In the nearly two months since the Browns drafted MJ Emerson Jr., Jeff Howard has enjoyed his up-close look at what the third-round pick can do with his length.
Emerson, a cornerback from Mississippi State, is the biggest player the Browns have at the position, and he can use his long arms and tall frame to be physical with opposing receivers. He proved it across three seasons with the Bulldogs, where he consistently won battles against some of the top receivers of the SEC.
Howard, the Browns' pass game coordinator/defensive backs coach, has watched how Emerson can translate that to the NFL level throughout the course of rookie minicamp, organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, which ended last week.
"Being able to work with him the last couple weeks has been a real joy," Howard said on a “Browns Breakdowns” video. "He's really locked into the process. He comes to work every single day, and has seen the way our room is and the way things work out. He sees the culture and has kind of fit his way into it. It's been fun so far."
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The Browns believe Emerson's length could provide an immediate boost at the cornerbacks position, granted he adjusts well to the increased speed, physicality and overall difficulty of receivers in the NFL. His big body, however, should give him an immediate advantage in his acclimation process, which has gone well from Howard's perspective on the practice fields.
Howard's process in finding Emerson started with his college tape, which was full of plays against some of the top receivers in the nation, such as Treylon Burks (Arkansas), Jameson Williams and John Metchie III (both Alabama). Burks and Williams were first-round picks, and Metchie was a second-round selection.
Howard particularly loved one play Emerson made against Williams. After leaving Williams with a few yards of cushion, he read the break in his route and then followed him step-by-step as he attempted to cut and sprint away.
"Sticky" is the term used to describe that type of play by a defender, and Emerson displayed plenty of stick against the nimble-footed Williams.
"We want guys who, if they're going to play off, they're going to be able to get sticky on these intermediate routes," Howard said. "He lets him take his cushion, lets him break and then stays on his hip."
A big-bodied cornerback can also become a reliable tackler. Emerson recorded 50 tackles, including three for a loss, as a junior and didn't shy away from one-on-one tackles, which can often be tough plays for cornerbacks.
Even better — Emerson was durable. Even though he constantly propelled his body toward tacklers, injuries were never an issue for him. He played 36 consecutive games until he opted out of the bowl game his final season.
Both those traits are hard to find at cornerback, but Emerson clearly excelled at both in Mississippi State. In the same game against Alabama, he made a few stops that required a fast, physical and solo tackle.
"You like to see how they handle contact," Howard said. "When it comes to tackles, are they reluctant? Do they like it? You can see MJ is going to come up here and attack this tackle and be aggressive."
Emerson will have a chance to showcase his tackling ability and physicality in training camp and preseason games when the pads come on, but he's already provided a few examples to the Browns over the offseason program showing how his length can disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage.
By playing close to the line, Emerson can act like a moving wall and force receivers to start their route several yards off-track. A poor start can disrupt chemistry with the quarterback and lead to errant throws, or force the receiver to misstep other parts of his route.
"He has extremely long arms, I think 33-inch arms, and the way we press and use those hands, get those hands on is super important," Howard said. "When we step down and press, we're trying to disrupt timing and space."
The Browns will experiment more with Emerson when players return in July for training camp. Among those tasks Howard wants to achieve is finding how the Browns can best use Emerson and his long frame in the defense.
But based on the work he provided in college and his first NFL offseason program, they might not have to be picky.
"We want to put him in situations to be successful. And that's why the scouting is so important is to see what kind of player he is, what matchups he's favorable in and then put him in those situations to be successful."