Our AFC North Dream Team

At NFLGirlUK HQ, we started coming up with our own thoughts on who would be the divisional dream teams within each of the conferences. While putting this together, I got the feeling I’d really like to see this team in action. Maybe not the most defensively sound “All Star Division” team (which in a division containing the Steelers and Ravens just sounds strange given recent history), this team would certainly put up points by a number of ways.

Offense (1RB, 3WR, 1TE)

Quarterback – Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)

It really wasn’t a hard choice, was it? The competition doesn’t compare. Joe Flacco may be elite (snore), Red Dalton may have just had his best ever season, and between McCown and RG3 the Browns might be able to get some passable QB play finally, but Big Ben walks this. A 3 time AFC Champion, 4 time Pro Bowler and of course, 2 time Super Bowl champion, Ben can make all the throws, and while he might not threaten you with his legs, he has an unparalleled ability to keep plays alive long after the pocket crumbles. It’s this reason perhaps the Steelers’ main concern is keeping him healthy all season long.

Running Back – Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Again, an easy decision. I could have had a duo of Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill, or Justin Forsett and maybe involve the Browns Duke Johnson. Then again, Le’Veon Bell can do it all. Le’Veon has been in the NFL for 3 seasons, and unfortunately only completed 16 games once, but when he did he amassed 1361 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns, 854 receiving yards and 3 receiving touchdowns. A true 3 down back, Bell was on his way to another huge year in 2015, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 5.7 yards per reception. Unfortunately, he only completed 6 games before suffering a season ending MCL tear against Bengals. As with Roethlisberger, the Steelers’ main concern is keeping Bell on the field.

Wide Receiver #1 – Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Antonio Brown chose the number #84 as his jersey due to 32 teams passing on him (8*4 is 32, clever huh?). In fact, they did so numerous times, as he wasn’t selected until the 6th round and 195th overall by the Steelers. I went back and looked the pre-draft grade for Brown. Yes he was extremely productive in college, but came from a small school. He lacked size, and didn’t possess enough bulk to compete with the true number 1 receivers in the NFL. Brown needed to become more consistent catching the contested ball. Route running skills needed refinement. Fast forward 6 seasons and Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the NFL, he is the first receiver to post two 16+ catch games in a single season, and his four games of 175+ receiving yards is also an NFL record. Not bad for a man who “lacked size” and fell to the 6th round, is it? He’s not bad at dancing either.

Wide Receiver #2 – AJ Green (Cincinnati Bengals)

Since being drafted in 2011 at 4th overall by the Bengals, AJ Green has been one of the most consistent receivers in the NFL. He’s been Andy Dalton’s go to X-receiver, and has never posted under 1000 receiving yards. In fact, his lowest total came in 2014 where he posted 1,041 yards – this even after missing 3 games of the regular season. Green is in for a big season in 2016 after the Bengals lost both Sanu and Marvin Jones, look for Green to dominate Andy Dalton’s targets once again.

Wide Receiver #3 – Steve Smith Snr (Baltimore Ravens)

Steve Smith Snr is a legend. He has been playing in the NFL since 2001, which really made me take stock given I was 12 at the time. In a career that has amassed over 13,932 yards, Smith Snr will surely enter the hall of fame once he eventually retires. Speaking of which, last season was of course meant to be his last season, however it was ended early after a torn Achilles. Smith, the ultimate competitor didn’t want to go out that way and has since vowed to come back for another season. Many aren’t sure about how Smith will be able to perform after such an injury at the age of 37, though even writing this I feel scared Smith will come after me. The master of backing up his smack talk, Smith moved to the Ravens after 13 seasons with the Panthers, who released him in 2014. Prior to signing with the Ravens, Smith stated that if he happens to meet his former team that the crowd should “put your goggles on because there’s going to be blood and guts everywhere”. He would play the Panthers in week 4. Smith finished the game with 7 catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the perfect revenge game. Ice up son, ice up.

Tight End – Gary Barnidge (Cleveland Browns)

Gary Barnidge had a breakout season for the Browns in 2015. The Barnyard Dog hadn’t previously been on the radar, having been drafted in 2008 by the panthers, but only recording his first reception in 2012. 2015 saw Barnkowski go nuts for the Browns (who picked him up as an UFA in 2013), he finished with 79 receptions for 1043 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. His nine touchdowns tied Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome’s franchise record set in 1979, and was named to his first Pro Bowl. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Sorry, puns over.

