Why the Browns' philosophy centers on building through the draft is best exemplified in a secondary that was one of the NFL's best in 2014.
Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, who is considered one of the best at his position in the NFL, was the seventh overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. On the other side of the field was Buster Skrine, a fifth-round pick one year later who blossomed in his fourth season. An undrafted Tashaun Gipson landed his first Pro Bowl berth after piling up six interceptions. K'Waun Williams went from an undrafted rookie to the team's starting nickel back. Fellow rookies Justin Gilbert (first round) and Pierre Desir (fourth round) enter 2015 with elevated expectations.
The exceptions: veteran safety Donte Whitner, who returned to his hometown as a free agent last season and landed a spot in the 2015 Pro Bowl, and Jim Leonhard, a Mike Pettine favorite who said 2014 was his last year in the NFL.
Intrigue, though, remains at this position with free agency just a few days away. One of those drafted players hitting the free market and another with restricted free agent status has a lot to do with it.
Who's coming back (2014 stats)
Donte Whitner - 106 tackles, 1 INT, 54 INT yards, 5 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
Joe Haden - 73 tackles, 3 INTs, 20 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries
K'Waun Williams - 31 tackles, 1 sack, 8 passes defended
Justin Gilbert - 29 tackles, 1 INT, 23 INT yards, TD, 8 passes defended
Pierre Desir - 9 tackles, 2 passes defended
Jordan Poyer - 9 tackles
Who's on the market?
Buster Skrine (unrestricted) - 66 tackles, 4 INTs, 34 INT yards, 18 passes defended
Tashaun Gipson (restricted) - 52 tackles, 6 INTs, 158 INT yards, TD, 8 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
Jim Leonhard (unrestricted but expected to retire) - 35 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 34 INT yards, 3 passes defended
Johnson Bademosi (restricted) - 12 tackles
2014 rankings of note
Pass defense - 224.5 yards per game - 8th
Interceptions - 21 - 2nd
Percentage of 1st downs allowed through air - 31.3 - 2nd
Opponents' passer rating - 74.1 - 1st
Top DBs available (Rankings from NFL.com's Top 101 NFL Free Agents for 2015)
- S Devin McCourty (New England)
- CB Byron Maxwell (Seattle)
- CB Brandon Flowers (San Diego)
- CB Kareem Jackson (Houston)
- CB Chris Culliver (San Francisco)
- S Rahim Moore (Denver)
- CB Davon House (Green Bay)
- CB Tramon Williams (Green Bay)
- CB Antonio Cromartie (Arizona)
- S Antrel Rolle (New York Giants)
- CB Perrish Cox (San Francisco)
- S Da'Norris Searcy (Buffalo)
- CB Walter Thurmond (New York Giants)
- S Kendrick Lewis (Houston)
- S Mike Adams (Indianapolis)
- S Tyvon Branch (Oakland)
- CB Charles Tillman (Chicago)
- CB Patrick Robinson (New Orleans)
- S Ron Parker (Kansas City)
CB Cary Williams (free agent)
This article is part of the Road to the Draft series, driven by Liberty Ford.