The All Division Preseason Team was chosen based on performance in 2011, projected success in 2012 and extraneous factors, such as potential, opportunity and overall talent. Positions are taken generally, meaning there won't necessarily be one right tackle and one left tackle, but there will be two offensive tackles.
One thing the AFC North has always had is dominant defensive linemen. In 2012, they're looking even more athletic than they have in the past. The individual talent is impressive, but the schemes of each of these teams makes them all even better.
Baltimore's scheme has been passed down from several defensive coordinators over the years, and now it's Dean Pees' turn to carry on the legacy. Cincinnati gets one more year of Mike Zimmer (another year like last season and Zimmer's a head coach) to continue what he's started.
In that, we're taking the prospective linemen - meaning either tackle or end, with no preference given to evening them out.
There arguably wasn't a more productive per-snap defensive linemen in the AFC than Atkins. He's listed as a tackle, but he played all over Zimmer's formation, standing up, down in a stance, inside and outside. Coming really out of nowhere, Atkins quickly became the dominant defensive player no one's talking about, and he looks to continue that for the 2012 season.
The recently named Steelers captain is coming off yet another outstanding year. Even with his advancing age, he seems to get better each season. He'll be even more critical this year as a younger Steelers defensive line grows into its own identity with the departure of DE Aaron Smith and the reduced snaps likely to be given to NT Casey Hampton. Teams simply stopped running at Keisel when he was in there, and set up a lot of his defense's blitzing by his ability to penetrate the backfield against just about anyone who tried to block him.
DT Pernell McPhee, Baltimore Ravens
McPhee didn't play many snaps in 2011, his rookie season, but he made an impact on the vast majority of them. Despite averaging around a third of his team's defensive snaps, McPhee caused 20 QB hurries. If you were to add that over the course of a year, his approximate total for the season would have led the league. His six sacks, though, were still tied for fourth among defensive tackles in the NFL despite having about 250 less snaps than those tied or above him.
DE Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens
Ngata had an off-year in 2011, meaning he wasn't one of the most dominant defensive players in football. He was only among the best. Odds are good Ngata returns to form in 2012, and he'll need to be there to help the development of McPhee and bolster the Ravens' front seven in the absence of Terrell Suggs.
DE Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals
The only reason Dunlap is on here is because he may miss the season opener. That's really the only reason. His 2011 production was as outstanding as anyone's, and he played less than half his team's defensive snaps. Dunlap has struggled to get on the field, but if he ever gets to the point he can play three downs over 16 games, he's shown he can put up Defensive Player of the Year numbers.