Left Tackle – Joe Thomas (Cleveland Browns)

I could have selected 6th overall pick Ronnie Stanley here, but he’s yet to play a snap in the NFL. Joe Thomas was drafted by the Browns in 2007 as a 3rd overall pick and has been to the Pro Bowl 9 times in his career. He’s made NFL history becoming the only offensive lineman to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first 8 seasons in 2014, and while the Browns roster has a lot of questions, since 2007, Left Tackle hasn’t been one of them.

Left Guard – Ramon Foster (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Ramon Foster or “The Big Ragu” as he’s nicknamed, was undrafted by signed with the Steelers in 2009. He eventually won the starting job in middle 2010 and has been ever present. Not a bad investment for a free agent pick. In his 7 seasons with the Steelers, he has appeared in 99 games, starting 84, missing only 13.

Centre – Maurkice Pouncey

Pouncey was selected 18th overall in the 2010 draft by the Steelers, and started all 16 games in his rookie year, also being named to the Pro Bowl. Unfortunately that year, he injured his ankle during the AFC championship win and was unable to play in the Super Bowl (the Steelers would of course go on to lose to the Packers). Pouncey missed 2013 due to a torn ACL and MCL, but recovered fully for 2014 starting all 16 games and signing a 5-year extension worth $44 million, at the time making him the highest paid centre in the league.

Right Guard – Marshal Yanda (Baltimore Ravens)

Marshal Yanda was selected in the third round of the 2007 draft, and was part of the team that won Super Bowl XLVII. He’s been elected to the Pro Bowl 5 times and was the Ravens team MVP in 2015. Yanda is widely considered to be amongst the best offensive linemen in football, and in 2015 Pro Football Focus named him their #1 guard.

Right Tackle – Cedric Ogbuehi (Cincinnati Bengals)

Despite only starting 5 NFL games I’m going to select Ogbuehi. He tore his ACL in his final college game, which caused him to fall in the NFL draft. Saying that, he was still selected 21st overall in the 2015 draft, and the Bengals hope he’ll have his injury concerns behind him as they look to protect Andy Dalton.

Defense (3-4 Front)

Defensive Tackle / Defensive End #1 – Geno Atkins (Cincinnati Bengals)

Atkins was a real steal of the 2010 draft, falling all the way to the fourth round. In his second season, Atkins become a full time starter and led the team with 7.5 sacks. He’s been a 2 time first team All Pro selection and is widely considered one of the best defensive tackles in the league.

Nose Tackle #2 – Domata Peko (Cincinnati Bengals)

Atkins will be happy to see his teammate Peko alongside him. Peko was also a 4th round steal for the Bengals, drafted in 2006, and has been a remarkably consistent player for them ever since. He’s racked up 477 tackles, 18.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. He became a full starter in his sophomore year, and since then has only missed 5 games in 2009 due to injury.

Defensive Tackle / Defensive End #2 – Cameron Heyward (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Heyward was drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft, 31st overall. He’s started every single game for Pittsburgh since being drafted, recording 15 sacks in his career so far. In 2015, he signed a 6 year contract with the Steelers worth $59.25M.

Outside Linebacker #1 – Terrell Suggs (Baltimore Ravens)

Simply put, Terrell Suggs is a beast. Drafted in 2003 at pick 10, he may be getting near the end of his career, but that doesn’t mean he’s on the fringe of his teams production. Perhaps most telling was recently in 2015 when he missed the entire season due to an Achilles tear. The Ravens weren’t the same team on D, and suffered without Suggs. Over his career Suggs has made 728 tackles, 106.5 sacks, 7 interceptions and 27 interceptions. He’s won it all, from defensive player of the year, to Super Bowl champion. He’s the experienced anchor this team would need.

Inside Linebacker #1 – CJ Mosley (Baltimore Ravens)

A very strong linebacker corps made this a tough decision, but I’ll give the nod to CJ. Mosley was selected 17th overall by the Ravens in the 2014 draft, and was the first Ravens rookie to be elected to the Pro Bowl. He was runner up for the defensive rookie of the year, and in 2015 recorded his first career touchdown after recovering a ball that Elvis Dumervil stripped from Andy Dalton.

