We continue our training camp preview on the Cleveland Browns by looking at the cornerback position. In Part 1, we’ll look at the four guys near the top of the depth chart, which includes a good mix of veteran leadership and youth.
1. Joe Haden - Starting Cornerback
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 195 lbs | Age: 28
Experience: 8 years | College: Florida
Now entering his eighth year with the Browns, nobody knows what to expect from Haden. After an injury-filled 2015 season which saw below average performances even while he was playing, fans were hoping for a better result in 2016.
Haden had ankle surgery in March 2016, causing him to miss part of training camp. Leading up to Week 3’s game against the Miami Dolphins, he injured his groin in practice. A month later, he injured his other groin in practice. The injuries caused Haden to miss three games, but Haden gutted his way through the other 13 games. Despite the limited ability, Haden made the best of it and was named a Pro Bowl alternate for the AFC.
This offseason, Haden had surgery to repair two injured groin muscles. The recovery time was expected to be 6-8 weeks, and all indications are that he is already long-recovered from that. An interesting story I missed from before the draft is that Gregg Williams told Haden if he had not toughed his way through the 2016 season like he did, then he wouldn’t be playing for him in 2017.
"When I first got here, I went to [Gregg’s] office and we talked for a while. He told me, 'If you didn't play through your injury, I would tell them to get you out of here.' ... I couldn't open up, couldn't go full speed [last year]. It was tough to be out there. A little handicap. But it is what it is. I was trying to fight through it and do the best I could."
As you can see from PFF’s chart below, Haden’s production during his injury-filled seasons was poor. Two seasons in a row raises a red flag -- how much faith can I have that Haden can make it through all these practices in training camp without tweaking his groin?
With the recent decline of Joe Haden, cornerback could be a priority for the Browns in the draft. pic.twitter.com/mV3Xst2BPK— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 23, 2017
I want Haden to succeed because it’s vital for the team’s secondary to succeed. But if he comes up limp at any time, don’t be surprised if the Browns try to find a different role for him as a backup cornerback. I don’t think they’d cut him this year (and he’d have trade value anyway). Haden is under contract through the 2019 season, with 2017 being the final year of him having a good amount of dead cap space.
Final Roster Odds: 99%
2. Jamar Taylor - Starting Cornerback
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 192 lbs | Age: 26
Experience: 5 years | College: Boise State
One giant feather in the cap of the Browns’ current front office is when they traded for Taylor last year. The former second-round pick in 2013 by the Dolphins ended up reviving his career in Cleveland, starting 14 games and making 57 tackles with 3 interceptions. His performance early on was enough to replace veteran cornerback Tramon Williams.
Cleveland rewarded Taylor with a 3-year, $15 million extension. He was the NFL’s 19th-best cornerback in 2016, according to PFF, and they also had a nice breakdown of some of his stats:
- 32% of his snaps came in the slot.
- He was effective in that role, allowing low pass ratings on out routes (51.3 passer rating allowed), slants (62.5), and crossing routes (48.8).
Taylor was also named the Browns’ “secret superstar” for 2017. Whether he’s an outside cornerback or playing the nickel role, he should see significant snaps again in 2017. Hopefully he doesn’t end up being a one-year wonder. A concern that PFF seems to be overlooking about Taylor is that he had a few gaffes last season in which he took a chance on a wide receiver and was burned for a long gain/touchdown [see the habit on display against the Dolphins].
Final Roster Odds: 100%
3. Briean Boddy-Calhoun - Competing for Third Cornerback Role
Height: 5-9 | Weight: 193 lbs | Age: 24
Experience: 2 years | College: Minnesota
After not making the Jaguars’ final roster as an undrafted free agent last year, the Browns claimed Boddy-Calhoun off waivers and started giving him regularly playing time almost immediately. In 14 games, he made 6 starts, finishing the season with 43 tackles, 11 passes defended, 3 interceptions, and 1 pick six. He was inches away from a second pick six in the finale against Pittsburgh, but that whole domino effect of a collapse by Cleveland is the reason they have Myles Garrett today, so it’s water under the bridge at this point.
Boddy-Calhoun was an aggressive cornerback as a rookie, and a few weeks ago, I liked the reflection he gave on his first season. He addressed the fact that not many rookie cornerbacks get the amount of playing time he did, and he is taking advantage of that through his own film:
“It allowed me to have a lot of tape out there, a lot of tape to grade over the offseason, a lot of mistakes to correct coming back from a year or two. Most guys don't get to play their rookie year that much so they're making those rookie mistakes in Year 2 or Year 3 whereas I got all mine out in my first year. I've got a lot of tape to clean up, had a lot of things to look over in the offseason, which was a good thing.”
The Browns appear to be using him as an outside cornerback heading into training camp, but his roster spot is still fluid — he’ll need to build off of year one, especially with a new defensive coordinator to impress. Teams typically only play their top three cornerbacks, and if Haden and Taylor stay healthy, that means the youngster will have to fend off the experienced Jason McCourty.
In a poll DBN ran earlier this month, most fans think Boddy-Calhoun will not be a full-time starter, but will still see some action once injuries come up in the secondary. It’s a good thing that we’re entering the 2017 season debating on playing time reps between players who I feel can contribute positively on gameday.
Final Roster Odds: 95%
4. Jason McCourty - Veteran Defensive Back
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 195 lbs | Age: 29
Experience: 9 years | College: Rutgers
“Wait a minute...Jason McCourty wanted to come here?”
That’s the type of reaction I had upon learning that the veteran cornerback opted to sign a 2-year, $6 million deal with the Browns in May. Jamie Collins’ influence reportedly played a factor, and his presence gives the Browns a major insurance policy at both cornerback and safety.
Let’s get some perspective on who McCourty is: he was a 6th round pick by the Tennessee Titans in 2009, and spent the first 8 seasons of his career there. He once had top-tier cornerback money, and you can see that the two-year dropoff from 2014-2015 looks kind of similar to Haden’s dropoff toward the back half of his career. John Kosko of PFF astutely points out that those two years in Tennessee came under Ray Horton, whose reputation as a good defensive coach seems to be diminishing as time goes on.
2014-2015 were with Horton as DC. Think that had a lot to do with his poor play those seasons. pic.twitter.com/lZWWnqXJiw— John Kosko (@PFF_JohnKosko) May 16, 2017
The Browns haven’t made it a secret that they are willing to toy with the idea of McCourty being the team’s starting free safety, should that need arise. He’s expected to begin work in camp at the cornerback position, but I think he’ll ultimately be a contributor on gameday. The Browns will need to play 5-6 defensive backs regularly, and I think as camp goes on, Gregg Williams will look at which position is the most vulnerable and stick McCourty there.
Final Roster Odds: 95%
Here are your poll questions for Part 1:
Do you think Joe Haden will rebound and have an above average 2017 season?
This poll is closed
Teams typically play their top three cornerbacks. If McCourty stays at CB, which three players are the Browns’ top three on the depth chart to begin 2017 (in no particular order)?
This poll is closed
Haden, Taylor, Boddy-Calhoun
Haden, Taylor, McCourty
Haden, Boddy-Calhoun, McCourty
Taylor, Boddy-Calhoun, McCourty