Penn Staters Amos, James go in fifth round, others sign as free agents
They had originally hoped to get the phone call a day earlier than this. But both Adrian Amos and Jesse James were happy enough how things worked out.
The two Penn State standouts were ultimately selected in the fifth round of the NFL draft on Saturday, with Amos going to the Chicago Bears and James to his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers.
Amos, a safety, was drafted with the sixth pick of the round (142nd overall) with James, a tight end, following him with the 24th pick (160th overall).
"I just want to work with getting better every day," Amos said on his post-draft conference call. "I can get better at everything. I can get better at tackling, better at wrapping up, better in coverage.
"I can improve in all aspects of the game. I'm still young. I'm still learning the game. I want to learn, and I feel like that there's no ceiling."
For James, if he had to be selected on the final day, things couldn't have worked out much better.
The Western Pennsylvania native grew up a Steelers fan and excitedly took the phone call from Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin.
"I couldn't be happier," James said on a conference call. "I think it's a great fit. Being from Pittsburgh, I'm happy to go there. I couldn't be more excited to get there and get to work."
Options for Amos: Like his good friend and former teammate Donovan Smith, Amos ended a draft drought at his position for Penn State.
Amos became the first Nittany Lions defensive back to be selected in seven years, following Justin King, who went in the fourth round in 2008. Smith, who was picked at the top of the second round on Friday by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was Penn State's first tackle taken in eight years (Levi Brown, 2007 first round).
"After graduating with his degree and now hearing his name called in the NFL Draft, I could not be happier for Adrian," Penn State coach James Franklin said in a statement. "He has quick feet and great ball skills that will help him on the next level.
"Adrian is a versatile defensive back that has worked really hard and will be a great addition to the Bears secondary."
That versatility was on display right away at Penn State, where he saw significant snaps at cornerback as a true freshman for Joe Paterno.
His next coach, Bill O'Brien, played him at corner in all of 2012 and in the second half of 2013 out of necessity because of the program's lack of depth at the position.
"I've played every skill position on the defensive side except for (middle) linebacker, so I have experience in the nickel position, the dime position, both safeties and both corners," Amos said. "So I think with my versatility I can come there and you can find somewhere for me to play on the field."
O'Brien and his successor, Franklin, both preferred Amos at safety, believing that's where his pro future lied.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who works directly with the safeties, credited Amos' ability to play anywhere in the secondary as being a huge boost to his scheme in 2014. Amos was also effective in moving up against the run for a unit that stayed right at the top of the national rankings all season long.
"Adrian has great size for a corner," Shoop said. "He's got versatility. During his college career, he has started as a safety, corner, the nickel and the dime. He has great football IQ and the fact that he has played for four defensive coordinators in college means he has seen different looks to the game.
"Chicago is getting someone who is going to work hard and be a special player for years to come. As good of a player as Adrian is, he is an even better person. He will represent the Penn State community very well."
No place like home: James played his high school ball at South Allegheny in Glassport, just a half-hour down the Monongahela River from the Steelers' Heinz Field.
After just three years, he left Penn State with more touchdowns catches than any tight end in school history, snagging 11 to pass Hall of Famer Ted Kwalick.
Now he gets to head back to Pittsburgh to learn the position from respected veteran Heath Miller. That alone could be critical in his development, as James did not grade highly as a blocker at Penn State despite his 6-foot-7 frame. Miller, meanwhile, has been one of the league's top blocking tight ends for years.
"I couldn't be more excited to get in the tight end room with him and learn from him and watch him practice," James said. "He's a guy that I've watched film on for the past year, so I'm just trying to learn his game and how he goes about things since I've been watching him, and learn from him."
James may actually owe his return home to the Steelers archrivals, the Baltimore Ravens.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers had coveted another Big Ten tight end — Minnesota's Maxx Williams, the grandson of former GAR standout Bob Williams — in Friday's second round. But the Ravens made a deal at the last minute to trade up and snatch Williams one pick ahead of Pittsburgh.
That left the Steelers with a need at the position heading into Saturday.
"I am truly happy for Jesse," Franklin said. "He has tremendous speed and skills for a guy his size. He is a just freak athlete. Jesse has the ability to be a tremendous offensive weapon for the Steelers. As he continues to work on his game at this next level, he has the potential to grow into a complete tight end."
Free agent deals: In a mild surprise, Lions captain Mike Hull led the list of undrafted Penn State players. The Big Ten Linebacker of the Year in 2014 was joined most notably by guard Miles Dieffenbach and defensive end Deion Barnes, who passed up his final year of eligibility to turn pro.
Shortly after the draft, Fox Sports first reported that Hull was expected to sign with the Miami Dolphins.
Dieffenbach and Barnes, meanwhile, posted on Twitter that they would be joining the Steelers and New York Jets, respectively.
"Things didn't go the way I thought it was going to go," Barnes wrote. "But I'm proud to say I'm going to be a NY Jet. Thank you Lord for this opportunity."
Like James, Dieffenbach also hails from the Pittsburgh area and will look to catch on with his favorite team.
Other Lions looking for homes include kicker Sam Ficken; running backs Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak; and defensive linemen C.J. Olaniyan, Brad Bars and Tyrone Smith.