Months before the Cleveland Browns selected cornerback Justin Gilbert, Joe Haden was busy researching.
"He was the number one dude I had on the board as a cornerback," said Haden on Monday.
An admitted NFL draft fanatic, Haden put Gilbert's highlight tape on repeat and raved about his explosion. Haden's eyes popped when he later looked at the Oklahoma State alum's interception numbers – seven in 2013 alone.
It's Gilbert's mindset when he gets the football that left a lasting impression on Haden. Gilbert scored eight touchdowns in four seasons in the Big 12 Conference, all either on special teams or on defense.
"That helps out a lot when he gets interceptions," said Haden. "You can tell it turns automatically into a return game."
When he met the media for the first time on Friday, Gilbert said he's hopeful Haden will be a mentor for the rookie. The Browns Pro Bowl cornerback wouldn't have it any other way. A top-10 pick himself, Haden can relate to the shoes Gilbert is being thrust into. He's already thought what he's going to tell Gilbert: just relax.
"Everything is going a million miles an hour right now," described Haden about the whirlwind process of being drafted. "At the end of the day, it's still football. I tell him just get your cleats together, put your pads on… Because when we get out there, all that hype and everything, it's out the window."
"There is not a rush," Haden continued about his advice for Gilbert. "You are going to come into your own. Just learn the plays and learn the system and watch me. I'll show you the right way."
Yes, many are predicting Gilbert will one day be a top-flight cornerback with Pro Bowl potential. There isn't a Browns rookie who will be handed anything on a silver platter, though.
"We got people like Buster [Skrine] and dudes in the room that are not giving up spots," Haden said. "Everybody is going to have to grind."
On paper, at the very least, the Cleveland Browns arguably have the best secondary in the AFC North.
Haden and Donte Whitner have become regular guests in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. We've profiled the rise of safety Tashaun Gipson. Either Gilbert or Skrine will make an adequate nickel back, while the other earns the starting nod. Isaiah Trufant, a cornerback and special teamer with the Jets under Pettine, was flying all over the place during minicamp.
The Browns' secondary will have to be on point from the get-go. Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco are the first three quarterbacks on the docket in September.
With Haden's careful instruction, the learning curve for Gilbert could be a short one. Immediate impact from the rookie would give Cleveland a leg up.