Brandon McDonald, out of the University of Memphis, was the 140th overall player taken in the 2007 NFL Draft. After a promising rookie season, he joined Eric Wright (taken in the second round of 2007 Draft) as a starting cornerback in just his second season in 2008. Starting 15 games he put out a solid season: 75 tackles, 17 passes defended, five interceptions, and one touchdown.
However, in 2009, his third season, McDonald took a giant step back: 50 tackles, 10 PD, one sack, and only one INT. And those stats do not even tell the whole story. He was constantly picked upon by opposing quarterbacks. And his poor play was even more accentuated by the fact that Eric Wright was turning in a terrific season on the other side of the field.
McDonald fell out of favor with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and eventually fell out of the starting line-up.
The reasons for his fall-off are not completely known. It is possible that as a fifth round pick, he peeked in his second season and is on a decline that will result in a quick end to his career.
It is possible that he struggled to adjust to Ryan's defensive schemes, which put him in one-on-one coverage often.
There is very little debate that he had almost no help behind him from the free safety position which was a revolving door with Brodney Pool, Nick Sorensen, Mike Adams, and Mike Furrey all getting significant time.
But whatever the reason for his struggles, the fact is that he had a very poor season, leading many to believe the Browns will draft a corner back early in the draft, possibly even with the seventh overall pick.
So is this the end of the line for Brandon McDonald? Or did he just have one poor season and at only 24 years old does he still have plenty time to improve?
I am in no way saying that the Browns should not look to improve on McDonald and stick with him as a starter. I firmly believe that if the opportunity presents itself to improve any position, whether it is QB, RB, DB, LB, KR, or even LT, the team should look to improve on what they currently have.
What I am seeking to point out is that as fans and writers we should not write off young players after only one rough season.
Many people are very high on SS Abram Elam. But compare his stats from this past season to those of McDonald's in 2008: 91 tackles, 2 PD, 1 sack, and 0 INT.
I wonder why it is that Elam, as a defensive back, had only 2 passes defended and NO interceptions (only 7 PD and 1 INT career). This could be a result of Ryan's defensive schemes not having him in position to make plays against the pass.
For all intents and purposes, Elam had a solid season. He started all 16 games, which was very rare for a Browns defensive player in 2009 (I believe Eric Wright was the only other player to start every game).
Both McDonald and Elam are similar players in that they each were not high draft picks (fifth and undrafted respectively) and both are still relatively young (24 and 29). Rob Ryan obviously has a lot of confidence in Elam and lost his confidence in McDonald. I will defer to him as the expert and assume that he knows better than any of us about the potential of his players.
But like I said, I am not saying that McDonald is actually good and that Elam is a stiff. We just need to make sure that we do not over-react when a young player has a poor season.
What if Abram Elam only has 70 tackles next season and once again fails to record an INT? Is he done?
How would we react if Alex Mack struggles in 2010? Would we be looking to draft a new center next year?
What if Josh Cribbs, heaven forbid, fails to return a kick for a TD in 2010? Do we talk about cutting him and moving on?
These may sound like extreme examples, but this is how we act so often. The grass always seems to be greener on the other side.
If the Browns do draft Eric Berry or Joe Haden with seventh pick, do not expect that draft pick to be a pro-bowler right from the start. And do not throw him under the bus if he is not dominant as quickly as YOU think he should be.