BEREA — Leon McFadden was surprised the Browns picked him Friday in the third round, No. 68 overall, because they didn’t have much predraft conversation.
“I didn’t know their interest in me at all,” he said.
If he’d been aware of their need for a cornerback, he might’ve expected the phone to ring. The Browns sought to fill a hole with McFadden (5-foot-9½, 193 pounds), who started 45 games at San Diego State, was three-time All-Mountain West Conference, MWC Defensive Player of the Year as a senior and a team captain.
They also agreed to a trade for Dolphins receiver Davone Bess (5-10, 190), contingent on a physical today. The Browns sent Miami pick Nos. 104 and 164 in exchange for Bess and picks 111 and 217.
The Browns moved down seven picks in the fourth round and from the fifth to seventh round for a receiver with 321 catches and 12 touchdowns in a five-year career.
McFadden doesn’t have ideal size or elite speed (4.54 in the 40-yard dash) but is considered a physical corner with good quickness, instincts and ball skills.
“He’s got good mirror skills,” general manager Michael Lombardi said. “He’s competitive, can make plays on the football. I think he’s got the attributes that we’re looking for certainly at the position.”
McFadden was the choice over LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, the former “Honey Badger” who was chosen by Arizona with the next pick. Mathieu was kicked off the team before this season after failing multiple drug tests.
“You do the research on all the players and you make a decision on kind of what you really feel is the best for your organization, and we just felt Leon was ideally suited,” Lombardi said.
High-profile quarterbacks Ryan Nassib of Syracuse, USC’s Matt Barkley and Mike Glennon of North Carolina State were also available. But like West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Florida State’s EJ Manuel in the first round, the Browns passed.
Did they give any thought to taking a quarterback in the third round?
“No, we were more focused on trying to improve the positions of the secondary, defensive line, offensive line, those areas,” Lombardi said.
The Browns’ only previous pick was pass rusher Barkevious Mingo at No. 6. They didn’t have a second-rounder after drafting receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft last year. The 39th pick that would’ve been Cleveland’s turned into Smith for the New York Jets.
So the Browns spent approximately 24 hours between selections hoping a cornerback they liked would make it to them at No. 68. Mississippi’s Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks, Boise State’s Jamar Taylor, Connecticut’s Dwayne Gratz, North Carolina State’s David Amerson and Southeastern Louisiana’s Robert Alford disappeared in the second round and early part of the third before the Browns got their chance.
They jumped on McFadden.
The Browns have Joe Haden and a bunch of question marks at cornerback. Buster Skrine and Chris Owens were the top choices opposite Haden at a minicamp last week, and Lombardi was asked if he envisions McFadden as a starter opposite Haden.
“That’s a coach’s call,” said Lombardi, who passed on Alabama corner Dee Milliner in the first round. “He’s got the skills to certainly compete and whoever wins the job will be determined based on their play on the field.”
McFadden’s dad, Leon Sr., was a minor league baseball player for nine years and spent 62 games in the majors with the Astros from 1968-70. Junior picked football and was switched from receiver to cornerback as a freshman at San Diego State.
“Words can’t explain how excited I am to be a part of the Cleveland Browns organization,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working my butt off on the field and helping the team get wins.
“My instincts and my ball skills would be my biggest (strengths).”
McFadden downplayed his height being an issue, and Lombardi said his 193 pounds help.
“Obviously we all want 6-1 corners. Sometimes it’s harder to find,” Lombardi said. “But he makes plays on the football, which is important. He’s got great awareness, he’s got balance, so I think those are things when he’s down the field that are important.”
“I’m a competitor and I don’t think my height has anything to do with me and my competitiveness playing,” McFadden said on a call from the ESPN Zone in Anaheim, Calif., where he watched the draft with family.
McFadden said he didn’t really speak to the Browns in the last couple of months and only filled out basic questionnaires.
“This was a big surprise to me,” he said.
Lombardi said the research was thorough, including an informal interview at the combine and four or five scouts visiting San Diego State.
“He worked out at the combine, so you had an opportunity to watch him work out,” he said. “We liked what we saw in the workout, we interviewed him and I think if you talk to anybody at San Diego State, the character and quality of the person was pretty significant in terms of the background check that we did on him. So I think you can just let that kind of stay the way it is. And you feel comfortable with him and you feel comfortable with the person.”
The draft resumes today at noon and concludes with rounds four through seven. The Browns have five picks remaining — a fourth-rounder, a fifth, a sixth and two sevenths.
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