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AFC North notebook: Steelers WR Martavis Bryant steps out of ex-teammate's shadow

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant catches his second touchdown of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Heinz Field on Oct. 26.
Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant catches his second touchdown of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Heinz Field on Oct. 26. (Joe Robbins / Getty Images)

When NFL scouts descended on the Clemson campus last spring, they were primarily there to check out All-American wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a dual purpose for visiting Clemson: evaluating Tigers wide receiver Martavis Bryant, their eventual fourth-round draft pick.

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As successful as Watkins has been since being drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Bills with 45 catches for 649 yards and five touchdowns, Bryant has proven to be a great pick for the Steelers.

Since recuperating from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for six games, Bryant has played in four games with two starts. He has six touchdowns on 14 receptions for 310 yards, including two scores during a 43-23 rout of the Ravens.

Bryant's touchdowns represent an NFL-high during the past four games. He tied a league record for most touchdowns by a rookie to start his NFL career with five touchdowns in his first three games.

"This isn't a Cinderella story," Bryant told Pittsburgh reporters.

The athletic 6-foot-4, 211-pound Bryant represents the prototype for the modern wide receiver, running the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds with a 39-inch vertical leap, a 10-4 broad jump and bench pressed 225 pounds 16 times.

"He's doing some really good things," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of Watkins. "He's been a guy who has helped this offense, and hopefully he'll continue to grow."

Bryant has routinely beaten press coverage. He's outleaped cornerbacks on fade patterns. And he's displayed generally sound hands and route-running skills.

"We're keeping it simple so that he can play fast so he can utilize the skills that he has," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's a talented guy."

Bryant's size-speed ratio is comparable to former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, who's now with the Miami Dolphins.

And Bryant has effectively complemented Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown. It's been a nice collaboration so far.

"I'm not shocked at all," Bryant said. "I had belief in myself and trust in my ability."

Browns' Gordon back by Monday

As formidable as the AFC North division-leading Cleveland Browns have been, their offense is about to get even better.

Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon's suspension for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy officially ends Monday when he'll be formally reinstated.

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"I see him in passing in the hallway and always ask him how many days, and he always knows the exact number of days," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan told Clevleand reporters. "He's been itching at this for a while."

Gordon led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards last season as he caught 87 passes for nine touchdowns.

As the Browns pursue a division title and playoff berth, Gordon's first game will be Nov. 23 against the Atlanta Falcons.

A repeat offender of the NFL substance-abuse policy, Gordon was initially suspended for the entire season for a positive drug test for marijuana after losing his appeal. The NFL and NFL Players Association subsequently reached an agreement on a revised drug policy that cut the suspension down to 10 games.

With Gordon back in the fold, the Browns get a dangerous downfield weapon. He averaged 117.6 receiving yards per game last season.

"Can't wait to get him back, looking forward to it," Shanahan said. "As soon as he's ready to go, we'll make sure to work to get him the ball. It'll be a great bonus. I'm aware of how good Josh is and what he did last year and how talented he is."

Tough test looms for Bengals

The Ravens will undoubtedly pay special attention Sunday to how the Cincinnati Bengals defend New Orleans Saints All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham.

After their bye, the Ravens play the Saints and Graham on Nov. 24.

Graham is a matchup nightmare, a 6-foot-7, 265-pound converted basketball player who leads NFL tight ends with 56 receptions for 594 yards and seven touchdowns. During the past three games, Graham has caught 22 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns.

"He's got special length," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told Cincinnati reporters. "He's got great hand-eye catch coordination. He does a nice job of basically rebounding the ball. He's really good at that, being able to use his body, and keep his body between the defender and the football."

"You need a guy with big length to go do that, but obviously Jimmy Graham is 250-some pounds he's got the strength that's going to win that 50-pound mismatch as well, particularly the tighter it gets to the goal line. The further away from the goal line, the better off you are. The tighter it is to the goal line, it comes back into his favor again."

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