Inside Linebacker #2 – Lawrence Timmons (Pittsburgh Steelers)

I could have went for the youth option in Ryan Shazier here, who made big strides in his sophomore year for Black n’ Yellow. I chose to go with experience, Lawrence Timmons – selected in the 2007 draft 15th overall. In his 8 year career he’s only missed two regular season games, has amassed 522 tackles, 28 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, and 9 interceptions. He’s won the Super Bowl and is the perfect foil for the youth of Mosley.

Outside Linebacker #2 – Vontaze Burfict (Cincinnati Bengals)

Now this would be interesting given his reputation amongst the Steelers. Vontaze has a bit of a ruthless streak, his play sometimes landing him with numerous fines, including being suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season for repeated violations of player safety rules. But when he does play, he’s a machine. Burfict was undrafted, slipping all the way out of the draft due to poor combine conditioning and an average performance at his pro day. He made the roster with the Bengals as an undrafted rookie, and played in all 16 games, starting 14. He finished his rookie season as their top tackler with 127 combined tackles. Perhaps most tellingly, when Burfict is on the field, the Bengals defense allowed 2.4 yards fewer per paly, allowing 4.5 compared to 6.9 when he was off the field.

Cornerback #1 – Jimmy Smith (Baltimore Ravens)

Smith was drafted with the 27th pick by the Ravens in 2011, and has since risen to the top of their depth chart. Amongst Ravens beat writers, some think he is the most important player in their defense, and with a division containing Antonio Brown and AJ Green, you can see why. He’s amassed 191 total tackles in his NFL career with 7 interceptions.

Cornerback #2 – Joe Haden (Cleveland Browns)

Joe Haden can be a polarising player. Selected in 2010, 7th overall, he had an excellent rookie season – going to the Pro Bowl and recording 6 interceptions. Heard of Revis Island? Well once upon a time there was a Haden’s House/Haberdashery. His form has been a bit streaky over the past few seasons however, with the breakout of Antonio Brown giving Haden some nightmares twice a season. Haden unfortunately missed 2015 due to concussion, he remains the Browns number 1 cornerback.

Free Safety – Eric Weddle (Baltimore Ravens)

A recent addition to the AFC North, Weddle signed with the Ravens in the recent off season from the San Diego Chargers. He’s widely recognised as one of the elite safeties in the league, having been a First-team All-Pro twice. It’s a match made in heaven for the Ravens who’ve been searching for someone to fill the void of Ed Reed who retired in 2012.

Strong Safety – George Iloka (Cincinnati Bengals)

A draft bargain in the 5th round, the Bengals drafted Iloka in 2012, and became the starter in 2013. Iloka made 47 tackles and 1 interception in 2015, he was unfortunately limited to 12 games due to groin and ankle injuries. He recently signed a contract to stay a Bengal for another 5 years

Special Teams

Kicker – Justin Tucker (Baltimore Ravens)

Tucker was an undrafted free agent in 2012, and has since gone on to break Ravens franchise records, including most field goals in a single season, and most points in a single season. He also holds their record for the longest field goal, a whopping 61 yards. A final stat for you, he’s the first NFL kicker to kick a field goal in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s in the same game.

Kick/Punt Returner – Antonio Brown

Not only is he the best receiver in the NFL, he happens to be a pretty good kick off / punt returner. He’s returned 5 for touch downs in his career, including one in this past season. His celebration warranted an $11,576 fine, and if you haven’t seen why, please seek this video out. He proceeded to run and “embrace” with the goal post, crown jewels first. I still don’t quite understand it.

Joe Sparshatt is an avid New York Jets fan and still to this day has a man crush on Mark Sanchez. When not watching the NFL, he follows respective Liverpool & Aberdeen football clubs, and keeps an eye out for the Aberdeen Roughnecks results. He’ll happily chat to you about fantasy football all day – even if you don’t care. Find him on Twitter at @spoejarshatt.

(Photo copyright www.sportingnews.com)

Joe Sparshatt

Joe has been following the NFL since 2009, and after being lucky enough to work in New York twice he gained the affliction of being a Jets fan. Joe enjoys consuming as much NFL content as he can get away with, and is also a fantasy addict. He makes an annual pilgrimage to London for the International Series, and contributes to NFLGirlUK with whatever hot takes or musings he can get away with. Find him on twitter @spoejarshatt.

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