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AFC North rookies to watch

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Posted July 31, 2010 @ 1:11 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Updated Aug. 1, 2010 @ 4:29 p.m. ET

This is the 25th in a series of opinionated fantasy football columns that will be posted daily in July and August, providing fantasy owners with some insights to consider as they prepare for their drafts. You can get an in-depth preview of the upcoming fantasy football season with the purchase of the Yahoo! Sports / Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football Guide 2010, available now in newsstands and bookstores, or online at PFWstore.com.

As you stack your draft boards and prepare for the upcoming season, here are five AFC North rookies to watch. Rookies are ranked in order of expected production:

1. Browns RB Montario Hardesty — Hardesty made a very good impression in offseason workouts and figures to be no worse than the Browns' second-string back in 2010. Moreover, he has a legitimate shot at starting. His primary competitor, Jerome Harrison, finished the '09 season strongly, but at 5-9 and 205 pounds — and with Cleveland trading back into Round Two for Hardesty — it's clear the Browns do not want to overwork Harrison. Hardesty twisted a knee prior to the opening of training camp and was expected to miss a couple of weeks of camp, but the injury wasn't expected to affect his availability for the regular season.

2. Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham — He'll have a key role in the Bengals' offense from the outset. Gresham has very good speed and can exploit favorable one-on-one matchups. In big leagues that require teams to carry two tight ends, he's a solid late-round selection. Considering he missed all of last season with a knee injury and the TE position hasn't been a big part of the Bengals' offense for years, Gresham's value might be greatest as the season progresses.

3. Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer — Those who draft Rashard Mendenhall in big leagues might want to consider spending a late-round pick on Dwyer, who could be the Steelers' short-yardage back right off the bat. Veteran Mewelde Moore also has fantasy value and likely would be the starter if Mendenhall were to miss any time, but Dwyer has intriguing potential and definitely will be worth having on the roster if he's getting the goal-line carries.

4. Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders — If Sanders beats out Antwaan Randle El for the No. 3 WR job, he might be worth a flier in deep leagues. Sanders most likely will go undrafted in most formats, but he's a prospect to monitor; he's quick, and the Steelers' passing offense should step things up later in the season, once Ben Roethlisberger reclaims his starting spot after serving a minimum four-game suspension.

5. Browns QB Colt McCoy — Yes, McCoy is slated to be the Browns' No. 3 quarterback. And he probably should go undrafted in all but the deepest keeper leagues in preseason drafts. However, owners need to watch his preseason progress closely. If expected starter Jake Delhomme falters and the Browns are out of contention, it's conceivable McCoy could get a look as the starter late in the season. If McCoy shows potential in the summer and ends up in the lineup in the final weeks of the season, he could have some fantasy value.

 

For authoritative coverage and analysis of NFL news, free agency and fantasy football, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.

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