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April 29, 2011
Cleveland the destination for Little
Greg Little was directly impacted by a trade on the first night of the NFL Draft involving another wide receiver.As it turned out, former UNC wide receiver
With the Atlanta Falcons eager to trade up during Thursday night's first round to snag former Alabama star Julio Jones, the Cleveland Browns made a move to shore up several extra draft selections for later rounds.
The Browns used one of those picks acquired from Atlanta---the No. 59 overall selection of the second round---to select Little, who hasn't played a down in a football game since 2009.
Little did not play last year after it was determined they had violated NCAA agent and extra benefit rules.
A native of Durham, N.C., Little is a versatile athlete who was arguably UNC's most consistent offensive player in 2009.
He started all 13 games and posted a team-high 62 catches for 724 yards and five touchdowns that year. His 62 catches are the fifth-highest single-season mark in school history.
"It felt good to hear my name," said Little.
"I'm just ready to play again. I learned a tremendous amount about how to deal with success and just being able to deal with such an adverse time, I think I've grown from it. A lot of my morals and values have changed so much just from sitting out that year. I'm just so hungry to get back and play."
Little's life-changing news was made public via the announcement from Hall of Fame Browns wide receiver Paul Warfield.
"This kid Little, he's a special athlete," said ESPN analyst and former Super Bowl-winning head coach Jon Gruden moments after his selection.
"You see the measureables. He's 231 pounds. He didn't play this year. This guy was a former running back."
"He has rare strength. Rare measureables. What he did at the Combine is unbelievable, from a 10.9 (feet) broad jump. He bench pressed (225 pounds) 27 times. He did a 40 ½ inch vertical (jump)," Gruden added.
"Greg Little has got a lot of talent he's going to bring (to Cleveland)," added NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper.
It appears that Little won over the Cleveland coaches and scouting personnel based largely on a solid Pro Day workout in Chapel Hill in late March along with his excellent performance at the NFL Draft Combine.
"Obviously the Cleveland Browns went to North Carolina and they liked the workout," said Gruden.
"He had a great (Pro Day) workout," added Kiper.
"You're talking about a kid had he played this year would not have been around in the later portion of round two."
For a Cleveland offense in desperate need of playmakers in its passing game, Little has a chance to make an impact in a lot of different ways.
It was Little's versatility as a former running back and wide receiver that helped attract him to the Browns.
"A running back and defensive back in high school and running back early on at North Carolina---he rushed for 300 yards averaged over five yards a carry as a freshman---here's a kid you can utilize on those reverses use you can get him out there as a glorified tight end basically. He's 6-2 ½ and he's 230 pounds," said Kiper.
There were a few pro franchises that had some minor concern about Little given the circumstances that eliminated his senior season at UNC, but one insider says that it wasn't as big a concern in this specific instance.
"No question about it (there were) more character questions, but teams really liked Greg Little," said ESPN's Adam Schefter.
"You go back to (Little's) freshman year at the University of North Carolina, they moved him to running back so they could get him on the field with players like Hakeem Nicks---that's how much they thought of him and his playmaking abilities at the time."
"Butch Davis wanted him on the field, and the irony of course is that Butch Davis---the former Cleveland Browns coach---has now trained Greg Little and gotten him ready for where he used to coach in the NFL," Schefter added.
With the Browns offensive situation in mind, Little has a chance to be an impact contributor and a player that can help the Cleveland franchise fight its way to respectability in the coming years.
"Cleveland needed a wide receiver. They were lacking some depth there. There were some people that thought they would take Julio Jones (with the No. 6 overall pick they traded to Atlanta)," said Schefter.
"He is an inexperienced, raw receiver. He just hasn't played the position much, but when you're looking for size and speed, Greg Little has some components that the Browns don't have," added Gruden.
Little is the fourth North Carolina wide receiver taken in the last three NFL drafts.
Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster were all picked in the 2009 draft.
Little is the first Tar Heel chosen by Cleveland since Bill Jackson in 1982.
NOTE: UNC Athletic Communications provided the quotes from Little for this story.