Last season, cornerback was an area of concern for the Cleveland Browns, having given up over 3,500 yards passing and 29 touchdowns to opposing offenses. Heading into the offseason, Pro Bowler Joe Haden was the only sure thing among the Browns’ corners. Looking to bring in competition for cornerbacks Buster Skrine and Leon McFadden, Cleveland traded down in the first round to select CB Justin Gilbert to be the future starting corner opposite Haden. Gilbert wasn’t highly rumored as one of Cleveland’s choices leading up to the draft, but his selection is extremely beneficial to the growth of the Browns’ defense. In Gilbert, the Browns are getting a dynamic player who could have a lot thrown at him if Skrine and McFadden are unable to solidify their roles in Cleveland.
Taking a look at Gilbert physically, he is listed at 6-foot, which is taller than Skrine (5-foot-9) and McFadden (5-foot-10). His size isn’t the only optimal physical component to his game; he was clocked at 4.35 in the 40-yard dash. His combination of size and speed look great on paper, but he will need to show he’s capable of adjusting to the NFL game. A deterrent to Gilbert’s career thus far has been staying on the field; after colliding with a teammate during OTAs, he limped off the field with a bum knee. Gilbert has since said that he’s fine and it’s nothing to look into deeper, but any reps missed could hurt the rookie.
If Gilbert isn’t named one of the starting cornerbacks at the start of the season, he could be a contributor on special teams. At Oklahoma State, Gilbert was responsible for six kickoff returns for touchdowns. Although Cleveland has return specialist Travis Benjamin on the roster, Gilbert’s 26.3 yards per return average shouldn’t be overlooked.
So far, the reports coming out of Berea are that Gilbert has been a solid presence on the field and that he should challenge Skrine — who’s also been showing that he’s capable of remaining the starter — for the starting role opposite Haden. Gilbert has the tools and physical ability to shine in the league, especially given head coach Mike Pettine’s track record as a defensive-minded coach. Look for the Browns to find ways to get Gilbert on the field during his rookie season, showing why they had faith in trading down to nab him.