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2020 NFL Draft

In landing Justin Gilbert, Cleveland Browns make move for present and future


NEW YORK – Mike Pettine's defense attacks.

It is all about putting constant pressure on the quarterback, about taking risks with frequent blitzing with the reward of forcing opposing quarterbacks into mistakes.

And to do that, you must have not one, but two, cornerbacks who can hold up well in man-to-man coverage, which is what is requires when you're sending a wide variety of defenders after the passer from a wide variety of locations.

The Cleveland Browns had one such corner in Joe Haden.

Now, they have good reason to believe they have a second, in Justin Gilbert, the first of their two first-round choices in the NFL Draft Thursday night.

Sure, the Browns could have stayed put with the fourth overall pick and selected a dynamic offensive playmaker such as wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

But Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer knew they had a gaping defensive hole that had to be filled. They also knew they didn't need to fill it at No. 4 – that Gilbert, the best cornerback in the draft, would be available a little later in the round.

By trading the fourth overall pick to the Buffalo Bills – who were in the ninth spot and subsequently chose Watkins at No. 4 – they picked up a first-round choice and fourth-round selection in 2015. And the Browns made certain they got their man by moving up one spot, to No. 8, in another deal with the Minnesota Vikings.

It was a move that addressed the present and the future.

For the present, Pettine has exactly what he wanted: the tallest cornerback in the draft with a first-round grade. Gilbert is 6-foot and weighs 202 pounds. He is capable of being physical with wide receivers in that five-yard area off the line where defensive backs are allowed to make contact. He can make the kind of contact that disrupts receivers' route-running, which is what did plenty to help the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl.

Haden also has good size and strength, and exceptional coverage skills that generally discourage opponents from throwing his way.

The Browns' goal is clear. They want to build a team that wins with defense, and their most prominent moves to date (the signings of linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Donte Whitner in free agency, and now the selection of Gilbert with their top draft choice) make a very loud statement to that effect.

The Browns also want to continue building. And with two first-round picks in 2015, they are in excellent position to do so.

This Road to the Draft Feature is driven by Liberty Ford.

Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for "Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford" on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on

Have a question for "Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford"? Ask me at or by e-mail at or by calling 855-363-2459.

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