Not since Anthony Bennett has a top 10 pick for a Cleveland team been this ignored. After being selected with 8th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Justin Gilbert has basically become an afterthought in the overwhelming amount of attention being paid to the 22nd pick, Johnny Manziel. There seemed to be a more palpable buzz when the Cleveland Indians when they selected Clint Frazier, currently playing for the Lake County Captains. Of the members of the Cleveland Browns draft class in 2014, Gilbert is the one likely to have the most meaningful impact early. It is bizarre that he has really had the least attention paid to him in the days since the draft has happened and continues to shine a light on an uninformed media covering this team.
Manziel has created a media frenzy and it has absolutely nothing with anything that Manziel is actually doing. He simply exists at this point and that is causing all kinds of controversy in his availability and how and when he is ultimately going to play. Most of the stories are completely contrived in the same way they were when Tim Tebow was in the NFL. In fact, Manziel is doing his best to try to take some of the focus off of him.
The other members of the draft class have some interesting stories of their own. Pierre Desir has a great story not only in coming from a small school like Lindenwood as well as his coming to the United States from Haiti. Terrance West was an absolute sensation in the FCS playoffs and is coming from Towson. And while Joel Bitonio is an extremely interesting and smart guy to speak with, some of the attention to him is by virtue of the fact that he will be blocking for Manziel. In fact, multiple questions from the media to Bitonio were about Manziel.
Gilbert, as a result, almost comes off as boring by comparison; as boring as a 6′ 202lb corner that runs a 4.37 and had 7 interceptions in his final year (2 that went for touchdowns). To this point, Gilbert has put the best face on it he can:
“I always tell him that he’s taken all of the pressure off of me,” Gilbert said. “I think he pretty much made the people in Cleveland love me a little bit more once we got him.
“I was happy for that, because I think a lot of people were mad at [the Browns drafting] me.”
Perhaps, that is part of the problem. Many fans were not only surprised but disappointed with the selection of Gilbert with the 8th pick. Many of those fans clamoring for a quarterback and ultimately Manziel with that pick. Then, when they got Manziel, that turned into frustration over it not being a wide receiver for Manziel. For the Browns, they have put a big stamp on their defense and told the world they would like to be the Rust Belt’s answer to the Seahawks. Gilbert is going to be a huge part of that and he needs to do incredibly well for this team to give the team options in how they want to cover opponents, allowing Buster Skrine to focus on covering the slot as well as stacking the box with defenders
Not only is Gilbert the first round pick likely to play earliest, he is also the one most likely to enjoy success first. Some of that is by virtue of the position he plays as well as the situation he is being placed. Joe Haden is on the other side which should help and the defense as a whole is loaded with talent, which should help Gilbert make a quicker transition. If the front seven stops the run, it will put opponents in more predictable situations and help Gilbert know what to look for from opponents. On top of everything else, he is supremely gifted from a physical standpoint.
Unfortunately for Gilbert, the local media in Cleveland is awful at this, is so uninformed about the team they are covering that they fixate on the utterly meaningless. Last year, the media was obsessed with first round pick Barkevious Mingo’s weight. He was asked about it on a daily basis to the point where it was clearly uncomfortable for him. Not as uncomfortable or awkward as when Marla Ridenour asked Mingo where he got his smile.
This also came up a week ago in a press conference where the media hammered Ray Farmer over questions regarding Josh Gordon and his looming suspension; questions he could not legally answer, which is precisely what they told him. Unfortunately, they lacked the ammo to ask anything meaningful and it became an embarrassing affair for all involved. The fans learned nothing about the draft class that had just been picked, the media looked utterly clueless and ultimately came away unhappy because Farmer did not answer the question exactly how they wanted.
The hope is that Gilbert can get on the field and his play will start drawing attention, because for whatever reason, he is not interesting enough going in the top 10; at least not in a world with Manziel in it. Perhaps as an homage to Ridenour, Tony Grossi made sure to deliver some pertinent analysis by noting that Gilbert did have a great smile. For the time being, Gilbert continues to be overshadowed while media members (Mary Kay Cabot) beats the Twitterverse over the head with the incredibly clever “Here’s Johnny <insert rest of headline>”; a generation that probably has to ask what that reference even means. For Gilbert, he just has to keep focusing on getting ready to play this season and hopefully having a great rookie year and he will just have to have faith that some people are in fact interested in what he can do for this team and his progress on getting there; the media is not representative of the fan base.