The phone call came from a number that Mohamed Sanu recognized, the tip-off that this one was real — and, in a sense, the most fitting call of draft day.
The Bengals took the receiver from Rutgers in the third round on Friday night, a little salve for a player was the target of a cruel prank a night earlier. When Cincinnati was getting ready to make the 27th overall pick in the opening round on Thursday, someone called Sanu pretending to be from the Bengals with good news.
The celebration started. The agent tweeted. Then, the Bengals took someone else.
It wasn’t them who had called.
”My agent said it was some kid playing a prank,” Sanu said. ”The kid said he was very sorry, he didn’t mean anything by it.”
Even though they had nothing to do with it, the Bengals called Sanu to console him before the draft resumed on Friday. He was on their list of receivers they would consider as a complement to A.J. Green later in the day.
When the third round started and Sanu was still available, the Bengals decided to pick him. Receivers coach James Urban had given him the number of his cell phone, and used it to make the congratulatory call.
”I said, ‘Hey Mo, it’s James Urban. You want to be a Bengal — this time, for real?”’ Urban said.
None of the Bengals’ three draft picks on Friday was happier.
”Thank God!” Sanu said, in a conference call. ”I’m hysterically laughing about that right now.
”Once I saw that (incoming) number, I was like, ‘I’m going to be a Bengal!’ I’m excited. It’s a great feeling. I’ve never felt like this ever in my life.”
The Bengals had one pick in the second round and two in the third, the result of a trade with New England on Thursday. Cincinnati moved down from the 21st spot to the 27th in the opening round and picked up the extra choice.
They spent two of their picks Friday on defensive tackles, trying to keep their line rotation fully stocked. They chose Penn State’s Devon Still in the second round and Clemson’s Brandon Thompson with their other pick in the third.
Still’s career at Penn State started with two big disappointments — a torn knee ligament and a broken ankle — and ended with another. He sat in New York and watched the first round of the NFL draft slip by with nobody taking him.
The Bengals ended his wait.
The defensive line has been in flux in the offseason, with Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker leaving as free agents. They kept unrestricted free agent Pat Sims and added Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey.
The Bengals think Still — the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year — and Thompson will fit nicely.
”Inside depth — that’s one of the areas we wanted to continue to shore up with our tackle rotation,” coach Marvin Lewis said.
Still played approximately 60 snaps a game at Penn State. Defensive line coach Jay Hayes thinks that playing substantially fewer snaps in Cincinnati will help Still become better at stopping the run consistently.
”There’s a lot of upside to him. That’s what you’re betting on for him,” Hayes said. ”He showed flashes of being a big-time player. Some people say that if he can do it once, he can do it a bunch of times. So we’re fixing to find out.”
Still comes from a football background – cousin Art Still played for Kansas City and Buffalo, and cousin Levon Kirkland played for Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Seattle. Kirkland was a linebacker in Pittsburgh while Lewis was an assistant coach there in the 1990s.
Still’s career at Penn State had a rough start. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during fall camp as a freshman, then broke an ankle only two games into the next season.
”Being injured two years back-to-back took me out of football for two years,” he said, on a conference call. ”Since being able to step on the field, I’ve improved each year.”
It was a bit of a surprise when the Bengals took him. They didn’t work him out before the draft, their only contact with him coming at the scouting combine.
Still is familiar with them, though.
”I watched that conference a lot because they play Pittsburgh, my favorite team growing up,” he said.