December 20, 2001 at 12:46 AM EST - Updated July 1 at 8:40 AM
By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Anthony Henry wasn't about to step in front of any of those empty beer bottles thrown by angry Cleveland Browns fans last Sunday.
But the rookie cornerback has picked off just about everything else tossed his way this season.
"It's been a dream come true," says the humble Henry, who doesn't share anything with his role model, Deion Sanders, except his ability to make quarterbacks look bad.
The fourth-round draft choice from South Florida leads the NFL with nine interceptions and has been the biggest playmaker on a Browns' defense that leads the league with 29 picks.
Henry has been nicknamed "Ant," "Blanket" and "Ball Magnet" by his teammates and is beginning to make a name for himself around the league.
Brett Favre has heard of him.
"To have nine interceptions, you're doing something right," said Green Bay's quarterback, who will face Henry and the Browns this Sunday. "He's got good quickness. He's aggressive. The sky's the limit. To be a rookie and get nine picks, it's just the tip of the iceberg."
Henry has intercepted three passes in a game twice, becoming the first player in Browns history to do so and the league's first rookie to do it since Bobby Ply of the former Dallas Texans of the old American Football League, now the Kansas City Chiefs, in 1962.
With two interceptions -- one of them a 97-yard touchdown return -- last Sunday against Jacksonville, Henry set the club's rookie record. He's one away from matching the record of 10 set by Thom Darden in 1978.
Henry's nine picks are the most by a Browns player since 1994, when the late Eric Turner led the league with nine.
"He's got an unbelievable knack for the ball," said Browns wide receiver Kevin Johnson. "He usually gets one or two picks in practice, too."
There have been only a few moments when Henry has looked like a rookie.
When starting cornerback Daylon McCutcheon was forced out with an injury two weeks ago at New England, the Patriots went right at Henry, who was unable to stay with Troy Brown or Terry Glenn.
But last week, Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell tried to go at Henry one too many times.
Brunell tried to force a pass to Jimmy Smith near the goal line, but Henry jumped in front and returned it 97 yards for the score, tying the longest return in club history.
Henry said that as he sprinted downfield, he was thinking of one thing.
"Don't let the quarterback catch me," he said. "I would have gotten laughed at. But when I was running, I was looking at the big screen to see where he was and then I slowed down because I knew I had to go back on defense.
"It's one of the best feelings in the world. I scored off fumbles in college, but never on an interception."
Browns coach Butch Davis tried to recruit Henry out of high school, but Henry's grades kept him from going to Miami.
However, Davis got another shot at Henry and selected him with the 97th overall pick in the draft. Davis said it's not by luck that Henry has been so productive.
"They keep trying to pick on him and throw at him," said Davis. "He is extraordinary for a rookie to have the poise that he has. He's got outstanding anticipation and exceptional hands."
If Henry gets his hands on a few more balls, he'll move into elite company among rookie defensive backs.
Dick "Night Train" Lane holds the league and rookie record with 14 interceptions for Los Angeles in 1952. No rookie has intercepted 12 passes since Washington's Paul Krause in 1964.
Henry realizes that Browns fans will be expecting big numbers from him every year.
"That's the thing," he said. "They're going to expect me to make big plays every season. But I'm going to keep going in with the same focus and let the game come to me."
(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)