One day left! The Cleveland Browns are set to take the field on Thursday to kick off their 2018 preseason against the New York Giants. Let’s continue to get you ready for the season by moving on to our next position in preview series. Today, we look at the Browns cornerback unit. What can the Browns expect from this new group of corners? Well, here is what we can expect from the cornerback position going into the 2018 NFL season.
Major Additions: Denzel Ward, Terrance Mitchell, E.J. Gaines, T.J. Carrie and Simeon Thomas
Major Subtractions: Jason McCourty and Jamar Taylor
This position probably has seen the most turnover of any unit on the team besides maybe the quarterback group. The Browns completely changed this position through free agency and the NFL Draft. It began with the additions of Terrance Mitchell, E.J. Gaines and T.J. Carrie in free agency. These three replace the outgoing Jason McCourty and Jamar Taylor. Through the draft, the Browns selected Denzel Ward in the first round and Simeon Thomas in the sixth round.
The cornerback position needed a shutdown corner and Ward is coming in to be that player for the Browns. Ward was the No. 1 corner on my board and many other draft experts’ boards. He had the best mirror skills in the draft, making him a potential shutdown corner in the NFL. His athleticism is elite, with the speed and fluidness to stick with any receiver. He also adds physicality and clean technique to his game. Ward comes in right away as the Browns best corner and the No. 1 corner on the depth chart.
Mitchell has emerged so far in training as the second starter in the cornerback unit. He is a young corner who has earned more and more playing time over the course of his four seasons in the NFL. Last year with Kansas City, he started nine games and played the second most snaps of all the corners on the roster. He is the leader in the clubhouse to start opposite of Ward.
Gaines is another young corner who was added in free agency this offseason. He has experience playing under Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams when he was with the Rams. He started all 11 games for the Buffalo Bills last season, missing the rest of the games because of injury. Gaines will have a chip on his shoulder given the low value the league placed on him this offseason. He will want to show out this season because he is playing under a one-year contract and is looking at trying to strike it big next offseason. Gaines is probably the biggest contender to battle with Mitchell for the second starting spot on the outside opposite of Ward.
Carrie is another big addition the Browns made in free agency at the corner position. Carrie had a breakout season last year with the Oakland Raiders, earning him a long-term contract with Cleveland. He had a huge increase in playing time last season, playing most of his snaps at the slot corner position. He is likely the leader in the clubhouse to be the Browns primary slot corner.
Briean Boddy-Calhoun is an interesting player for the Browns. He was probably the most consistent defensive back the Browns had last season. But, his spot in the defense is up in the air. He has been moving from corner to safety throughout training camp and is listed on the first preseason depth chart as a safety. Boddy-Calhoun is still listed in the corner unit because I think he will see time as a third corner, especially in the slot. He will be a versatile defensive back for the defense.
Mike Jordan and Simeon Thomas are the two other corners who could see time or at least make the final roster at the corner position. Jordan played sparingly last year for the Browns, but he did receive one start. Thomas is the Browns sixth-round pick. He is a small school kid with the measurables teams drool for, coming in at 6-foot-3. These two will either be the final two on the depth chart or be battling for the final spot.
The cornerback unit is an enigma right now. It is really up in the air. Currently, in my opinion, Ward is the only player set in stone in terms of role. He will be the Browns starting No. 1 corner. The competition for the next most playing time will be interesting. Mitchell, Gaines, and Carrie will be the main contenders, but I will never count out Boddy-Calhoun because the kid just balls out when he is on the field. The group has good depth, but not a lot of certainties.
Biggest Strength: Young Depth
The Browns have a lot of young talented corners in their depth chart. It starts with Ward, but the additions of Mitchell, Gaines, and Carrie this offseason has really given the unit an influx of young depth. Beyond those four, the Browns bring back Boddy-Calhoun, who may have been the most consistent corner over the past several seasons. Jordan received playing time last season and Thomas is a corner with unique measurables, making him a valuable asset at the bottom of the depth chart. Overall, the unit has four players who performed at a level that spanned from OK to well last season and one corner who was touted as the best corner in the draft. This position has some young depth.
Biggest Question Mark: Consistency
Consistency is the big question mark with this unit. Ward just hasn’t had the opportunity to show what he can do in the NFL as of yet. Gaines has had an up and down career. Carrie had his breakout year last season, but before then he was up and down like Gaines. Mitchell has only one year of steady playing time. Boddy-Calhoun may be the most consistent guy on the depth chart, but he is not getting the regular playing time as of yet. Those are the five corners who the Browns are most counting on. None of them have put together any sort of consistency. Can these young corners string together their good production level?
Key Player: Denzel Ward
Ward is the most talented cornerback on the Browns roster. He was the fourth pick in the draft for a reason. Ward has the skill set to be a shutdown corner, who can be in charge of covering the opposing team’s No. 1 wide receiver. His presence in the unit is key because if he can take the job of covering the best receiver on the field, it lets the rest of the group to settle into more comfortable roles. Having a shutdown corner makes your whole defense better. Being able to suitably cover the other team’s best receiver weapon can limit the effect of that offense. Ward has the ability to be that for the Browns.
Top Training Camp Battle: Terrance Mitchell vs E.J. Gaines vs T.J. Carrie
The biggest training camp battle in the cornerback unit is between Terrance Mitchell, E.J. Gaines, and T.J. Carrie. It is the battle for the starting job on the opposite side of Denzel Ward. Currently, the Browns have Mitchell listed as the starting corner for the first preseason game. But, the battle is far from over. The battle would seem to be primarily between Mitchell and Gaines because these two are more outside corners. Carrie has played better as a slot corner. But, Carrie is not out of it as of yet. The four preseason games should be the deciding factor for this battle.
The cornerback unit is a tough position to lock down and predict. I know one thing. Ward is the best and most talented corner in the unit. He will be the No. 1 corner on the team. The real questions start after him. Right now, Mitchell is in the lead, but we are far from finished. The preseason games will decide this as I said earlier. Whoever performs the best in the four preseason games will likely win the starting job opposite of Ward. Mitchell and Gaines are the top contenders in my book. I think Carrie will be the slot cornerback.
I am quite shocked and confused a bit about why Boddy-Calhoun has not gotten a fair shot at being one of the major contributors at corner. He has been one of the more consistent defenders for the Browns over the past two seasons. He is a young talented corner who deserves a shot. I would have him compete for the second starting spot or at the very least battle with Carrier for the slot corner spot. In the end, I think he will play his way into this competition. The corner unit will be so interesting to watch this preseason. It is the probably one of the least settled positions on the roster.
Denzel Ward will lead the team in interceptions.