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Finding the Fits: Browns' gamble on McFadden could pay off

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/

During the next several weeks, will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2013 NFL Draft in a series called "Finding the Fits." We're identifying one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Cleveland Browns' Best Fit: CB Leon McFadden, San Diego State, 3rd Round, No. 68 overall

In the NFL, wins and losses are all that matter.

General managers across the league have been using this rationale on draft day to push quarterbacks and pass rushers past less impactful positions such as offensive linemen for years.

And while the passing game has only increased in importance recently, statistics say that teams should wait to draft cornerbacks. After all, the 2011 Arizona Cardinals, who improved to 8-8 after making Patrick Peterson the first cornerback selected in the draft two years ago, are the only club in the past five seasons to see their win total improve after investing so highly at that position.

Given the significant drop-off in talent between Joe Haden and presumptive No. 2 cornerback Buster Skrine, the Cleveland Browns entered the 2013 draft with secondary help among their chief areas of concern. Rather than blasting new general manager Michael Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski for waiting to address their biggest need, the Browns' brain trust actually may earn kudos for patience -- should McFadden's unique athleticism translate into early success.

While lacking the bulk popularized by today's NFL cornerback, the former San Diego State star possesses the fluidity to stand out in new defensive coordinator Ray Horton's aggressive scheme, especially since McFadden largely will operate against opponents' No. 2 or No. 3 pass-catchers.

The 5-foot-10, 193-pound McFadden impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl with his coverage skills. Given Cleveland's attention to the pass rush this offseason, McFadden's recognition, agility and burst could result in big plays early as a rookie, helping the Browns establish themselves as a playmaking unit capable of surprising some of their competitors in the AFC North.

Questions in Cleveland (Other thoughts on the Browns' 2013 draft class):

While the selection of McFadden makes sense, it does not come without risk. The Browns eschewed their obvious need in the secondary to add pass rusher Barkevious Mingo with the No. 6 overall pick. Considering the $41 million deal signed with Paul Kruger, as well as the upside shown by Jabaal Sheard, the No. 37 overall selection of the 2011 Draft, the selection of Mingo was viewed by some as a bit of a luxury pick for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2003.

Make no mistake, Mingo could be a star in this scheme. The highly athletic pass-rusher has the burst and fluidity to explode in Horton's attack. Kruger, Sheard and Mingo are at least as talented as pass rushers Horton had in his previous stint as the defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals.

The selection of Mingo at No. 6 overall, however, is very much a gamble. While explosive and athletic, the long-armed Mingo didn't play with the sustained physicality, toughness and intensity to win over all scouts. His sack total at LSU drop from eight in 2011 to only 4.5 last year. Considering the ultra-rugged AFC North division, there are some who question his fit.

Without a second-round pick (Cleveland took wideout Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft last July), Lombardi and his staff entered the 2013 draft shorthanded. Rather than gamble on prospects in a weaker-than-usual class he and his staff had limited time to scout, the club traded back, adding third- (Pittsburgh) and fourth-round (Indianapolis) picks in 2014, while also netting veteran slot receiver Davone Bess. The former Miami Dolphins standout may not be a superstar, but with Gordon emerging as a rookie and the club still excited about the long-term prospects of 2011 second-round pick Greg Little, Bess could emerge as a quality security blanket for Brandon Weeden.

Undrafted free agents are always a gamble, but the Browns may have stolen former LSU star left tackle Chris Faulk, who slipped out of the draft entirely because of concerns about his recovery from torn ligaments in his right knee.

The 6-6, 330-pound Faulk once looked like a potential first-round prospect but missed virtually all of the 2012 season after tearing the ACL and MCL in practice only days after LSU's opener. The willingness to leave school early despite the rehabilitation lying ahead also scared some teams, has learned.

The Browns are set at offensive tackle with All-Pro Joe Thomas operating at the left side and Mitchell Schwartz living up to his second-round selection a year ago on the right side. Should Faulk prove healthy, however, he possesses the bulk, power and athleticism to make this club and perhaps even emerge as a contributor.

The Browns' 2013 draft class:

1st Round: No. 6 overall -- OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU

3rd Round: No. 68 overall -- CB Leon McFadden, San Diego State

6th Round: No. 175 overall -- S Jamoris Slaughter, Notre Dame

7th Round: No. 217 overall -- DE Armonty Bryant, East Central Oklahoma

7th Round: No. 227 overall -- OT Garrett Gilkey, Chadron State

Key Undrafted Free Agents:

OT Chris Faulk, LSU

WR Perez Ashford, Northern Illinois

OC Braxton Cave, Notre Dame

WR Keenan Davis, Iowa

Read more about all of the Browns' picks here.

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