The Cleveland Browns reached an agreement with their rookie defensive back, Martin Emerson. His rookie deal has a total value of $ 5.75 million with a signing bonus of $ 1.36 million. The Browns did not have a pick in the 2022 draft until the 68th overall pick in the third round – mostly as a result of the Deshaun Watson trade – but they were eager to get Emerson on board as their first selection.
Emerson’s frame is what caught the eye of Browns’ coaching staff. This former Mississippi State cornerback stands 6-foot-2, weighing 201 pounds with a wingspan of nearly 80 inches. He’s taller than both of Cleveland’s starting outside corners, Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II, and has weight on them both as well.
When asked about the nickel position, head coach Kevin Stefanski said, “I think we have multiple guys who can fill that role and have filled that role. I think that’s why we talk about versatility. If you’re playing corner or you’re playing safety, you’re going to be trained to play in the slot or play our nickel position. I think we have multiple guys who can do that. ”
So, the question we have with Emerson is where he fits. His size would immediately label him as a boundary corner, but his skillset and the defensive scheme might say otherwise. Let’s go to the movie to see where Emerson fits best!
In Emerson’s 28 starts with Mississippi State, he had 154 tackles, one interception and 16 passes breakups. In his 2021 season, he recorded 45 solo tackles and ranked third in the SEC with a coverage grade of 89.6, according to PFF.
When watching the Browns defense last year, they ran more of a cover 3 zone look under defensive coordinator, Joe Woods. Emerson is a perfect fit playing the underneath zone, who would be lined up on the outside dropping back into the curl / flat area.
In this clip below, Emerson is lined up on the outside, opposite of trips. He sees the receiver running the over-route and stays in his zone baiting the quarterback into throwing to the flat. Knowing he can cover a lot of ground with its length. He closes to the ball quick.
The Browns last year showed hesitation when breaking to the ballcarrier, it’s likely that Emerson could compete with Greedy Williams on the outside. According to PFF, Williams had eight missed tackles last year and an overall tackling grade of 44.3. Emerson brings confidence, instincts and physicality to that position.
Coming out of high school, Emerson was recruited as a safety. According to 247 Sports, he was ranked No. 77 in the nation at that position. Emerson is dangerous in open space because of his fluid hips and instincts in zone coverage.
It is possible that Emerson could play the cornerback who’s paired with a strong safety on the same side, because of his versatility and ability to play both roles. Since he plays so well in zone, offense won’t know who is stepping up to defend the underneath and which defender is dropping back into the deep third. Similar to what we see in the clip below from the Mississippi State defense.
In the clip below, the Browns have their strong safety and their cornerback playing on a string. They are interchangeable and this is why Emerson provides so much value to the defense. He can play either role.
What Emerson lacks in speed, he makes up for with his physicality. In the clip below, he is lined up with Alabama’s John Metchie III, who is a speedy, twitchy receiver.
The Browns aren’t likely to put Emerson in press on an island to the outside. Not yet anyway. When asked to lockdown receivers without help from press-jam and in soft press, he was often left behind.
In the clip below, Emerson is in soft-press and makes one false step and is already two steps behind the receiver.
Emerson is better suited playing off-coverage to the outside or underneath in the hook / curl flat. This does not mean that he won’t line up against the slot either. Just because a player does not line up in a certain position in college, does not mean he will not play there at the next level. When Browns’ nickel cornerback, Troy Hill, was injured last year, Newsome came in and played in his position despite only playing five snaps in the slot when at Northwestern. According to PFF, after week 11 last year, Newsome logged 116 snaps on the outside and 100 snaps in the box / slot position.
The Browns are sticking with a heavy defense zone this year with different guys filling multiple roles. Emerson is more likely to come in during those run-heavy fits at nickel and also when the team needs someone to cover the deep third of the field as a corner / safety. If he plays on the outside, he will be off-coverage and the defense will likely be in quarters. Right now, he’s not ready to be a lockdown corner lined up on the outside.
Emerson most likely battles with Greedy Williams for the CB3 spot on this years’ defense.