Cleveland Browns rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert was, as expected, the first CB taken in the 2014 NFL Draft, and that’s impressive considering the depth of talent at the cornerback position in this year’s class. The likes of Kyle Fuller, Jason Verrett, and Darqueze Dennard have plenty of talent, but Gilbert’s upside, ball skills, and electrifying play on returns put him over those guys on draft day. Gilbert has plenty of promise lining up across from superstar corner Joe Haden, and with Haden locked up, the Browns could have one of the best cornerback duos for years to come.
Before that happens, though, Gilbert has plenty to work on in his game, especially in the all-important consistency department. After the rookie was burned by the St. Louis Rams yesterday (he allowed a 75-yard touchdown to situational deep threat Chris Givens), Browns head coach Mike Pettine stated that he wants to see more consistency from the first-round pick.
He said, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Tom Reed, “Not his best night. I think he has to know that that’s what the NFL is going to be all about for him, especially early. He lines opposite – once we get Joe back which we should this week, it’s going to be more of the same. It’s a good learning experience for him . . . He played well against Washington (on Monday night), but I think at the corner position more so than most, it is a ‘what have you done lately’ business. He needs to be more consistent week in and week out.”
Gilbert echoed the “not his best night” comments, but the most important nugget is Pettine’s statement about the difficulties of playing across from a shutdown corner who can lock guys up 1-on-1 in man-to-man coverage and win with regularity. As a rookie, Gilbert is going to get picked on quite a bit, so the ingredients are there for an up-and-down season. He has obvious talent, but he’s a raw player, so he could have plenty of big plays but also allow more than his fair share of deep passes in coverage.