BEREA — Greedy Williams has already shown the Browns his recovery skills.
After accidentally missing Cleveland’s phone call telling him he was about to be drafted in the second round, the LSU cornerback got in touch with the front desk at the team’s headquarters and asked to speak with general manager John Dorsey.
Then his emotions overwhelmed him.
“Greedy was giddy,” quipped Browns coach Freddie Kitchens.
Considered the SEC’s best cover cornerback, Williams was selected with the No. 46 in the NFL draft on Friday night when the Browns got in on a run of defensive backs. Fearing he might lose a player he wanted, Dorsey traded the No. 49 and No. 144 picks to Indianapolis and selected Williams, a second-team AP All-American last season.
The Browns plan to pair Williams with Denzel Ward, last year’s No. 4 overall pick who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
“Oh my God, me and Denzel Ward are going to tear up the league,” Williams said. “You can go man on the outside all day, and we will lock down those receivers.”
That’s not all the 21-year-old had to offer. In Cleveland, he’ll join fellow LSU alums Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and like the two star wide receivers, Williams doesn’t lack confidence.
“I know one thing: the Browns are going to the Super Bowl this year,” Williams said on a conference call from Shreveport, Louisiana.
He repeated the same prediction two more times.
In the third round, the Browns chose Brigham Young linebacker Sione Takitaki, who had 118 tackles last season. The 6-foot-1, 238-pounder recorded 19 tackles in BYU’s bowl win over Western Michigan.
“This s a physical, physical football player,” said assistant general manager Eliot Wolf. “He plays with violence and we felt like that was something that kind of separated him from other linebackers in this class.”
Takitaki had some issues when he first arrived at BYU. He was briefly kicked out of school after being involved in a fight and an arrest, but the Browns are comfortable he’s matured — on and off the field.
“He really changed his life around,” Wolf said. “This is a kid who came in immature. He’s from California and went to Utah. Probably wasn’t ready to be away from home. And the cool thing about this guy is he is a success story at BYU. You talk to anyone there, they kind of didn’t think he was going to make it after his first year or so, and he completely turned his life around, became a team captain this year. He was just that guy in the program.”
Takitaki credits his wife, Alyssa, for changing him.
“I got really lucky, I met a great girl,” he said. “She was always pushing me to be better. We just fit. She’s a great woman.”
Williams, who earned his nickname as a child for drinking too much milk, said he was shocked to get the call from the Browns. And after he reconnected with them, it began to sink in that his life had changed.
“I was just overwhelmed,” he said. “When I got the phone all from the 216, I was just filled with a lot of emotion. I’m still replaying the phone call.”
Dorsey feels Williams is perfectly suited to play one of the game’s most demanding — and unforgiving — positions.
“In all the evaluations, he has played some of the top caliber receivers in the SEC,” Dorsey said. “If you really go watch him play the game, he is fluid. He is easy. He is a smooth moving corner and he does it effortlessly. Corners in the National Football League have to cover and this guy has all the skill sets to cover players.”
New Browns coach Freddie Kitchens is confident Williams can handle the leap from college to pros.
“You are going to watch these SEC receivers now start going off the board and he has covered every damn one of them. That is the type of athlete he has to cover when he gets into the National Football League,” he said. “It is not going to be too big for him, but he is not a finished product either. There is always an adjustment for any rookie.”
Dorsey was unsuccessful in trading into Thursday’s first round because the asking price was too much. He didn’t have a pick after dealing the No. 17 selection to the New York Giants in March as part of the deal for Beckham.
He was patient as the second round unfolded, but when it started to look like he might lose out on Williams, Dorsey acted swiftly.
“Because of the way the game has changed, you realistically have to have five corners on your team,” he said. “This just gives you another extra guy who can cover.”
The Browns enter Saturday’s final day with five picks — one in the fourth round, two in the fifth and one each in the sixth and seventh.
Bengals trade down
CINCINNATI — One of the few bright spots in Cincinnati’s offense was Joe Mixon leading the AFC in rushing last season. The Bengals put the run game front-and-center with their first two picks in the NFL draft.
A day after taking left tackle Jonah Williams with the 11th overall pick, the Bengals traded down Friday and got Drew Sample from Washington — a tight end known for his blocking — in the second round.
They filled their biggest need in the third round, getting linebacker Germaine Pratt from N.C. State.
For the third straight year , they traded down in the second round, dropping 10 spots so Denver could move up and take quarterback Drew Lock, knowing Sample would still be available .
The 6-foot-5, 251-pound tight end was a key blocker in the Huskies’ ground-based offense, which he figured could lead to him slipping to a later round. Sample caught only 46 passes with five touchdowns during four years at Washington.
“I definitely took pride in being able to be a focal point in that regard,” Sample said on a conference call. “I took pride in opening holes for Myles (Gaskin) and our other running backs. That’s what I was able to do at Washington.”
