Today, we begin covering the secondary for our training camp previews, specifically the cornerback position. The Cleveland Browns have nine cornerbacks on the roster, and the first six we'll be discussing include Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, Justin Gilbert, Pierre Desir, Isaiah Trufant, and Leon McFadden.
1. JOE HADEN - NO. 1 STARTING CORNERBACK
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 195
Age: 25 | Experience: 5 years
Note: Signed an extension this offseason...loves Cleveland... getting recognized as elite corner.
In his fourth year in the NFL last year, Joe Haden finally earned some league-wide recognition with a trip to the Pro Bowl. After a mostly shutdown season, except for misadventures against the Steelers' Antonio Brown and Jaguars' Cecil Shorts, the Browns rewarded Haden with a 5-year, $67.5 million contract extension. We broke down the full terms of the deal here.
Haden is the definition of a fan favorite and has really shown his love for Cleveland. He's also getting involved with other ventures, such as a charity softball game, or being an endorser for Unequal Technologies. Haden has to be thrilled with the Browns' commitment to improving the talent and depth around him in the secondary, and it's worth noting that Haden signed his extension after the Browns added all of those additional pieces.
Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. BUSTER SKRINE - COMPETING TO BE OTHER STARTING CORNERBACK
Height: 5-9 | Weight: 185
Age: 25 | Experience: 4 years
Note: Coming off of his best season...favored to hold the edge over Gilbert to start camp.
For the second year in a row, Buster Skrine finds himself in a competition for the other starting cornerback role. Last year, Skrine won a tight race against Chris Owens, but it turned out to be a great decision.
Skrine performed well-and-above expectations in 2013, at least in my eyes. Pro Football Focus still ranked Skrine as one of the worst cornerbacks in the league, but I saw a player who cut down on his pass interference penalties yet remained confident in his ability to play close and defend passes. With that said, Skrine was far from "shut down," and the competition from Gilbert can only be positive. No matter how you look at it, Skrine will get significant playing time -- it just depends whether that playing time is every down or just in nickel packages.
Job Security: B-
Final Roster Odds: 100%
3. JUSTIN GILBERT - ROOKIE COMPETING TO BE OTHER STARTING CORNERBACK
Height: 6-0 | Weight: 202
Age: 22 | Experience: Rookie
College: Oklahoma State
Note: No. 8 overall pick of the draft...will still have to earn a starting role over Skrine.
We started getting nervous there for a second, but on the day rookies were supposed to report to camp, Justin Gilbert signed his rookie deal.
Gilbert needs all of the work he can get to show he's acclimated enough to the NFL to jump right into a starting role. It's easier said than done -- Gilbert might be a better long-term fit for Mike Pettine's system due to his physical tools, but Skrine still has the leg up in experience, and that can go a long way.
Why exactly did the Browns draft Gilbert again? If you haven't done so yet, go back and read rufio's terrific breakdown of press man coverage. If Gilbert is able to pick up on that gradually throughout camp and during the preseason games, he might leap ahead of Skrine. If not, then maybe the transition will come midseason.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
4. PIERRE DESIR - ROOKIE / COMPETING TO BE THE 4TH CORNERBACK
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 206
Age: 23 | Experience: Rookie
Note: Raw cornerback from a small school...great ball skills...nice backstory.
After the top three cornerbacks, it's very challenging to project where the next three players will fall on the depth chart. For once, it's not a bad thing -- it's actually a testament to the depth the team has at cornerback this year.
Pierre Desir was projected to be a third-round pick and won the hearts of fans when he was featured on ESPN's Draft Academy. That show made me emotionally invested in wanting Cleveland to get WR Marqise Lee or Desir. They didn't get Lee, but to my surprise, the Browns were able to score Desir in the fourth round.
Desir has been viewed as a very raw player. He covered all of the small school receivers well and has shown above average ball skills, but there is a high level of uncertainty as to how he'll perform against NFL-caliber receivers. The good news, though, is that Desir would be the No. 4 cornerback at best, so the pressure to perform isn't as high. Desir will be one of the more interesting players to watch in camp.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
5. ISAIAH TRUFANT - VETERAN BACKUP CORNERBACK
Height: 5-7 | Weight: 170
Age: 31 | Experience: 4 years
College: Eastern Washington
Note: Has previous relationship with Pettine... could end up just as a special teamer.
It's still odd to think about how on the Browns' big first-day splash of free agency, they had a press conference with Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby...and Isaiah Trufant (with Trufant being the odd part). I guess the team thought it'd be rude to leave him out. Nonetheless, Trufant's roster spot seems pretty secure, even if he just ends up as a special teams cornerback.
Trufant is not a youngster by NFL standards. He went undrafted in 2006 and then entered the Arena Football League, where he played for several teams there and in the UFL over a four-year span. At the end of the 2010 season, Trufant was signed by the Jets to their practice squad, and even got called up for a regular season game by the end of the year (hence the connection to Mike Pettine)
At 31 years old, Trufant was regularly among the special teams tackling leaders on the Jets, covering kickoffs and punts. He did make one start at cornerback against the Patriots in 2012, finishing the game with 6 tackles. Jets fans had a pretty favorable opinion of him, with 86% of fans saying they wouldn't mind him re-signing in New York. One game of good coverage against Wes Welker makes you a legend, apparently. The common opinion seemed to be that he was a nice player, but replaceable. Isiash is the younger brother of Marcus Trufant and the older brother of Desmond Trufant, both of whom are also in the NFL.
Final Roster Odds: 95%
6. LEON MCFADDEN - TRYING TO FIND OUT WHERE HE FITS CORNERBACK
Height: 5-10 | Weight: 190
Age: 23 | Experience: 2 years
College: San Diego State
Note: 3rd round pick from 2013...roster spot could be in jeopardy due to numbers game.
The biggest question mark of camp in the secondary seems to be Leon McFadden. This guy was a high third-round pick in 2013 at No. 68 overall, yet I have him buried at No. 6 on the depth chart here. It's tough to imagine any of the five guys above him being cut, so that's where his job security depends on whether Cleveland needs six cornerbacks or not.
In an ideal world for McFadden, he will have a good camp, Trufant will be viewed as just a special teamer, and Desir will look too raw to be an immediate contributor. Therefore, it's certainly still within the realm of possibility that McFadden is the No. 4 cornerback to begin the year.
McFadden started 2 games last year and registered 19 tackles. He didn't have the greatest showing last preseason, so there isn't a lot to go off of when it comes to judging McFadden's abilities. He also drew the pass interference call against the Patriots last year, although it's been well-documented that McFadden did nothing on the play to warrant such a call from the official.
Final Roster Odds: 60%
We have three more cornerbacks to preview a little later, and then we'll move on to the safety position. The poll question below is about the roster status of CB Leon McFadden.