By George M. Thomas Akron Beacon Journal
Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer won’t go down in team lore with the most boring first draft of his tenure.
Farmer and the Browns made three trades in the 2014 NFL Draft’s first 70 minutes on his way to making Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert the first of two selections in the first round and grabbing quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick after a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Manziel watched as his draft position tumbled and the Browns made their move.
Manziel looked relieved that the process was over.
“I’m still pretty emotional right now,” he said after his selection.
When he was asked what he brought to the table, it could be things that immediately endear him to Browns fans.
“A lot of heart, a lot of passion. I’m going to pour my heart out for this team and this city and I think it will all work out,” he said.
Gilbert, a 6-foot, 202-pound cornerback, gives the Browns the chance to solidify their second spot at that position opposite Pro Bowler Joe Haden. Gilbert grabbed 12 interceptions during his college career. A former track star, he returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns in his senior year.
He’s also a dual threat, possessing return skills as well. He returned 102 kickoffs in his Oklahoma State career for 2,681 yards for 26.3 yards per return, placing him second on the school’s all-time list. Those returns included six for touchdowns.
If Gilbert starts immediately, Buster Skrine will on to covering slot receivers. Whatever happens, the team shored up a position of need. The team will also have its premier offseason free-agent pickup safety Donte Whitner in the secondary.
“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.”
Browns coach Mike Pettine’s defenses are known for their big, aggressive defensive backs and Gilbert fits the prototype. But what are the Browns getting in him?
“An every-down cornerback that can guard big receivers and small receivers,” he 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, I was born with the ability to make plays on the ball,” he said. “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,” he said.
And although Gilbert’s been knocked for his ability to tackle, Farmer expressed no concern.
“We understand exactly who he is, what he is,” he said. “We think he can make plays for us. He’s going to play relentless. He’s going to play at the line of scrimmage and press people. He’s able to do things we need him to do.”
He said he didn’t feel as if the Browns were targeting him during the draft process.
“They kind of crept up on me,” he said. “I had a meeting with them the day before I came to New York, and that kind of gave it away, that they wanted to get me so it was something I was thinking about on my way up here.”
If he can develop into a shutdown cornerback, his presence could improve a passing defense that ranked eighth in the NFL. However, given the number of big plays given up in crucial moments ?” losses against the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars come to mind ?” problems existed.
Presuming the Browns continue contract negotiations with Haden, who is in the last year of his rookie deal and will make $6.67 million in 2014, the Browns might have solidified the position for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a dream come true. I became friends with him not too long ago,” Gilbert said of his new teammate. “I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from him.”
After months of speculation, the Browns made fans suffer with anticipation a little bit longer during Thursday night’s draft when they traded their No. 4 selection to the Buffalo Bills, coach 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.
Farmer said he only looked to improve the team in the present and get some consideration in the future.
There’s little doubt that Farmer, a first-year general manager, put his name and stamp on his first draft. How it plays out remains to be seen.