Things are getting very interesting as the AFC North blog is halfway through its ranking of the division's top 40 players.
No. 20: Joe Flacco
Team: Baltimore Ravens
2009 stats: 3,613 yards, 21 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
Analysis: Some in Baltimore are concerned about Flacco's poor finish, but I'm not. Looking at his entire body of work, Flacco made great strides in 2009. He improved in every major statistical category, including passer rating (88.9), which jumped more than eight points from his rookie year. Flacco can make all the throws and has the tools to become a great NFL quarterback. But Flacco needs more help around him to truly reach his full potential.
No. 19: Shaun Rogers
Teams: Cleveland Browns
Position: Nose tackle
2009 stats: 36 tackles, two sacks
Analysis: Do not be fooled by this year's stats. When you talk to opposing players, they will tell you "Big Baby" is a beast to deal with and worthy of a top-20 ranking. Playing nose in a 3-4, Rogers often is the subject of double- and triple-teams. He is very agile for his size and has a tremendous "punch" off the ball to push back offensive linemen. Rogers suffered a broken leg in November and the Browns are hopeful he will return to form in 2010.
No. 18: Leon Hall
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
2009 stats: 71 tackles, six interceptions
Analysis: Along with teammate Johnathan Joseph, Hall is one half of the NFL's most underrated cornerback tandem. Hall hasn't reached "shutdown" status, but he is the prototype No. 2 cornerback. Hall doesn't specialize in any one thing, yet is good in coverage, physical against the run and makes big plays when the opportunities present itself. He's not spectacular, but he is consistent.
No. 17: Santonio Holmes
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Position: Wide receiver
2009 stats: 79 receptions, 1,248 yards, five touchdowns
Analysis: Holmes built off his MVP performance in Super Bowl XLIII with his first 1,000-yard season. Holmes set career highs in catches (79) and yards (1,248) this season and continues to get better for Pittsburgh, which has one of the deepest receiving corps in the NFL. Holmes has a knack for making the big plays and is on the cusp of becoming a Pro Bowler. But he still tends to leave too many plays on the field with drops, which he needs to clean up to get to the elite level.