BEREA — Browns General Manager Ray Farmer’s first draft will go down as one of the most exciting in the team’s history.
The Browns made three trades in the 2014 NFL Draft on Thursday on their way to making Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert the first of two selections in the first round and then later drafted Johnny Manziel with pick No. 22 after a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Gilbert, a 6-foot, 202-pound cornerback, gives the Browns the chance to solidify the second spot at that position opposite Pro Bowler Joe Haden. Gilbert grabbed 12 interceptions during his collegiate career.
A former track star, he returned two of those picks for touchdowns in his senior year.
He’s also a dual threat, possessing return skills as well. He returned 102 kickoffs in his OSU career for 2,681 yards (26.3 yards per return) placing him second on the school’s all-time list.
Those returns included six for touchdowns.
If Gilbert competes immediately, he will fight cornerback Buster Skrine, who showed improvement last year, for a starting position. Gilbert winning the starting job would allow the Browns to move Skrine on to cover slot receivers.
Whatever happens, the team shored up a position of need.
Add Gilbert to offseason acquisitions of safety Donte Whitner and linebacker Karlos Dansby and the defense could make a significant leap.
“I’m getting excited. I probably shouldn’t go there. We’re excited about having corners that we think can go out, play press, get after people and give us a chance to turn the ball over,” Farmer said. “We’ve improved our defense. We’re going to do some other things to make our overall team better, but we definitely like the corner combination that we’re going to have. Hopefully, we keep those guys together for a long time.”
Coach Mike Pettine’s defenses are known for their big, aggressive defensive backs and Gilbert fits the prototype.
But what are the Browns getting?
“An every-down cornerback that can guard big receivers and small receivers,” Gilbert said. “Just an all-around cornerback.”
He said that his most valuable asset might be his ability to create turnovers.
“It’s something you can’t really coach,” he said. “I was born with the ability to make plays on the ball. I think I had the natural thing where I can go and take the ball out of the air at any moment.”
Farmer offered a similar assessment.
“He’s long. He’s fast. He’s explosive. He’s a playmaker. He plays like a Brown. No. 1 thing we talk about when we talk about corners is they’ve got to cover like Browns,” Farmer said.
Although Gilbert has been knocked for his ability to tackle, Farmer expressed no concern.
In Manziel, the Browns chose someone else who offers big-play capability on the other side of the ball, something he was known for at Texas A&M.
But at slightly under 6 feet tall, he’s been knocked for assorted reasons, including his size. Perhaps that was the reason he continued a fall similar to that of former Browns quarterback Brady Quinn.
It’s no matter. Manziel said that he believes Cleveland is where he was meant to be.
Pettine said in a recent news conference that he didn’t believe in playing rookie quarterbacks and although Manziel expects to push projected starter Brian Hoyer for the job, he respects what his future coach said.
“Coach Pettine knows what’s best for this team,” Manziel said. “There is a gap for rookie quarterbacks to learn and grow. I’m going to showcase my skills and come to work with a smile on my face if that’s [starting] not meant to be.”
Football experts and analysts will ascertain what the Browns accomplished, but for those fans who questioned the moves Farmer made, there’s little doubt that they were gutsy.
In Manziel the Browns might have found their playmaker at the one position where there have been none since the team’s return in 1999.
In Gilbert, they might have shored up a defense that succumbed to big plays in the waning moments of games — including losses to the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars. It wasn’t easy to get to that point.
After months, they made their fans suffer with anticipation a little bit longer during when they traded their No. 4 selection to the Buffalo Bills, Pettine’s former team, for the No. 9 selection along with first- and fourth-round choices in 2015.
Moments later, they gave up a fifth-round selection in this year’s draft to swap spots with the Minnesota Vikings and chose Gilbert.
They later traded the 26th and 83rd pick (their second in the third round) for the Eagles’ first round choice at No. 22.
In a draft that’s been called one of the deepest in years, the Browns still have the opportunity to fill other positions, including finding another wide receiver and help along the offensive line.
By George M. Thomas
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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