A.J. Green is a household name after just two seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals since he is one of the first players taken at a glamour position, while Joe Thomas has been a Pro Bowl left tackle in every season of his NFL career.
Green followed up an outstanding rookie season by catching 97 balls for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012. Green doesn’t quite have the same status as Calvin Johnson, but he similarly is a downfield threat that his quarterback relies upon to win jump balls. The Bengals’ offense is heavily reliant on Green, especially since their running game doesn’t have a dominant back and there isn’t a legitimate No. 2 receiver.
There was never any doubt about Green’s physical gifts at a strong 6-4, but his route running was an issue. Green’s production has been better than expected while continuing to develop the type of savvy at receiver that comes along in time.
Green is likely to post similar numbers in 2013 and his yards per reception could very well slide back up to his rookie season levels (13.9 to 16.3) if the Bengals are able to establish better alternate threats in Giovani Bernard at a multi-dimensional running back, along with Mohamed Sanu and Andrew Hawkins at wide receiver.
As excellent as Green is at receiver, he has Geno Atkins vying for representation on a list like this as one of the best three or four defensive players in the NFL.
Thomas is the anchor of the Browns’ offensive line, which is one of the better units in the NFL. Thomas has never missed a game in his NFL career and is about halfway through an unquestioned first ballot Hall of Fame career.
Thomas gave up just 16 combined sacks, hits and hurries in 618 pass protection snaps last season, according to data from Pro Football Focus. While Thomas has no peer in the passing game, it will be interesting to see if he can make a stronger impact in giving Trent Richardson room to work on runs to the left side.
Thomas found himself in the mainstream media for the first substantial time last season when he had a public beef with former teammate Peyton Hillis. Thomas seemed to be in the right on the issue and was attempting to continue to set a tone for the Browns’ culture moving forward amongst a complete regime change under Jimmy Haslam. Thomas is a popular player on the Browns and a clear leader despite being more than a full year younger than second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden.