AFC North Top 25: Fifth-ranked player

The AFC North blog is continuing its series on the top 25 players in the division with No. 5:


Steelers linebacker

Why Woodley is ranked 5th: At 27, Woodley is hitting his prime. This should be the year when he takes over as the dominant defensive player on the Steelers, stepping ahead of James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. I thought Woodley was the best defensive player in the NFL in the first half of the 2012. But a hamstring injury limited him to three starts in the final nine games.

Woodley is a complete player who is fast off the edge and more than solid against the run. What stood out last season was how Woodley stepped up when the Steelers needed him the most. With Harrison hurt, Woodley produced 7.5 sacks in four Steelers wins in October. If he can extend this type of impact over a full season, he will be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.