How Justin Gilbert Fits with the Cleveland Browns

Wes StueveContributor IIIMay 8, 2014

Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, right, poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Cleveland Browns as the eighth pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Thursday, May 8, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

First, the Cleveland Browns traded back, out of No. 4, down to No. 9. Then they traded up to No. 8.

Then they picked...Justin Gilbert?

There is no denying that Gilbert is talented. The 6'0", 202-pounder ran an official 4.37 in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, via, and has terrific range. There is not a defensive back in the draft with more upside.

But is Gilbert ready to contribute as a rookie?

Though he is obviously tremendously talented, Gilbert is not a refined player. His footwork and technique need definite improvement. 

For the Browns, this is not a pick for the now. It is for the future. Cleveland is not comfortable with Buster Skrine moving forward, so the team decided to add Gilbert.

With his size, length and athleticism, Gilbert is a perfect fit in head coach Mike Pettine's defensive scheme. Pettine likes to press his cornerbacks, and though he didn't do it much in college, Gilbert has the skill set to play press coverage in the NFL

Additionally, Pettine demands that his defensive backs be playmakers. Gilbert is nothing if not that. His ball skills are perhaps his top attribute, and he has the ability to be an interception machine in the NFL. 

There is no doubt that Gilbert's skill set fits what the Browns want to do defensively. The question, however, remains whether Gilbert is that good. 

He's obviously talented, but Gilbert hasn't always played at a high level. His technique and footwork both need work before he will be able to hang with NFL wide receivers.

Probably Gilbert's biggest weakness is his run defense. He doesn't seem particularly interested in defending the run or tackling. Gilbert doesn't aggressively pursue plays in the run, and he has a tendency to tackle high, often failing to bring down the runner. 

If Gilbert reaches his potential, the Browns will have an elite cornerback tandem. That is a huge if, though, as there is a lot of work to be done. Pettine deserves some credit, though, as he has a history of developing cornerbacks.

It is far from certain that Gilbert will begin the year as a starter. If he does, though, Skrine would become the Browns nickelback. Skrine wasn't horrible as a starter, and as a third cornerback, he is above average. In that way, the pick upgrades two positions.

Few people were expecting this pick, and it remains to be seen if it will pan out. Most analysts would say that Cleveland has bigger needs, and not many had Gilbert ranked as a top-10 player.

None of that means that the pick wasn't the right one and that it won't work out. 

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

This seems like a pick heavily influenced by Pettine. The next one may be more of a Ray Farmer selection. Cleveland still has a number of needs, but, fortunately, the team has the ammunition to fill multiple needs. 

The Browns offense was the lesser unit entering the draft, and it is even more so now. Look for Cleveland to address offense next.

Gilbert wasn't the pick most were expecting, and he doesn't play on the side of the ball that was most heavily anticipated. What matters now is how he fits, and schematically, he was born to play for Pettine.

Now he just needs to develop into the player Cleveland expects him to.