Cleveland Browns Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State – Round 1
The Browns already have one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL with Joe Haden, so taking Justin Gilbert could give Cleveland one of the top cornerback duos in the league. The 6-foot, 200-pound Gilbert has the speed and size to matchup against any kind of receiver. He is a well-versed corner who can play press-man, off-man and zone coverage.

In 2013, Gilbert amassed seven interceptions, 42 tackles, seven passes broken up and one kick returned for a touchdown. He had an excellent 2011 campaign with 59 tackles, 10 passes broken up and five interceptions. Gilbert recorded 63 tackles, nine passes defensed in 2012. He was a sophomore when he had interceptions against the top three quarterbacks in the 2012 NFL Draft; Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Baylor’s Robert Griffin and Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill.

Helping Gilbert to pan out will be Haden matching up against the No. 1 receivers. That will make Gilbert’s matchups a lot easier than most cornerbacks who are selected in the top 10 or even the first round. In time, Gilbert could take on the bigger receivers who can give the 5-foot-9 Haden some challenges. Gilbert looks like a very safe pick to develop into a quality starter.

Most Likely To Bust

Christian Kirksey, LB, Iowa – Round 3
I don’t think the Kirksey was an especially bad pick by Cleveland, but since I have to pick a potential bust from the team’s early picks, Kirksey stands out to me. The reason is the scheme fit for him in a 3-4 defense. For such a defense, the 6-foot-2, 234-pounder is undersized and will have a lot of adjustments to make.

Kirksey was a fast outside linebacker in Iowa’s 4-3 defense. He flew around and chased down ball-carriers for the Hawkeyes. Playing on the outside meant Kirkset didn’t take on as many blocks. With Cleveland, he is going to have to move inside, and that will mean he is going to have to take on more blockers. Kirksey also is going to need to improve his pass coverage for the NFL.

The Browns lost D’Qwell Jackson in free agency, and he was never a great fit in a 3-4 defense. I think Cleveland could have repeated that misfit with Kirksey.

Potential Boom Pick

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M – Round 1
Manziel is definitely a boom-or-bust prospect, and if I had to bet on it, I would go with a boom pick. While Manziel needs to develop his pocket passing, he has a good arm with the potential to be an accurate passer at the NFL level. Plus, Manziel has the running dimension to turn broken plays into game winners. His instincts are off the charts. He always seemed to be a step ahead of the defense in college.

Manziel completed 70 percent of his passes in 2013 for 4,114 yards with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The redshirt sophomore ran for 923 yards (759 net) with nine scores, too. While Manziel’s running ability receives a lot of attention, his passing skills are improved and underrated. As a redshirt freshman, he completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,706 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Manziel also ran for 1,410 yards (1,571 net) with 21 touchdowns on the ground. He was an absolute force the past two seasons in the SEC.

The Browns have the makings of a good offensive line and some receiving weapons for Manziel if Josh Gordon can avoid getting suspended. Cleveland needs to build up more around Manziel, but in speaking with sources from around the league, they believe that Manziel has the ‘it factor’ to be a special player and a potential franchise quarterback. Perhaps he is just what the Browns need to turn their depressed franchise around.

Future Depth Player

Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood – Round 4
The Browns must have had Desir as the top player available when they made their final pick, because they didn’t need another corner with Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert slated to be their long-term starters. Cleveland could have reached for a bigger need, but taking Desir makes some sense. He could give the Browns a good backup cornerback and protect them from an injury to one of their starters. Also Desir could end up being their third cornerback.

With Desir’s size (6-1, 198), Haden can move inside to cover slot receivers, which leaves Cleveland with two big corners to line up on the outside. Desir won’t win a starting spot over Haden and Gilbert, but he could develop into a quality depth and rotational corner for Cleveland.

Walt’s 2014 NFL Draft Grades:

9. Justin Gibert, CB, Oklahoma State: C+ Grade
This is such a Cleveland Browns pick. Really. They had a chance to potentially turn their entire franchise around with Johnny Manziel. Instead, they take a cornerback? It doesn’t make much sense. But then again, this is a franchise that hasn’t been in the playoffs in more than 10 years for a reason.

I don’t hate Justin Gilbert. He was the No. 1 corner in this class, and he’ll be great across from Joe Haden. I also like how the Browns obtained Buffalo’s No. 1 pick in 2015. That’s what keeps this from being a C- or a D. I just don’t get the logic of passing on a franchise signal-caller and also moving up one spot to secure Gilbert. It just shows that the Browns only liked one player at this spot, so they didn’t have any sort of Plan B.

22. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: A+ Grade
Wow. I was critical of the Browns passing on Johnny Manziel with their first pick, but it turns out that they may have come away with the best draft class of all the teams. They got themselves a stud defender and a potential franchise quarterback. Oh, and they also have a probable top-12 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

I obviously love this selection. Manziel is a leader and a winner, and he is exactly what the Browns need to energize their morbid franchise. He has a somewhat high bust rate because of his small frame, but the Browns will actually be interesting for the first time since 2002.

35. Joel Bitonio, OT/G, Nevada: B- Grade
Josh Gordon is likely done for the year, and the Browns take a right tackle? Well, it fills a need because Cleveland has a huge hole at guard. Bitonio could start at right tackle, which would move Mitchell Schwartz inside. Bitonio could be the starting guard as well. Still, considering the desperate need at wideout, and all of the talented players remaining at the position, it’s curious that the Browns didn’t find Johnny Manziel a weapon.

71. Christian Kirksey, ILB, Iowa: D Grade
I don’t have a big issue with Christian Kirksey. He’s fine in the third round, and the Browns had to find another linebacker after losing D’Qwell Jackson. But who the hell is Johnny Manziel going to throw to? The Browns created all of this excitement with Manziel; the least they could do is give him a functional receiver. As of now, Manziel’s starting wideouts are Andrew Hawkins and Greg Little. Blegh.

94. Terrance West, RB, Towson: B- Grade
I got an e-mail from a Cleveland fan as soon as this pick was made: “Browns are smoking dope with Gordon. I swear this is one of the worst drafts ever.” It’s shocking that the Browns haven’t addressed the receiver position yet, but I don’t mind this selection very much. This is the right range for Terrence West, and Cleveland had to obtain another running back because Ben Tate doesn’t have the best durability history.

127. Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood: C Grade
I really want to give the Browns a Millen because what they’re doing is ridiculous. Who the hell is Johnny Manziel going to throw to? Do they want him to bust? Why aren’t they getting him a wideout? Unfortunately, this isn’t a Millen because Pierre Desir provides great value in the fourth round. Desir could have gone at the top of the third. This doesn’t fill any sort of need, however.

2014 NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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