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Thursday, December 26, 2013
Browns can build around Joe Haden

By Matt Williamson

Not a lot has gone well for the Browns this year, especially of late, but this organization does have a strong long-term building plan. They have exceptional resources at their disposal for the offseason,  including a wealth of draft picks and salary cap space.

While this roster could use a lot, one thing they are not in need of is a true No. 1 cornerback. Joe Haden has that spot locked up.

Joe Haden and A.J. Green
Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden shadows each opponent's top receiver.
Despite using premium resources on pass-rushers this past offseason, Cleveland's defense still doesn't rush the quarterback as well as they should. Despite registering 39 sacks over 15 games they have failed to generate consistent pressure. Still, the Browns' pass-defense is well above average. A big reason for this success is that Cleveland allows very few big plays, but Haden's ability to stymie the opponent's top wide receiver is the biggest key for this pass defense.

In this secondary, Haden, T.J. Ward, Tashaun Gipson and Buster Skrine all have logged more than  1,000 snaps. Ward is an excellent strong safety that Cleveland would be wise to re-sign or even put the franchise tag on to ensure his return. He is having an excellent season in coverage and is one of the best safeties in the league against the run. Gipson and Skrine are relative unknowns. Both have struggled with so much playing time, but like Ward and Haden, they are still young and this playing time could pay off for the long term. Ward is the oldest of the bunch. He turned 27  just two weeks ago. The Browns would be wise to add one more high-quality defensive back, though.

But the key here is Haden. Injuries were a problem for Haden last season, but he has rebounded in a big way in 2013. While not elite, his flat out speed is above average for the position, but he plays very smart and knows his opponent while also possessing loose hips to transition very well to go along with excellent change-of-direction skills.

Not the biggest cornerback around, Haden is very aggressive and physical for his size. He plays much bigger than his measurables would indicate and has excellent leaping ability to fight for the ball against taller wide receivers. Overall, he also has exceptional ball skills and doesn't take many penalties despite playing with aggression against top competition week after week. Haden is one of the few cornerbacks in the NFL that will align anywhere on the field to shadow the opponent's top weapon. Within the division you will find Haden on A.J. Green, Torrey Smith and Antonio Brown.

Haden was exceptional against Calvin Johnson and against Green in their first meeting of the year, and because Skrine has played well, teams will test Haden which rarely works out in their favor. The 24-year old cornerback has really come into his own this year. H is not only a building block for a rebuilding franchise, but he is one of the very top players in the league at his position-and might only be getting better.