The 10 most important players on every AFC North team

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Wednesday June 7th, 2017

A quality quarterback can carry a team a long way in the NFL, but teams carry 53 players for a reason: QBs can’t do it alone. So, with the draft and the heart of free agency in the rear-view mirror, we’re asking the question: Who are the 10 most important non-quarterbacks on each NFL roster?

We polled writers from SI and The MMQB to find some answers. Each writer was assigned to a conference and asked to rank players, for every roster, 1-10. Those players then were given points consistent with their positioning—a first-place vote worth 10, second-place worth nine and so on.

Next up is the AFC North, with the following pollsters: Ben Baskin, Chris Burke, Robert Klemko, Bette Marston, Eric Single.

 

The 10 most important players on the Baltimore Ravens

1. WR Breshad Perriman (35 points)
2. DT Brandon Williams (31)
3. G Marshal Yanda (26)
T-4. WR Mike Wallace (23)
T-4. LB Terrell Suggs (23)
6. LB C.J. Mosley (22)
7. S Eric Weddle (19)
8. CB Jimmy Smith (18)
9. K Justin Tucker (15)
10. S Tony Jefferson (12)

With the voting results released for the East and North divisions, Perriman’s 35 points stands as the lowest total for a player ranked No. 1. He received one first-place vote (Klemko) and two second-place votes (Burke and Single) along the way, but he was left off the top 10 entirely by Baskin.

Williams’s scores came down in much the same fashion. He was the top player on the Burke and Marston boards, but checked in at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively, on the Baskin and Klemko ballots.

Oh, and how about that 15-point score for Tucker, a groundbreaking finish for a special-teams player. Marston voted him into the top three and Single into the top five, so Tucker can thank them for his slot among the most important Ravens of 2017.

Eric Single defends his first-place vote for Jimmy Smith: There’s not much elegance to the truth that the Ravens need as many of their defensive backs to stay healthy as possible, especially in light of the Tavon Young injury, but when he’s 100% Smith can be a No. 1 guy, and the lack of that top option has put a ceiling on Baltimore’s otherwise stout defense of late.

Other Ravens receiving votes: TE Dennis Pitta (10 points); LT Ronnie Stanley, LB Za'Darius Smith (nine); CB Brandon Carr (eight); CB Marlon Humphrey (seven); TE Maxx Williams (four); OT James Hurst (two); RB Danny Woodhead, RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (one).

The 10 most important players on the Cincinnati Bengals

1. WR A.J. Green (40 points)
2. DT Geno Atkins (31)
3. OT Cedric Ogbuehi (28)
4. WR John Ross (25)
T-5. OT Jake Fisher (23)
T-5. LB Vontaze Burfict (23)
T-5. TE Tyler Eifert (23)
8. CB Dre Kirkpatrick (21)
9. DE Carlos Dunlap (17)
10. G Clint Boling (eight)

Of the five first-place votes handed out here, four belonged to A.J. Green (Baskin, Burke, Marston, Single). The fifth: Cedric Ogbuehi (Klemko), who along with Jake Fisher is penciled in as a starting tackle this season. Fisher landed at No. 2 on the Klemko and Baskin ballots.

The rookie Ross cracked all five ballots, with a high ranking of No. 4 (Marston) and a low of No. 9 (Baskin). Cincinnati’s other high-profile rookie, RB Joe Mixon, made his way into just two ballots—one in the eight hole (Baskin), the other at No. 9 (Single). In an interesting twist, those were the only five poll points assigned to the Bengals at the running back position. Neither Gio Bernard nor Jeremy Hill claimed even so much as a single vote. More on that development ...

Ben Baskin defends his eighth-place vote for Joe Mixon: Mixon will have to fight for playing time at first with Bernard and Hill, who is coming off an ACL tear, but Mixon will quickly prove to be the most dynamic and versatile of the trio, landing him the lion’s share of playing time. Having a sure-handed target out of the backfield will both make life easier for Andy Dalton and open up the field for A.J. Green. Mixon—despite how I feel about him personally, which is, to put it lightly, not great—will bring a dimension to the offense that the Bengals have never had.

