AFC North rookie surprises
June, 22, 2010
By James Walker | ESPN.com
Frank Victores/US PresswireJordan Shipley stood out at Cincinnati's recent minicamp and could be a contender to be the Bengals' No. 3 receiver.Every year there are rookies around the league who, seemingly out of nowhere, quickly develop and contribute to their respective teams. Pittsburgh Steelers receiver and 2009 third-round pick Mike Wallace was a perfect example last season.
So who could be this year's version of Wallace in the AFC North?
Here are seven rookies drafted in the third round or lower who could surprise in 2010:
1. Jordan Shipley, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Draft status: Third round (No. 84 overall)
Analysis: Shipley was one of the stars of Cincinnati's mandatory minicamp last week. The receiver caught everything from the slot position and already looks like a good fit for the Bengals' offense. Shipley has a knack for manipulating the middle of the field and finding openings in coverage. Cincinnati has lacked this type of receiver since the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Look for Shipley to have a good competition with third-year veteran Andre Caldwell for the No. 3 receiver spot behind Chad Ochocinco and Antonio Bryant.
2. Ed Dickson, TE, Baltimore Ravens
Draft status: Third round (No. 70 overall)
Analysis: Dickson was one of the top receiving tight ends in this year's draft, and he should be able to stretch the field for Baltimore's offense. At this point, Dickson is a luxury as a backup to starter Todd Heap. That should allow the Ravens to bring Dickson along and only put him in positions to be successful. He will have an interesting competition with rookie teammate Dennis Pitta, who is also on this list.
Tim Heitman/US PresswireDennis Pitta will battle with fellow rookie tight end Ed Dickson for playing time in the Ravens' offense.
3. Carlton Mitchell, WR, Cleveland Browns
Draft status: Sixth round (No. 177 overall)
Analysis: Someone has to catch passes in Cleveland. Why not Mitchell? The Browns have arguably the worst receiving depth in the league. So this is a good opportunity for Mitchell to step up and impress Cleveland's coaching staff in training camp. He’s a bit unpolished but has good size and a good burst. If Mitchell can show some potential, that could be enough to earn playing time in Cleveland's offense, which is lacking playmakers.
4. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Steelers
Draft status: Third round (No. 82 overall)
Analysis: The Steelers found Wallace in the third round last year. Could they find another solid contributor in the third round this season with Sanders? Pittsburgh's receiving depth took a hit with the offseason trade of Santonio Holmes and the season-ending Achilles injury to Limas Sweed. Each instance has moved Sanders up the depth chart. Wallace and Hines Ward are the starters, and veteran Antwaan Randle El probably is set as the No. 3 receiver. But Pittsburgh will give Sanders an opportunity in training camp to earn a role with the team.
5. Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens
Draft status: Fourth round (No. 114 overall)
Analysis: In a bit of a surprise move, the Ravens took tight ends in back-to-back rounds. The organization felt the value for Pitta in the fourth round was too good to pass up. He had outstanding production at Brigham Young, and what Pitta lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with savvy and great hands. Pitta will compete with Dickson to back up Heap. The Ravens only need one of these rookies to pan out this season and put up numbers in what should be a very good offense.
6. Shawn Lauvao, G, Browns
Draft status: Third round (No. 92 overall)
Analysis: The middle and left side of Cleveland's offensive line are set with tackle Joe Thomas, guard Eric Steinbach and center Alex Mack. But the two right positions are still undecided, which provides an opportunity for third-rounder Lauvao to produce in his rookie year. For what it's worth, Lauvao has looked good in non-contact practices and is getting quality reps in Cleveland's offense. But it's difficult to mark the progress of offensive linemen until there's full contact in training camp. Browns coach Eric Mangini likes to use various linemen in games, so Lauvao could see playing time regardless.
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIJonathan Dwyer could make an impact for the Steelers in the red zone.
7. Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Draft status: Sixth round (No. 188 overall)
Analysis: Dwyer was very productive in college, rushing for 1,395 yards and averaging 5.9 yards per carry at Georgia Tech last season. But right now, Pittsburgh is more interested in Dwyer's nose for the end zone; he rushed for 26 touchdowns the past two seasons. The Steelers lacked a short-yardage running back who could move the chains last year. The team also struggled in the red zone, and if Dwyer proves he can move the pile, he could have an immediate role with Pittsburgh.
Not all of these players will surprise in their rookie year, but there's a decent chance some from this group will be productive.
Which mid- to late-round draft pick do you think will surprise in 2010?