BEREA: Although the Browns are in the midst of the NFL Draft, the most prominent player they acquired Friday night is not an incoming rookie.
The organization’s trade for wide receiver Davone Bess overshadowed its selection of San Diego State University cornerback Leon McFadden in the third round (No. 68 overall). Both players, though, will be relied on to develop significant roles with the team.
The Browns traded picks in the fourth (No. 104) and fifth (No. 164) rounds in exchange for Bess and selections in the fourth (No. 111) and seventh (No. 217) rounds, the team announced. The fifth-round choice the Browns traded was acquired as part of the deal that sent quarterback Colt McCoy to the San Francisco 49ers on April 1.
Bess’ agent, Kenny Zuckerman, told the Beacon Journal his client agreed to a three-year contract extension with the Browns. General Manager Mike Lombardi said a new contract had been discussed but not finalized. Lombardi also said the trade is contingent upon Bess passing a physical, which he’s set to take today.
“Bess is a really talented, productive receiver,” Lombardi said. “I think he’s the 14th-most productive receiver in the NFL over the last four years. He’s caught a lot of passes, converted a lot of third downs for the Dolphins.”
Bess, who served as the Dolphins’ primary slot receiver, was scheduled to make $2.67 million in the final year of his contract, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported. He became expendable this offseason because the Dolphins re-signed wide receiver Brian Hartline, a former GlenOak standout, and added receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson via free agency.
The 5-foot-10, 193-pound Bess caught 61 passes for 778 yards and one touchdown in 13 starts this past season, missing the last three games because of a back injury. In 2010, Bess established career highs in catches (79), receiving yards (820) and touchdowns (five). He has never had fewer than 50 catches in a season.
According to the Browns, Bess has accounted for 130 third-down receptions, second most in the NFL during the past five years, trailing only the Atlanta Falcons’ Roddy White (146). In the past four seasons, 42 percent of Bess’ receptions have come on third down, the highest rate among all NFL players with at least 100 catches.
“You’re always trying to add players to your team you think could help, and certainly Bess we think can help,” Lombardi said. “He’s played in the league, and I think on the most critical down, he’s been able to convert. So it was a good opportunity for us.”
Bess, 27, signed with the Dolphins as an undrafted rookie in 2008. In five NFL seasons, he has established a reputation as a solid presence in the locker room. He and David Nelson, who signed with the Browns on April 8, should provide quality leadership for the Browns’ young receiving corps of Josh Gordon and Greg Little.
In 2003, Bess lost his scholarship to Oregon State because he was arrested after picking up two friends who burglarized a store. He spent 15 months in a juvenile detention center and signed with Hawaii shortly after he was released. He established the Bess Route Foundation, which is dedicated to shaping positive lifestyles for underprivileged children throughout the country.
Like Bess, the 5-10, 193-pound McFadden has a legitimate shot to earn a starting job. The Browns entered the draft with a glaring need for a cornerback capable of starting opposite the 5-11, 190-pound Joe Haden.
Lombardi believes McFadden is talented enough to plug the hole.
“I think that’s a coach’s call,” Lombardi said. “I think he’s got the skills to certainly compete and whoever wins the job will be determined based on their play on the field.”
Lombardi said McFadden is capable of playing on the outside or in the slot.
“He’s got good mirror skills,” Lombardi said. “He’s competitive. [He] can make plays on the football. I think he’s got the attributes that we’re looking for certainly at the position.”
McFadden started all 39 games the past three seasons and 45 of the 51 collegiate games in which he appeared. He had eight interceptions in his career, including three this past season. McFadden, 22, had 61 tackles and a forced fumble as a senior in 2012.
“I believe my ball skills are very good. My man-to-man coverage, I became a lot more aggressive in the last couple years,” McFadden said during a conference call. “My IQ for football, studying my opponent is really big for me. The main thing I would like to work on is my press-man [coverage] and polishing up my technique.”
Three notable quarterbacks — Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib, Southern California’s Matt Barkley and North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon — were on the board when the Browns took McFadden.
Did the Browns give any thought to picking a quarterback?
“No, we were more focused on trying to improve the positions of the secondary, defensive line, offensive line, those areas,” Lombardi said.
Louisiana State cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, otherwise known as “Honey Badger,” was available, too. The Arizona Cardinals nabbed him with the next pick, No. 69, despite his off-the-field baggage and plan to use him at free safety, a position of need for the Browns.
“I think 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. “He played a lot of football in college. He’s competitive, and he’s been productive.”
The draft resumes at noon today. The Browns have the following five picks entering the third and final day: fourth round (No. 111); fifth (No. 139); sixth (No. 175); and seventh (Nos. 217 and 227).
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.