They may not make the same mistake with another little-known Kent State senior with similar upside.
Abram Elam is a 6-foot, 205-pound safety who could fly through draft day under the radar of most NFL scouts after playing just one season at Kent State.
Elam is far more than just a blip on the Browns screen, however.
Defensive backs coach Mel Tucker worked out Elam individually last week, and a Browns scout returned Wednesday to get another look at Elam Wednesday during Kent State's pro workout day.
They must have liked what they saw in Elam, who ran a 4.45 time in the 40 to go with a 40.5 vertical, a 10-5.5 broad jump and 20 reps on the bench press.
Their reports inspired Phil Savage to visit Kent State personally Friday morning to put Elam through his own long, grueling individual workout. One onlooker said it appeared Savage was "putting Elam through hell" just to see if he would break.
Insiders believe Abram Elam would have been a first-day draft pick had his college career not taken a sharp detour back in 2001.
Elam turned down an offer from former Browns coach Butch Davis to go to the University of Miami, just a short one-hour drive from down the coast from his Riviera Beach, Fla. home, and instead chose Notre Dame. The prized recruit made an impact in his first season with the Irish, forcing a fumble and intercepting a pass to lead Notre Dame to a win over Pittsburgh, recording five tackles against West Virginia and Navy, and posting a sack, a fumble recovery and another interception in the rivalry game with USC.
But then Elam made a mistake that would cost him dearly. He and three of his Notre Dame teammates were arrested for sexual assault at a South Bend party. Elam was the only player in the group who did not have sex with the victim, but he did admit to inappropriately touching the woman, and that led to his conviction on a sexual battery charge. He was acquitted on two other charges.
Elam was tried separately. The other three Notre Dame players claimed the sexual encounter was consensual, and the cases against them were eventually dismissed.
By the time the dust cleared, all four players had lost their scholarships.
Elam sat out two years before getting a chance to resurrect his career for one final season at Kent State. He led the Golden Flashes with three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. He also recorded a team-high six pass breakups and finished third in tackles with 64.
More importantly, he quickly won over the coaches, players and students at Kent State, who learned quickly that any mistake he made at Notre Dame was completely out of character.
One Kent State coach said, "if you polled our coaching staff, I'd bet just about everybody would say Abe is their favorite player. He's just a great kid."
Browns special teams coach Jerry Rosburg knows Elam's true character. He recruited Elam to Notre Dame when he was the special teams and cornerbacks coach for the Irish. He could also be the reason the Browns are showing so much interest in Elam while other teams could be encouraged to shy away.
The Browns could draft Elam as high as the fifth round to avoid the same bidding war that lost Gates as an un-drafted free agent two years ago.