The cornerback position has the potential for the most turnover on Cleveland’s roster headed to 2016. Mike Pettine and Jim O’Neil wanted cornerbacks in the Seattle Seahawks mold, which is to say taller. Those defenders (namely Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir) weren’t NFL ready, and the secondary suffered when they were given the opportunity to play because of injuries. K’Waun Williams did not have a great 2015, though he was the highest graded Browns CB according to Pro Football Focus (a 3.4 overall grade as opposed to a 10.5 in 2014).
Concussions all but erased Joe Haden’s season, and Tramon Williams had a rough final four games.
On the Roster for 2016:
Joe Haden, Tramon Williams, Charles Gaines, K’Waun Williams, Pierre Desir, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Chance Casey and Justin Gilbert.
Who Could the Browns Lose:
Johnson Bademosi is an unrestricted free agent. Chance Casey was recently signed to a futures contract.
Will the Browns hold on to Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir?
Is the Need: Low, Medium or High:
This is a tough call. The defense as a whole must improve dramatically. Joe Haden had a disaster of a 2015 season, but a healthy Haden and Tramon Williams still have the potential to be a very good tandem. There is still a need for depth. The Browns may have high hopes for Ekpre-Olomu, but he is coming off a torn ACL and dislocated knee. With those kind of injuries, they usually say it is two years before an athlete is back to 100%. Not to mention Ifo has never played a snap or even participated in an NFL practice after losing his rookie year to recovering from those college injuries.
Top Free Agents at the Position:
Forget the top free agent cornerbacks. The Browns aren’t going to spend that kind of money when they have Haden and Williams. If they go for defensive backs in free agency it will likely be a veteran like Leon Hall (CIN) or perhaps Patrick Robinson (SD) or Jerraud Powers (ARZ). Robinson and Powers can give you spot starts if you need and are still under 30.
Top NFL Draft Prospects:
First round grades: Mackensie Alexander (Clemson), Vernon Hargreaves (Florida), Eli Apple (Ohio State).
Second round grades: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech), Jalen Mills (LSU), William Jackson (Houston), Artle Burns (Miami).
Third round grades: Will Redmond (Mississippi State), Xavien Howard (Baylor), Harlan Miller (Southeastern Louisiana), Zack Sanchez (Oklahoma)
Spots 2-6 are really wide open in all likelihood. This regime has no ties or investment in Pierre Desir or Justin Gilbert. If either is going to make the team, they will certainly have to work hard for it. My money in that case is on Desir. I see them taking a shot on a CB in the later rounds, and possibly signing a veteran on the cheap closer to camp.