The Cleveland Browns’ cornerback position saw a lot of change and transitioning throughout the season. It was a unit that will also see some much needed changes this offseason.
The Browns primarily played with four corners through 2016: Joe Haden, Jamar Taylor, Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Tramon Williams. Williams eventually moved to safety late in the season, thus has not included in this review. Other than those four, Marcus Burley saw a handful of snaps, while Trey Caldwell and Darius Hillary did not see any time at cornerback this past season. So with that being said, let’s take a look at the Browns cornerback position, focusing on how the unit performed this season and what it needs to do before the 2017 season.
Cornerbacks on the roster: Joe Haden, Jamar Taylor, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Marcus Burley, Trey Caldwell and Darius Hillary.
Joe Haden: Notched 48 tackles, 11 passes defended and three interceptions.
Jamar Taylor: Posted 57 tackles, one tackle for loss, 13 passes defended and three interceptions.
Briean Boddy-Calhoun: Notched 43 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, 11 passes defended, three interceptions and a defensive touchdown.
Marcus Burley: Posted eight tackles and one pass defended.
Joe Haden has been the leader of the Browns cornerback unit for the past many years, but he has struggled with consistency, continuing this past year. Haden once again dealt with injuries, causing him to miss time. His injuries and aging have made him an inconsistent player. He still tries to cheat on plays, which he cannot do at this point of his career, because he does not have the recovery speed anymore. When healthy, he still has the talent to make plays and be a quality corner. But with his injury history and age, I am not sure he can be trusted on to start for the Browns long term.
Jamar Taylor was acquired from the Dolphins last offseason, after his career sputtered in Miami. With the Browns, he played solidly for the team, earning him a long-term contract this offseason. He is best utilized as a slot cornerback, using his physicality to pressure the receiver. Taylor should be in line to be the Browns nickel corner going forward.
One of the brighter spots in the struggling secondary was the emergence of Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Boddy-Calhoun was signed off waivers by the Browns after the Jacksonville Jaguars cut the undrafted free agent before the season. He is a small corner with not a lot of great physical skills, but he plays feisty and with good ball skills. The undrafted free agent has playmaking ability at the corner spot, showing this trait off with three picks and a touchdown return in his rookie season. He is a player the Browns can continue to develop to be a solid corner for depth, but I am not sure he has the physical skills to be a starter for the team.
Marcus Burley played just a handful of snaps, so he is a player with little tape to really evaluate his worth with the team. Along with Trey Caldwell and Darius Hillary, who saw no playing time this season, Burley will have a hard time making the squad next season.
The Browns cornerback unit is not deep with talent and it is a position with a lot of holes. It was picked on all season with the inability to slow down the opposing teams passing game. The position does not have consistent starter besides Jamar Taylor as the nickel corner covering the slot. Joe Haden could be a quality starter for the Browns, but his injuries and age have made him unreliable to rely on. So, the Browns are missing two outside starting corners to start alongside Taylor. Briean Boddy-Calhoun is a young player who can continue to develop, but he lacks the physical tools to start on the outside. The Browns will need to make some big upgrades at this position this offseason.
The Browns biggest strength is the talent at the slot cornerback slot. With NFL defenses in the nickel defense for most of the game to go against the pass-happy offenses in the league, the slot corner is important. The Browns have a quality starter in Jamar Taylor, who turned his career around in his first season with the Browns. He fits the position well with his physicality to jam the slot receivers. Behind him, Briean Boddy-Calhoun has the skill set to play the slot corner position. He is a smaller corner, but he has the feisty mindset and ball skills to perform well in the slot. This position is in good shape with these two players.
Starting Outside Corners
As far as I am concerned, the Browns do not have a reliable starting outside corner on the team. Joe Haden has the talent to be one, but he is far too inconsistent with his injury history to be a reliable starter. The Browns need two starting outside corners to keep track of the talented receivers of the NFL. This offseason, the Browns No. 1 task for this unit is to find a starting outside cornerback and possibly two of them.
To Do List
- Find a starting outside cornerback or possibly two
The Browns need a starting cornerback on the outside. I believe the roster currently has zero starting outside cornerbacks. The team should look for two of them, but if the Browns are confident enough to rely on Joe Haden to start, then the Browns need to at least get one starting cornerback to play on the outside. In free agency, Logan Ryan and Trumaine Johnson are two possible corners to start on the outside for the Browns. In the draft, Marshon Lattimore and Teez Tabor are possible candidates to fill this big need.
- Add depth to the outside cornerback position
Besides getting at least one starter at the outside corner spots, the Browns need to add depth to this position. They do not need to be starting quality players, but corners who can fill in different situations to give breathers to the starters. Adding depth with also help Joe Haden have a better chance to stay healthy. The Browns could look later in the draft to find some corners to add to this depth or add some lower priced free agents to help fill the need.
- Add pass rushing threats
This is not directly related to the cornerback position, but the Browns need to add more pass rushing threats in order to relieve the pressure put on the cornerbacks to keep close for a longer period of time to their coverage. More pressure gives the corners less time to have to cover their man.