Cincinnati’s offense finished 26th overall last season, a year after finishing last. The passing game finished 24th in the league, with receiver A.J. Green missing seven games with a toe injury and quarterback Andy Dalton missing five with a thumb injury.
Their best player on offense was Mixon, who ran for 1,168 yards with eight touchdowns. The Bengals had the running game in mind when they picked Williams and Sample.
“We want to be a dominant run offense,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “These guys help us do that. They improve that ability.”
The Bengals were looking to add a tight end at some point in the draft. They’ve brought back Tyler Eifert on another one-year deal after yet another injury-shortened season, this time with a broken ankle. Eifert has played only 14 games in the last three seasons because of back and ankle injuries.
C.J. Uzomah had 43 catches for 439 yards with three touchdowns last season and got a three-year extension.
The Bengals also were looking to get a linebacker — their most glaring need with Vontaze Burfict gone — in an early round. Pratt played safety his first two seasons at N.C. State and switched to linebacker his junior year. He started as a senior and finished as the ACC’s top-rated linebacker with 104 tackles and six sacks.
The Bengals missed out on a chance to take either LSU’s Devin White or Michigan’s Devin Bush, the top two linebackers available in the opening round. White went to Tampa Bay with the No. 5 pick, and the Steelers swooped in and trade up to No. 10 — one pick ahead of the Bengals — to get Bush.
The Bengals filled their biggest need as the second day of the draft wound down.
“Doing better now,” first-year defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “We’re thrilled to get Germaine. We were coveting him early in the day and tracking him as the draft goes on.”
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker is known for his ability to cover tight ends and receivers in the passing game, a reflection of his two seasons as a safety. Pratt played more like a linebacker at times in his first two seasons at N.C. State.
“I always knew for me to be successful, I had to switch positions because I wasn’t going to be a safety,” he said.
Pratt will get a chance to start, given the Bengals’ needs at linebacker. Anarumo thinks he could play middle linebacker or outside because of his versatility.
“Like with every rookie, we want to see what they do well early so they don’t lose confidence,” he said.
Campbell to Colts
INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard followed the pattern through the first two days of the NFL draft.
First, he moved back to get more picks. Then he invested heavily in the defense. And finally, he gave quarterback Andrew Luck some help.
After trading away Indy’s first-round pick on Thursday, Ballard took cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, pass-rushing linebacker Ben Banogu and receiver Parris Campbell with his three second-round picks and closed out Day 2 by taking linebacker Bobby Okereke in the third round.
But it wasn’t just the way Ballard drafted that seemed so familiar; it was who he took and what they sounded like, too.
“I only played football in high school for two years so I was slightly under recruited, I feel like,” Ya-Sin said. “I just believed in myself. I felt like I had the talent, I had the work ethic and I had great coaches that were pushing me.”
Ya-Sin impressed the Colts so much in his only season at the Bowl Subdivision level at Temple that Indy took him No. 34 — the first time they’ve chosen a cornerback that high since selecting Marlin Jackson No. 29 overall in 2005.
Last year, Ballard used the first of his four second-round picks, No. 36 overall, on another overlooked prep player who wound up at a Football Championship Subdivision school, linebacker Darius Leonard. He led the NFL in tackles, was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and became a first-team All-Pro in 2018.
This time, with a pick acquired from the New York Jets in 2018, Ballard took the 6-foot, 192-pound Ya-Sin, a two-time George state wrestling champion with a reputation for getting physical.
Ya-Sin played his first three seasons at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina — just 100 miles from Leonard’s alma mater, South Carolina State — before finishing 14th in the FBS with 12 passes defensed last season at Temple. Ya-Sin also earned a single-digit jersey, an honor reserved for the Owls’ toughest players.
Could Ballard hit it big again with a defense that made major strides in its first season under defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus?
“Gil Brandt said something the other night, he said I’ve always loved guys who transfer up,” Ballard said. “Why do they do it? Because they know they’re good. Rock did that, Ben did the same thing. They have a high level of confidence they can play. That was one of the neat things about Darius, he stepped on that Senior Bowl field and he belonged. These kids believe they belong.”
In the meantime, Ballard continues to collect talent and picks.
After sending the No. 26 overall pick to Washington for two second-rounders Thursday, Ballard dealt the first of the two picks, No. 49 overall, to Cleveland, moved back three spots, found another pass-rusher in the 6-4, 249-pound Banogu and added a fifth-round pick to his draft weekend arsenal.
Banogu played primarily defensive line in college and after transferring from Louisiana-Monroe to TCU in 2016, recorded 8 ½ sacks in each of his final two college seasons. The Colts envision using him all over the field.
“I’m ready to do just about anything. With the coaching staff and my football I.Q., I feel like I can pick it up pretty fast and be effective,” he said. “Doing some of the linebacker stuff at the Senior Bowl really opened my eyes to all the neat ways you can kind of create plays and turnovers for your team.”