Other Bengals receiving votes: C Russell Bodine, CB Adam Jones (seven points); S George Iloka (six)​; RB Joe Mixon, DE Jordan Willis (five); DE Wallace Gilberry (four); S Shawn Williams, LB Kevin Minter (one).

The 10 most important players on the Cleveland Browns

1. LB Jamie Collins (41 points)
2. LT Joe Thomas (36)
3. DE Myles Garrett (32)
4. WR Corey Coleman (28)
5. CB Joe Haden (23)
6. DE Emmanuel Ogbah (20)
T-7. WR Kenny Britt (15)
T-7. DT Danny Shelton (15)
9. OL Cam Erving (14)
10. RB Isaiah Crowell (10)

This top three might be the least surprising of any team covered thus far—the versatile linebacker, the longtime O-line anchor and the fresh top draft pick. Collins was the No. 1 selection by three pollsters (Burke, Klemko, Marston), while Thomas (Single) and Garrett (Baskin) each landed a lone first-place vote.

The ballots were a bit all over the board beyond that. A pair of voters (Baskin and Klemko) sneaked Coleman into the top three; Marston did the same for the pass-rushing Ogbah. Shelton, Haden, Crowell, Kirksey, Britt and Erving all landed in the top five at least once, as well.

The Browns’ two other Round 1 picks aside from Garrett, Jabrill Peppers and David Njoku, each received votes—seven points for the former, five for the latter. Both scored a seventh-place vote to aid those totals.

Eric Single defends his fifth-place vote for Isaiah Crowell: Let’s be real—The Browns don’t have any other offensive player whose production they can bank on this fall. Crowell flirted with 1,000 yards on the ground last year, and if he hits quadruple-digits in all-purpose yardage for the second straight year it means he’ll have been a valuable steadying force for whoever’s under center.

Other Browns receiving votes: LB Christian Kirksey (nine points); S Jabrill Peppers (seven); G Kevin Zeitler, G Joel Bitonio (six); CB Jamar Taylor, TE David Njoku (five); OL J.C. Tretter (two); S Ed Reynolds (one).

The 10 most important players on the Pittsburgh Steelers

1. WR Antonio Brown (39 points)
2. RB Le'Veon Bell (37)
3. OLB James Harrison (31)
4. LB Ryan Shazier (23)
5. C Maurkice Pouncey (23)
6. CB Artie Burns (21)
7. LB Bud Dupree (16)
T-8. DE Cam Heyward (14)
T-8. DT Stephon Tuitt (14)
10. LB Vince Williams (10)

Brown claimed the top spot on three ballots (Burke, Marston, Single), with Bell right behind him at No. 2 on all of them. A fourth ballot (Baskin) flip-flopped them, with Bell at No. 1 and Brown at No. 2. The only voter to run against the grain was Klemko, who put the pressure for Pittsburgh’s 2017 success on the defense—Williams, Dupree and Harrison occupied his top three, in that order.

Was Shazier slightly overlooked in the process? He was ranked No. 3 by Marston and Single, and No. 4 by Burke, but fell off the Baskin and Klemko ballots. In some ways, his results get to the heart of this endeavor, which forced each voter to determine exactly how to define a team’s “most important” player. Most talented? Most irreplaceable? Most in need of a breakthrough season for his team to get over the top? Answers, and results, varied.

Bette Marston defends her fourth-place vote for Maurkice Pouncey: Sure, Pouncey has struggled with injuries over the past few seasons, but he's the cog at the center of the NFL's third-ranked offensive line in the eyes of Pro Football Focus. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked only 17 times last season, and Pouncey’s presence in the middle earns him a good chunk of the credit.

Other Steelers receiving votes: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (eight points); LT Alejandro Villanueva (seven); WR Eli Rogers, CB Ross Cockrell, G David DeCastro (six); CB Marcus Gilbert (five); LB T.J. Watt (three); S Sean Davis, WR Martavis Bryant (two); DT Javon Hargrave, S Mike Mitchell (one).

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