A couple hours after Perrion Winfrey achieved his NFL dream and was selected by the Browns in the 2022 NFL Draft, another dream became a reality.
Isaiah Thomas, who played next to Winfrey on Oklahoma's defensive line and was one of his closest teammates, was joining him in Cleveland. Thomas, a defensive end, was picked by the Browns in the seventh round, 115 picks after Winfrey, a defensive tackle. received his draft call. Winfrey followed his draft call with an electric, bark-filled introductory press conference that quickly made him a fan-favorite in Cleveland.
The excitement for Winfrey didn't die down after his call — it only continued to soar after he heard Thomas was coming with him. The duo wreaked havoc in Norman, where Thomas was the Sooners' sack leader the last two seasons and Winfrey ascended as one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the country.
Now, they both have a chance to continue their success in Cleveland.
"I was losing my mind," Winfrey said Friday at rookie minicamp. "It was crazy knowing that somebody I have such a great bond with and such great chemistry with is going to be coming here with me and taking on this season with me. It's a blessing knowing that my right-hand man will be beside me."
Winfrey and Thomas first met at a walkthrough practice in 2020, Winfrey's first year with Oklahoma after he transferred from JUCO-level Iowa Western Community College. His never-ending energy was instantly palpable to Thomas even in the slow and often-subdued walkthrough setting because Winfrey, fresh into a new chapter at a major Power 5 school, couldn't be quiet.
"The first day I met him, he was loud and I was like, 'Hey, calm down, relax — it's just walkthrough, bro,'" Thomas said. "He's always had that energy, and I'm glad he has that because I feed off that."
Their chemistry quickly took off as they garnered starts and began to learn each other's tendencies and instincts. With Winfrey, a 6-foot-3 and 290-pound bull rusher, drawing attention in the interior, Thomas developed as a forceful and productive pass rusher and tallied 16.5 sacks the last two seasons. Winfrey punished ball carriers for losses and quickly became one of the most destructive defensive tackles in the Big 12.
"Our chemistry is almost unmatched," Winfrey said. "We have a knack for playing with each other, and we always know what each other is doing."
Winfrey's draft stock took off after he won MVP at the Reese's Senior Bowl but still slipped to the Browns in the fourth round. He was ranked by most draft analysts as a top 5 defensive tackle in the draft class, though, and instantly brushed off the slide into Round 4 in the first question of his introductory press conference.
"I expected to go early, but to be honest, I needed this," Winfrey said. "This was a wake-up call, and this gave me all of the fuel and all of the fire I needed to come into the league and dominate, so I wouldn't change a thing."
It all got better when he learned that Thomas was coming with him. So was WR Michael Woods II, who spent last year at Oklahoma after three seasons at Arkansas. Woods was picked in the sixth round, which made Thomas the third Oklahoma player the Browns grabbed in their draft class.
The three have been a tight-knit group since arriving in Cleveland — Thomas said he was going to go to the store with Woods after the Browns finished practice Friday — and will lean on each other as they prepare for the grind all rookies experience in their first few months in the league. Rookie minicamp, OTAs and training camp practices in the hot sun all await the trio, but that lifestyle is easier to endure when there are familiar faces in the huddle.
From the perspectives of Winfrey and Thomas, a familiar face will be present just about everywhere they go at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. They have each other, and they know they'll each have no shortage of energy as long as they're together.
"We're here for a reason," Thomas said. "God put us here for a reason. He didn't bring us here to fail. We're all here for the same goal — to win a Super Bowl — and carry that standard the Browns have now."