All everyone was talking about after the first round of the NFL Draft was the Cleveland Browns’ decision to trade up late in the first round and land Johnny Manziel. Before that ever happened however, the Browns traded down from fourth to ninth, then back up to eighth to take Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. Gilbert may not sell as many jerseys as Johnny Football, but make no mistake, he is vital to the Browns’ improvement.
Gilbert is basically the prototypical NFL cornerback, checking in at 6’0″, 202 lbs with a 4.37 40. That athleticism shows in his play, as Gilbert is very fluid in coverage and won’t get beat over the top, and he has the best ball skills of any corner in this draft. Gilbert is capable of playing in any coverage system, and he has the potential to become a shut down cover corner at the next level. Gilbert should also make an immediate impact for the Browns as kick returner, as he returned several kickoffs and interceptions for touchdowns in college.
As far as negatives go, the obvious place to look is Gilbert’s tackling. He is a below average tackler, and he is not the type of corner to come up and make an impact in run support. Obviously run support is a lower priority than pass coverage, but this has led some to question his toughness and wonder if he will be able to handler bigger, more physical receivers in the NFL. Gilbert also had some issues with focus in college, but that was often because he wasn’t being challenged. That won’t be the case as a professional.
There was some criticism leveled at the Browns for this pick, as they passed on Sammy Watkins when they made the trade with the Buffalo Bills. The Browns ranked 8th in the NFL in pass defense last season, so corner wasn’t an area that was considered their biggest need. However, pairing Gilbert with Joe Haden, a top 5 corner, could give the Browns an elite cover tandem for years to come. What also needs to be factored in is the fact that the Browns received Buffalo’s 2015 first round pick as compensation, a selection that could very easily be a top 10 pick.
All in all, the Browns landed a high quality player and were well compensated to do so. Cornerback may not have been their biggest need and Gilbert may not have been the fans’ preferred choice, but the Browns did well here.