July 22, 2014

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NFL Draft: Browns add toughness with DE Jabaal Sheard, WR Greg Little

BEREA – Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor, the Browns’ first-round draft pick, arrived in Cleveland on Friday and announced he would take down Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Pittsburgh defensive end Jabaal Sheard, the 37th pick, said he wants to make the hit that causes the crowd to scream.

North Carolina receiver Greg Little, the 59th pick, is one of the most physically imposing players in the draft at his position. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, he looks to initiate contact.

After two days of the draft – Sheard and Little were picked Friday in the second round — Browns general manager Tom Heckert has not only addressed the biggest weaknesses on the roster, he’s added a healthy dose of nastiness.

“I think all three guys bring a lot of toughness to our team,” he said. “I don’t think there is any question about it.

“When Greg catches the ball, he tries to hurt you.”

The early picks of the Browns – they have six selections today in the final four rounds – have an edge. They also have red flags in their backgrounds.

Taylor was dismissed from Penn State following a campus fight. Sheard was suspended at Pittsburgh after a fight in which he and another man fell through a glass door. Little was suspended for the 2010 season after accepting diamond earrings and travel accommodations from an agent.

“I’ve said it a hundred times, you have to weigh each case on its own merit, and then you have to talk to them and talk to enough people and feel comfortable with them,” he said. “There’s a bunch of guys that we passed on that we liked as players, that we just didn’t feel comfortable with.”

Heckert said he didn’t target positions with the three picks, but he certainly faced a gaping hole along the defensive line. It’s the first time the Browns have taken defensive linemen with their first two picks, and Taylor and Sheard were immediately penciled in as starters as Cleveland converts to the 4-3 scheme.

“It just got a lot easier, I know that,” Heckert said of the scheme transition. “You’ve just got to get players, and I think we’ve got two really good ones.”

“I would love for him to be in the middle,” Sheard said of Taylor. “I know they are going to have to double-team him, give me a little freedom on the edge. I think we’re going to be a great package.”

Sheard (6-3, 254) was the Big East defensive player of the year as a senior with 52 tackles, nine sacks, 15 quarterback pressures, 14½ tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. He had 5½ sacks as a sophomore and five as a junior, totaled 149 tackles and 39 pressures for his career and fits the mold of the fast pass-rushing end Heckert likes.

Sheard missed the Compass Bowl after the season to have elbow surgery on something he’d been playing with for years. He and Heckert insist he’s fine.

Sheard said he’s an aggressive player, comparing himself to Pittsburgh All-Pro linebacker James Harrison.

“I know how to get to the quarterback,” he said. “I’m a hard worker and I’m going to get the job done.

“I want to (have) the hardest hit. I want to make that hit where the crowd goes ‘Oooh’ and then everybody just screams. When I talk to guys that I played in the past, I want them to be like, ‘Man, you were something else. I never want to play against you again.’”

Heckert said Sheard isn’t a one-trick pony. He can stop the run and get to the quarterback in a variety of ways.

“This guy can go from speed to power,” Heckert said. “He can come inside, he can beat you around the edge, but he can power you, too. He is a very knowledgeable pass rusher.  He knows what he is doing.”

Sheard said he learned from his mistake, but said the incident wasn’t him throwing another man through a door as it had been portrayed by some in the media. He said he was trying to break up a fight, got hit in the head from behind as he walked away and defended himself.

“That’s the first trouble I’ve ever been in and that’s not the guy I am,” he said. “On the field maybe I kind of get a little hot, but off the field I’m a cool, laid-back dude.”

Little could be the weapon the Browns want to help the development of second-year quarterback Colt McCoy. He likely slipped to No. 59 because of the year layoff and may have gone in the first round if he’d been able to build on a junior year in which he had 62 catches for 724 yards and five touchdowns.

“It was really tough for me,” said Little, who played for former Browns coach Butch Davis in Chapel Hill. “A lot of my morals and values have changed so much just from sitting out that year. I’m so hungry and ready to get back and play.”

Little isn’t a burner, running a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, but he’s got special athleticism, bench-pressing 225 pounds 27 times at the combine and posting a 40½-inch vertical leap. He was switched to running back as a sophomore so he could get on the field, and as a freshman played on the Tar Heels basketball team that reached the Final Four.

“He can beat bump and run,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “He’s extremely good at catching the football. When he’s in a crowd or he hasn’t created separation, he’ll fight for the ball and make a catch. He finds a way to separate.

“He’s got size, and if you just watch him he finds a way to get in the end zone and I think that’s something that’s very critical for a receiver.”

Heckert was uncomfortable describing Little as the “home run hitter” president Mike Holmgren sought, but said he could make big plays. Shurmur said he has “a chance” to become the team’s No. 1 wideout.

Perhaps Taylor set the tone for the day when asked about Roethlisberger.

“He’s a great quarterback, but when I play against him he’s going down,” Taylor said.

Nice attitude.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter and fan him on Facebook.