey moves well, is great at finishing blocks and had no issues making the line calls as a rookie. At 21, Pouncey can still add weight and get stronger, and that will be the next step in his maturation process. But to already be one of the top centers in the NFL as a rookie and ranked No. 15 in "Walker's Fab 40" are impressive.
No. 14: Joe Flacco, quarterback
Team: Baltimore Ravens
2010 stats: 3,622 yards, 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions
Last year's ranking: No. 20
Analysis: Flacco set career-highs in passing yards (3,622), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (93.6) in his third season. But another poor outing in the playoffs by Flacco and failed expectations of reaching a Super Bowl have dominated the offseason headlines in Baltimore. Flacco is a good quarterback who still has room to grow. Showing up in big games will be key, particularly against quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rival Steelers. But Flacco is 26 and will only get better. The Ravens could also do Flacco a favor by getting a speedy deep threat to take advantage of his strong arm next season. Adding the deep ball to Baltimore's passing game will open some things up for Flacco and make the game easier.
No. 13: Peyton Hillis, running back
Team: Cleveland Browns
2010 stats: 1,177 rushing yards, 61 receptions, 13 total touchdowns
Last year's ranking: N/A
Analysis: It's scary to think where Cleveland's struggling offense would be without Hillis, who was acquired last offseason in a trade with the Denver Broncos for quarterback Brady Quinn. Hillis was the Browns' leading rusher and second-leading receiver. The team only won five games, but Hillis probably accounted for three or four of the wins. The bruising running back punished defenders and often got stronger as the game wore on. But his style also results in injury, and Hillis played hurt late in the year. Cleveland needs to get Hillis more help so he be effective for 16 games. Hillis also has to prove that his career year in 2010 wasn't a fluke.
Here's who has made the "Fab 40" so far.