Ending a dizzying process that included two switches of picks within the first eight selections, the Cleveland Browns got their man. The Browns selected Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert with the No. 8 overall pick following trades with the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills.
Cleveland began its evening with the No. 4 overall selection, but moved back initially to the Bills' No. 9 spot in exchange for a 2015 first- and fourth-round pick. Buffalo selected Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.
With the Vikings also potentially looking at cornerback, the Browns then paid a slight premium to move up to land Gilbert. The NFL's Around the League Twitter feed reported Cleveland sent a fifth-round pick (No. 145 overall) Minnesota's way to land the No. 8 pick. The Vikings then took UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr at No. 9.
Gilbert is considered among the best cornerbacks in the draft, along with Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State and Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech. ESPN's Todd McShay (subscription required) ranked Gilbert the No. 20 overall player on his big board. It's safe to say that Gilbert, not one to shy away from voicing his opinion, disagrees with that assessment.
"I'm not really sold on his game or style of play," Gilbert told reporters of Dennard. "Is this his first year really making a name for himself? I've been making plays since my sophomore year. It's something I'm not too hyped up about me being up there with him in the top two."
Despite his conjecture, there are some who could think the Browns reached for a player they might have been able to get later on. Considering their need at quarterback—Cleveland has been linked with nearly signal-caller known to man at this point—it would not have been a shock to see Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater come off the board.
That said, it's hard to dispute Gilbert's talent. Listed at 6'0" and 202 pounds, Gilbert has ideal size and is one of the draft's best athletes, regardless of position. He ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash and did 20 bench press reps at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, both of which ranked among the best at his position. The Browns will undoubtedly consider using Gilbert as a special teams returner—he ran six kicks back for a touchdown at Oklahoma State.
Gilbert is also a ball-hawking type in the secondary, able to use his fast-twitch quickness to jump on routes. He made seven interceptions as a senior, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Cleveland intercepted just 14 passes in 2013, so his aggressive nature should bring a dynamic not currently present.
The Browns will hope they struck paydirt the same way they did with Joe Haden in 2010. Haden made his first Pro Bowl in 2013 and is largely considered one of the best young cornerbacks in the game. With Haden still only 25 and Gilbert in the fold, Cleveland's secondary is going to have an advantage covering the likes of A.J. Green and Antonio Brown their AFC North rivals do not.
Given the way the Browns have been wheeling and dealing Thursday night—Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reported Cleveland attempted to move up to No. 11 after taking Gilbert—it's safe to say Gilbert's aggression is at the very least a symbol of their front office strategy. We'll just have to see whether it works out better than previous regimes.
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