<
>

AFC North rookies showing up early

Many AFC North fans were excited about their teams following April's NFL draft. This summer, several of those rookies are proving their worth early in the preseason.

In no particular order, here are the top first-year performers so far:

Jordan Shipley, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Stats: Seven receptions for 67 yards (two games)

Skinny: Shipley continues to get open. He finds the seams in the defense and has sure hands. His rookie teammate, Jermaine Gresham, also was productive in the second preseason game with three receptions. Both should help quarterback Carson Palmer use the middle of the field more this season.

Geno Atkins, DL, Bengals

Stats: 10 tackles, 3.5 sacks (two games)

Skinny: Atkins is having a good training camp and an even better preseason. He already has 3.5 sacks, which is something the Bengals hope will continue in the regular season. It's early, but the fourth-rounder looks like a steal.

Ed Dickson, TE, Baltimore Ravens

Stats: Two catches, 26 yards

Skinny: The stats were OK for limited reps, but Dickson's athleticism and ability to stretch the field were apparent. Dickson runs well for a tight end and could cause plenty of matchup problems for the defense. The Ravens already have enough weapons. But Dickson, if he develops, could be a nice luxury for quarterback Joe Flacco.

Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Stats: Three receptions, 84 yards, one touchdown

Skinny: Brown has been competing hard all training camp, so it was no surprise when he made a splash in his NFL debut. Brown was quarterback Dennis Dixon's favorite target against the Detroit Lions and made a big connection on a 68-yard touchdown. Brown, a sixth-round draft pick, is pushing for a roster spot.

Terrence Cody, DL, Ravens

Stats: Five tackles, one tackle for loss

Skinny: The backups for the Carolina Panthers had a hard time blocking Cody last week. He was active and very disruptive with the amount of times he was able to get into the backfield. Cody obviously has power, but he also has surprisingly agile feet for his size. It's his stamina and weight that needs to be monitored.

T.J. Ward, S, Cleveland Browns

Stats: Nine tackles

Skinny: Ward got extended playing time this past weekend because he needs the work. But he was extremely productive and remains around the football. His pass coverage is still a work in progress, as evident by Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings' touchdown Saturday, but Ward's effort has been solid.