It's time to take a look at the cornerback position as part of our 2010 Cleveland Browns Training Camp Preview. Today, we investigate the team's top four spots on the depth chart (in other words, the players who will actually see the field on gameday).
The cornerback position was changed drastically in the offseason thanks to the additions of Sheldon Brown and rookie Joe Haden. How do last year's starters, Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright, fall into the mix?
1. ERIC WRIGHT - STARTING CORNERBACK
I'm not really concerned with who the team names as the No. 1 cornerback and the No. 2 cornerback to begin the season, as I see Wright and Sheldon Brown being interchangeable. What I don't get are the couple of reports that claim that Joe Haden will compete with Wright for a starting role opposite Brown.
This is Wright's fourth year with the team, and he's arguably been the best player in the secondary the past two years. He's had a knack for coming up with timely interceptions; he had 3 interceptions in 2008 and 4 interceptions in 2009. I am confident in Wright's abilities as a cover corner, and with the safeties set to take on more duties in helping to defend the run, Wright will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his coverage skills.
Pluto wrote that because Wright and Brandon McDonald were quickly made starters when they were drafted, the team's current coaches believed the tandem felt they had a sense of entitlement to the starting cornerback positions. While I have no doubts that Wright's job is safe, with more competition from Brown and Haden this year, there's reason to believe that he will be motivated to step his game up to another level. Wright is seeking a new contract too, which is another incentive for him wanting to post a career year.
Job Security: A-
Player Quality: B
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. SHELDON BROWN - STARTING CORNERBACK
The Browns acquired CB Sheldon Brown back on April 2 (along with Chris Gocong), in exchange for LB Alex Hall, a fourth-round pick, and a fifth-round pick. Almost four months later, I still can't believe how much of a steal that trade was for the Browns.
Without Brown, the team is looking at having to start either McDonald or Haden alongside Wright. I thought drafting Brown would even take the Browns out of the running to draft a cornerback in the first round, but looking back I can't say I'm disappointed with the selection.
Brown doesn't have the best speed at the cornerback position, which makes him prone to getting burned by the deep ball at times. What I like about him is his proven track record with the Eagles as a bump-and-run defender who can come up in run support too. The Browns haven't really had a player who can jam receivers off the line very well, so it should be a refreshing change at the position. Brown is also very durable; he's played in all 128 of the career games he's been eligible to play in with the Eagles. On top of that, he's coming off a year in which he had a career-high five interceptions.
Job Security: A+
Player Quality: B+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
3. JOE HADEN - ROOKIE NICKELBACK
At the end of the season, I think one of the things people will be talking about with respect to Haden is how he compared to CB Kyle Wilson, who ended up falling to the Jets at No. 29 overall.
The initial reports were that the Browns' coaching staff was split -- some people wanted Haden, while others wanted Wilson. As the draft approached, several media pundits also claimed that Wilson might have slid ahead of Haden as the top cornerback in the draft.
One of the reasons for Haden's downhill spiral might have been his "slowness," as he ran close to a 4.60 at the scouting combine. Apparently, that's a bit slow for a cornerback, but Haden did improve on that time when he was clocked at his Pro Day. Recently, Mike Lombardi wrote a "report" claiming that other coaches around the league stated that Haden struggled at minicamp and lacked speed at the position. I don't buy Lombardi's assessment for a second, because drills are not very intense in minicamp, and I don't think you can really make that type of judgment without pads on.
Haden is another player known for his ability to stop the run, and if he players to the level of a starter, we'll have the defensive backfield we need to match-up with a team like the Ravens this season (who have added the likes of Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth). For a full scouting report on Haden from his college days, check out what Mocking the Draft said about him back in January.
Job Security: B
Final Roster Odds: 100%
4. BRANDON MCDONALD - BACKUP CORNERBACK
While fans were intrigued by McDonald in his rookie season for his ability to make plays on the football, when he became a starter, things went south. Shall I start a list of what was wrong with McDonald?
- a lack of confidence
- getting beat deep
- inability to help in run support
- inability to reach the level of an "average" tackler
McDonald wasn't cut out to be a starter, and although the Browns had no one else to start, Eric Mangini reached deep last season, resorting to starting the likes of Mike Adams in an attempt to send a message to McDonald.
I think a step back in playing time can only be a good thing for McDonald. He looked like a fourth cornerback playing in a starting role. Well, this year, he heads into the season as the team's fourth cornerback, which might just suit him well. I think his best asset remains his ability to make a play on the ball, so if teams throw that many receivers on the field, McDonald will have a better opportunity to play to his strengths and once again fall into the good graces of Browns fans.
Player Quality: D
Final Roster Odds: 78%
Cornerback Position Quality (Part I): B-
Note: In Part II of our cornerback preview, we'll take a look at roster hopefuls Coye Francies, Gerard Lawson, Chris Chancellor, Chris Roberson, and DeAngelo Smith.
Going from Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald to Eric Wright, Sheldon Brown, and Joe Haden should yield positive results, which is why I deemed cornerback as the "most improved position" in the subject line. Some fans initially suggested the thought of moving Brown to safety, but I wouldn't be in favor of that to start the season. If the Browns find themselves in contention half-way through the season with Haden thriving and T.J. Ward slumping, then perhaps the team should consider it. Otherwise, let the rookies and veterans work through things and hope for the best.