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Who is Donovan Olumba? And why is he taking first-team reps?

Unheralded third-year player has been impressive

Every team in the NFL covets quarterbacks, left tackles, pass rushers and cornerbacks.

The Browns are no different.

Two seasons ago after taking Baker Mayfield first overall in the 2018 NFL draft, Cleveland owned the fourth overall pick as well. Speculation was that the franchise would select DE Bradley Chubb to pair up with Myles Garrett and cement the pass rusher position. But instead, the Browns selected Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward.

Last year, Cleveland took LSU’s Greedy Williams in the second-round, a player that had tackling concerns but was slated for late in the first-round yet slipped into the second.

Two young cornerbacks with their entire football life in front of them.

This past March, a big free agent news day for the Browns was that they had signed two players: JoJo Natson from the Los Angeles Rams, and Donovan Olumba of the Dallas Cowboys. The Natson signing was hailed as pretty significant as he possessed both speed and quickness for a kick and punt return man.

Lost in the signing day was Olumba, who is 6’-2” and weighs 205 pounds. On clevelandbrowns.com, there were multiple paragraphs dedicated to the Natson signing along with his statistics, highlights, college numbers and professional career history.

Cleveland Browns Training Camp Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

As for Olumba, the website only stated:

Olumba is officially in his first NFL season out of Portland State. Originally signed by Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Olumba has spent most of the past two seasons on the Cowboys’ practice squad.

Fast forward to this year’s training camp, and Olumba has been seen running with the first-team as Ward’s replacement. He is currently in the mix to become the defense’s number three outside cornerback.

But, who is he?

Despite a stellar high school career in which he played wide receiver and cornerback, he signed with Alderson-Broaddus University (West Virginia), a D-II school with less than 3,000 students enrolled. He played three years at cornerback, excelled on special teams and was their punt returner. His stats included 63 tackles, 25 pass defenses, six interceptions, two blocked kicks, two fumble recoveries, plus scored three touchdowns.

He then transferred to Portand State, a Big Sky Conference D-I school whose stadium holds just 7,600 patrons. Initially, he was listed as third-string, but started at cornerback on opening day. He played all season and recorded 21 tackles with seven pass breakups. In his four-year college career with both schools, he did not miss a single game due to injury. His 40 time has been clocked anywhere from 4.62 to 4.54.

Olumba went undrafted in the 2018 NFL draft, but was signed by the Dallas Cowboys immediately after the conclusion of the draft. The Cowboys boast about their knack of finding very good undrafted free agent (UFA) players who eventually contribute to the franchise including QB Tony Romo, WR’s Miles Austin and Cole Beasley, OT La’el Collins and S Jeff Heath. Olumba’s name was just one of 18 UFA’s signed that day.

Olumba had a very good camp and was always mentioned as part of the rave reviews regarding Dallas’ draft class despite not actually been drafted by the club. He was then listed as a surprise cut on cut-down day. After he cleared waivers, he was signed to the Cowboys practice squad where he remained all year.

In 2019, Olumba again had a strong training camp and scored a pick-six touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a preseason game. Then-head coach Jason Garrett would say, “Oh, that Portland State kid” when Olumba’s name was mentioned. However, he was a final day cut. Dallas again signed him to their practice squad, but activated him for their season finale as the backup to left corner Chidobe Awuzie.

He was released on March 18. Cleveland signed him three days later.

It’s possible Olumba at first will be constricted to a Cover-3 type of role with some Cover-2 in the mix, but not man-to-man. He is bigger than normal cornerbacks and has a very long reach to his advantage because of his long arms. Success at either coverage is where Olumba can step in and thrive. If the Browns have certain packages on defense and install certain defenders to each package, Olumba may be on the field quite a lot.

One of Olumba’s best attributes is his ability to tackle. Last season, the Browns were plagued by guys making hand grabs and waist tackles. Olumba is a wrap-up guy who rarely misses. He is also great at gaining yardage after an interception.

Olumba is a physical player and can match up against taller receivers. He has great confidence in his playing abilities and seems to have finally found a home with the Browns. He continues to get first-team reps during practices. In fact, if you asked multiple folks to name 4-5 players who have done the most to elevate their status on the roster in this year’s camp, Olumba’s name would be mentioned every time.

Olumba has a deep faith in God and isn’t afraid to display his beliefs.

Currently, he is listed dead last on the payroll with Cleveland. Fighting all odds is nothing new for Olumba. Right now the fight is with Browns’ receivers who consider him a thorn in their side. And soon enough, it could be other starting wide receivers across the league.