AFC North Top 25: 25th-ranked player

The AFC North blog is taking a page from the NFC South's Pat Yasinskas (OK, we're flat-out stealing from him) in putting together a list of the top 25 players in the division. This is not a ranking for the 2011 season. This is a projection of the player's impact for this season.

Come back to the blog every day as we reveal the rankings, which will lead to the start of training camp at the end of the month. Hope you enjoy the AFC North top 25 even though you likely won't agree with the list, which is really the fun of these rankings anyway.

Our series of the top 25 players begins with No. 25:


Bengals outside linebacker

Why Howard is ranked 25th: The six-year veteran is the most underrated outside linebacker in the division. Howard led the NFL's seventh-ranked defense with 99 tackles in replacing Keith Rivers, a big reason why the Bengals felt comfortable enough to trade away the former first-round pick. This season should be even better for Howard, who had to learn Mike Zimmer's defense on the fly after signing with the Bengals on July 30 last year. Howard is an extremely sure tackler, missing nine tackles over the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. If anyone has a problem with Howard making the list, you should listen to Bengals coach Marvin Lewis who considers Howard "one of the most athletic linebackers he's ever coached." That's strong praise considering the linebackers -- which includes Ray Lewis -- who have played under Marvin Lewis.