Nov 25, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns cornerback Buster Skrine (22) during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Cleveland won 20-14. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
As standout cornerback Joe Haden continues to develop into one of the great cornerbacks in the NFL, the Browns have been hard-pressed to find a reliable option to line up opposite Haden at the other cornerback position. Third round selection in this year’s draft Leon McFadden would appear to be the most athletically gifted cornerback of the bunch. But in addition to his lack of experience, McFadden’s lack of physicality and size at 5’9” could also make him a liability on the field at times. Like, say, during the inevitable growing pains all rookies will go through at the professional level. Though McFadden is just a little undersized, he struggled to jam big physical receivers at the college level and it figures to be an issue with him at the pro level.
On the plus side, McFadden does have great speed and footwork and demonstrated good football sense and playmaking ability, returning a couple interceptions for touchdowns in his senior year. He also might have flown a bit under the radar in the draft, having played college ball out of the national spotlight at San Diego State. McFadden is a player that you would love to see develop behind a veteran cornerback for a year or two but the Browns don’t have that luxury this season, so it will be baptism by fire if he is tabbed as the starter.
Human penalty reel Buster Skrine is the incumbent, so to speak, with veteran Sheldon Brown’s departure. However, Skrine did little that could warrant any confidence going forward. He went through stretches last year that were downright dreadful. There were signs of promise at times but they were simply too few and far between. He had a respectable 2011 season used primarily in the nickel back role but faltered in 2012, when given opportunities at cornerback when it was obvious Sheldon Brown could not run with NFL receivers anymore. The aforementioned penalties were atrocious; 9 defensive penalties called on Skrine last season. Usually the guy who has the valuable experience having appeared in all 32 games over the past two seasons with the team would be considered the safer play, but can you really call Buster Skrine a safe play after last season?
The only cornerback the Browns added by way of free agency was Chris Owens, picked up from the Atlanta Falcons. Owens has been used sparingly on special teams and in nickel sets with Atlanta for the past four seasons. He has also had issues with his consistency. This gives the impression that this was a depth/special teams addition and it would be a real surprise if Owens can really challenge for and obtain the starting cornerback role.
Projected starter: In a debate of upside vs. experience, the Browns staff cannot overlook the talent of Leon McFadden.