As Johnny Manziel slid in Thursday night’s NFL Draft, teams that needed quarterbacks — including the Cleveland Browns — took heat from their fans for passing on the controversial Texas A&M star.
The Browns traded twice, first back, then up to the No. 8 spot, with speculation swirling that they’d take Johnny Football.
Instead, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert was their man, although they eventually got Manziel, too, with the No. 22 pick in the first round.
But for a while on Twitter Thursday night, Cleveland fans were divided, some desperate for Manziel, some recognizing the need filled by Gilbert.
“That's not something I worry about at all,” Gilbert said in a conference call with reporters. “I think they made the right decision.”
Right decision for Gilbert, too, in returning to OSU after a subpar junior year, after contemplating an early jump to the NFL. Buoyed by a big senior season, Gilbert restored his reputation as a playmaker, then put himself in position to be called the top corner in the Draft at the combine, running a 4.37 40-yard dash and performing well in on-field drills.
“I knew I made the right decision coming back, because I didn't have the year that I wanted to have my junior year,” Gilbert said. “To come back and be around these guys that I came in with – I knew the heart that they have to go out every day and play on Saturday for each other. That's just something that I wanted to continue to be around.
“Coming back for another year, it couldn't hurt me, it could only do me right.”
In the days leading up to the Draft, the buzz was that Gilbert’s stock was rising. The Browns proved it true, after first moving back from their initial No. 4 pick with a trade, then swinging a deal with Minnesota — another team with a cornerback need — to move up one spot into the No. 8 slot.
“I had a meeting with them the day before I came to New York,” Gilbert said. “They kind of gave it away (that) they wanted me. I was thinking about it on the way up here.”
While the Browns need a quarterback, they also have a pressing need at corner.
With Pro Bowl corner Joe Haden in place, Cleveland has a lockdown corner on one side. Some reports suggest a plan to move the other corner, Buster Skrine, into a nickel role, but a candidate to push for a starting job was needed to facilitate such a move.
“It's a dream come true,” Gilbert said. “I became friends with (Haden) not too long ago and he's a great guy and I'm looking forward to playing with him.”
Gilbert becomes the sixth OSU player since 2009 to be drafted in the first round, a total that leads the Big 12 during that time period. It also marks the third time in the last five years that a Cowboy has been taken in the top-10 overall.