Player Profile: Justin Gilbert
In case many have forgotten, the Cleveland Browns chose two athletes in the NFL Draft this year. Unmistakably, Johnny Manziel was the second guy selected of the two – the first athlete to come off the board for the orange and brown was Justin Gilbert. Despite being a top ten selection, the spotlight could not be any further off the rookie.
College: The cornerback hailed from Oklahoma State University, and garnered some accolades during that time frame. This includes being a member on the second-team all-Big 12 unit in 2012 and winning a first-team all-Big 12 award in 2013. Gilbert was also an All-American in 2013; something that vaulted his draft stock this winter. As the feats continued, the athlete held a conference record with six kickoff return touchdowns. He has shown durability, athleticism, and an ability to dominate on the football field – but may not stand out in the NFL (at least immediately).
Post Draft: The day after the Browns took Gilbert, he and Manziel answered questions from the Cleveland media. A majority of those went to the quarterback, and the defender admitted he was content with all the “pressure being taken off of him”. For the most part, it a glimpse of things to come – quarterback is the glamor position in the NFL and it’s no surprise that the guy taken at that spot for Cleveland tends to snatch headlines. When given an opportunity to speak, Gilbert was rather soft-spoken and reserved. Many should not be worried by this; as he could become a D’Qwell Jackson or Troy
Polumalu-type where his actions will speak for him; hopefully he can play like the latter.
Expectations: The former Oklahoma State star has another thing going for him; Gilbert will not be expected to be as great, early on, as the way guys typically drafted at the eighth spot are. Alongside the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, the rookie will be in good company when the Browns’ defense takes the field. Having said that, many (fans and media alike) should anticipate a fair amount of passes to come his way in 2014. Will he succumb to the NFL speed can give up long touchdowns? Can coach Pettine provide ample help “over the top”, while the front seven pressures opponents? All of that remains to be seen, but the rookie will not be expected to be Deion Sanders in the 2014 huddle.
Analysis: Justin Gilbert has the talent to be a day-one starting cornerback in the NFL. He has all of the tangible qualities that can make him successful. I hope Ray Farmer did his homework this offseason and got a fair gauge regarding the athlete’s personality and type of passion he carries on and off the football field. Personally, I would not be surprised if there are early growing pains with the cornerback. But the faster he can pick up the pro game and remain on the outside, putting Buster Skrine, Pierre Desir, and Leon McFadden in reduced roles – the better the defense will be.