Then Ballard got some help for Luck — taking the 6-1, 208-pound Campbell at No. 59. Campbell and Andy Isabella were tied for the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.31 seconds) among receivers at February’s scouting combine. Campbell caught a single-season school-record at Ohio State with 90 receptions last season. He also had 1,063 yards and 12 TDs.
Ballard closed out the day by adding the 6-3, 239-pound Okereke from Stanford. The fifth linebacker selected by the Colts since 2018 recorded 182 tackles and 7½ sacks in his final two college seasons.
And the Colts may be just getting started. Ballard has two picks each in the fourth and fifth rounds and six picks total on Saturday.
“We’re playing a lot of teams with very good quarterbacks this year and you’ve got to be able to run them down,” Ballard said. That’s always going to be a priority for us.”
Broncos pick Jones
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the third round, the Denver Broncos selected Ohio State defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones, whom Broncos general manager John Elway hopes can push the pocket from the inside, making edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, the league’s top pass-rushing duo, even more effective.
UT’s Johnson goes to Steelers
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers expect third-round picks Diontae Johnson and Justin Layne to get their hands on the ball. That’s where the similarities in their job descriptions end.
The Steelers began the process of reloading following the high-profile departure of star wide receiver Antonio Brown by taking Johnson with the 66th overall selection in the NFL draft on Friday night then took aim at a secondary in serious need of a ballhawk or two by grabbing Layne with the 83rd pick.
Johnson understands the parallels he shares with Brown. Both are 5-foot-10. Both are around 180 pounds. Both played collegiately in the Mid-American Conference. Both posted 40-yard dash times that didn’t exactly dazzle pro scouts.
Yet Johnson — selected with a pick the Steelers acquired when they sent Brown to Oakland in March — knows that’s where the parallels end. Brown is a great player. The three-year letterman at Toledo is eager to write his own story.
“At the end of the day, I can only be me,” Johnson said. “Do what I do best.”
Namely, attack defenses in a way that renders his lack of breakaway speed — at least according to the stopwatch — meaningless. The player who ran a so-so 4.53-second, 40-yard dash won over the Steelers’ coaching staff with his ability to win one-on-one battles at the line of scrimmage.
Head coach Mike Tomlin noticed Johnson first then sent wide receivers coach Darry Drake to do some digging. What Drake found turned him into Johnson’s biggest advocate in the team’s draft war room.
“He’s a tremendously gifted young man,” Drake said. “The most natural catcher that I’ve seen in a while. … He doesn’t have great timed speed but he plays the game fast. He’s really, really good against the press and this is a press league. DBs walk up to your face and try to fingerprint you. He gets off bumps, gets in and out of his breaks as well as anybody I’ve seen in a long time.”
Johnson caught 43 passes for 663 yards and seven touchdowns for the Rockets as a redshirt junior last season and was named the MAC’s Special Teams Player of the Year after returning a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns. He’ll likely get a chance at special teams too, where Brown first distinguished himself after being taken in the sixth round out of Central Michigan in 2010 before developing into one of the top receivers in the league.
Brown’s record-setting run in Pittsburgh ended with an ugly divorce in the offseason, with the Steelers sending him to the Raiders. They used one of the picks they acquired from Oakland to grab a player that joins a room that will have a decidedly different feel with the prolific but also high-maintenance Brown out west.
This is the third straight season the Steelers have taken a wide receiver in the top three rounds of the draft. They selected JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round in 2017 and James Washington in the second round last year. Pittsburgh signed former Jacksonville Jaguar Donte Moncrief to a two-year deal in March and also have Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers in the mix.
Drake likes Johnson’s versatility and expects the Steelers will move him around instead of just sticking him in the slot. Drake also isn’t worried about Johnson’s 40-time. The coach who counts Larry Fitzgerald among his former pupils doesn’t believe the stopwatch tells the whole story.
“We want that guy, that blazer but normally with that package of that dynamic speed, very seldom do you get the total package,” Drake said. “This guy has the ability to be a total package guy.”
Pittsburgh is hoping to one day say the same about Layne, who arrived at Michigan State as a wide receiver before moving to cornerback during his freshman season to help address a spate of injuries at the position. At 6-2 and 192 pounds he has the size to be a potential difference maker on the outside for a secondary that picked off just five passes in 2018.
“He’s competitive, he’s not afraid to throw it up in there,” Steelers defensive backs coach Teryl Austin said. “He’s got a lot of good things to work with.”
Even if Layne didn’t always get a chance to show it. He picked off just three passes during his career with the Spartans, though his 15 pass breakups in 2018 ranked among the top 10 in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Layne called the move from offense to defense “nothing major.” Last he checked, the game is still the game.
“I’ve been playing both ways my whole life,” said Layne, who went to Benedictine High School in Cleveland, the alma mater of late Hall of Fame Steelers coach Chuck Noll. “I’m a football player today. I expected to go in the second round but it’s all good. They’re going to feel me.”