BEREA: Buffalo Bills rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins revealed Friday that Browns General Manager Ray Farmer visited him in Clemson, S.C., a few days before the NFL Draft kicked off May 8.
The Browns ended up trading the fourth overall pick to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for the ninth pick, a first-round selection in next year’s draft and a fourth-year choice in next year’s draft. The Bills picked Watkins at No. 4. The Browns then traded a fifth-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings, so they could move up one spot and nab cornerback Justin Gilbert at No. 8.
A former Clemson University standout, Watkins said he had no idea how it would all unfold. Farmer’s late visit, though, likely played a role in the first of five trades the rookie GM made during the draft.
“We just sat down at the hotel, we talked, him and this security guy,” Watkins said while participating in a youth football clinic at the Browns’ headquarters as part of the NFL Rookie Symposium. “He met me in Clemson, the last day I was in Clemson [getting ready] to go to New York. We just chatted up about life, about who am I, what type of guy I am. And after that, we didn’t really have any contact.”
Watkins acknowledged that the Bills and General Manager Doug Whaley paid a hefty price to move up to No. 4 for him.
“It just means they have unbelievable faith in me,” Watkins said. “I understand that I need to come there and be prepared to win now.”
Of course, Watkins might want to prove the Browns made the wrong choice by trading down instead of picking him.
“I have a chip on my shoulder for every game, so it’s not just the Browns,” Watkins said. “I come out and dominate my opponent every game. I’m sure they’ve got great cornerbacks and great safeties, but my job is to do my job on the field no matter who’s in front of me, whether it’s [Browns cornerback] Joe Haden or [New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle] Revis or [Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard] Sherman, all the greats. My job is to win on the field and do my best.”
Watkins was reminded that the Bills are scheduled to host the Browns on Nov. 30.
“It’ll be a great matchup,” Watkins said. “We can go out there, battle, scrap, have a couple fights. It’s going to be great.”
Recovery on track
Browns rookie guard Joel Bitonio suffered a sprained ankle June 3 during organized team activities and sat out mandatory minicamp earlier this month. The good news is that he expects to be ready to return to action for the first full-squad practice of training camp July 26.
“I’m doing good,” said Bitonio, a second-round pick (No. 35 overall). “I’ll be ready to go for camp.”
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Bitonio had been the only Browns rookie receiving consistent reps with the first-team offense in spring practices until he suffered the injury. The Browns had him at left guard and John Greco at right guard.
Bitonio doesn’t view the injury as a significant setback.
“I think we’re good,” he said. “I got enough film work and I was on the field a lot already for the OTAs. I got like eight OTAs under my belt. Obviously, you don’t want it to happen, but I think I’ll be good.”
Becoming the enemy
Former Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier felt a lot of love from Browns fans until the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him 15th overall. He likened the rivalry to Ohio State and Michigan.
“People have been hating me ever since [the draft],” Shazier said. “They’re like, ‘You were my favorite player until you went to the Steelers.’ I’m like, ‘You’re just going to sell me out now?’ But no, I totally understand it. It’s almost like Ohio State and ‘the team up north.’
“[The fans] wanted me to stay in Ohio. On my Twitter and Instagram, all I’m hearing is go to the Browns, go to Cincinnati, like I had a choice or something. But I’m happy where I ended up, and I’m in the same region as them and I’m going to be able to see them two times a year.”
Shazier is eager to face the Browns in the season opener Sept. 7 at Heinz Field.
“I’m really amped because I’m not really from Ohio, but it’s like my second home,” said Shazier, a native of Florida. “To play against an Ohio team really means a lot because I know a lot of Ohio State people are going to be watching.”
Former Ohio State cornerback and Denver Broncos rookie Bradley Roby received confirmation that he belongs in the NFL when he intercepted a pass from 13-time Pro Bowler Peyton Manning in an offseason practice.
“I picked him off and went to the house,” Roby said. “It was a proud moment for me because he’s a legend. I don’t want to put him on front street, but that’s been one of my highest moments.”
Four cornerbacks, including the Browns’ Gilbert, were drafted before the Broncos took Roby 31st overall. He’s not going to forget it.
“I think I’m the best out of them,” Roby said. “And I look to show that this year.”
Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles was surprised when the Jacksonville Jaguars picked him third overall. He actually thought the Browns were more likely to take him at No. 4.
“I felt good about all the pre-draft visits that I took,” Bortles said. “I definitely made a connection here with the coaching staff and Jacksonville as well. I definitely wasn’t expecting the call from Jacksonville at three.
“I definitely thought there was more of a possibility I’d be here than Jacksonville. But that’s not the way it turned out, and I couldn’t be happier to be where I am.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.