Leon McFadden had plenty of connections to the Browns long before he was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft on Friday night.
It dates to his time on the practice field at San Diego State University.
Aside from his talents on the field, he had a reputation for making life difficult for the quarterbacks on his own team. McFadden, initially recruited as a wide receiver, was asked to make the switch to cornerback. Once that happened, he took a small measure of pride in disrupting the passing drills whenever he could. The Aztecs quarterbacks coach he was disrupting? Brian Sipe, the former Browns quarterback.
“It was funny, that was pretty funny,” Sipe said. “Right when practice started, everybody would be out there, scattered all over the field. When the whistle blew, most players would start warmups at the end of the field. The quarterbacks and centers would go to the middle to work on their exchanges. Leon would try to sneak up behind us and smack the ball out of the quarterback’s hands. They would have a code word when they would spot him coming, code words so they knew he was in the area. One was ‘Hootie Hoo,’ they’d say things like that when he was near.”
Sipe was elated with the Aztecs-to-Browns connection (his office in California is still decked out in Browns mementos, and everyone knows about it) and left McFadden a voice mail when he was picked. Caught up in all the commotion of being a draft pick, flying to the team’s headquarters in Berea and meeting his new coaching staff, McFadden finally got back to Sipe on Tuesday morning.
“I’m very excited about him being a Brown,” Sipe said. “I’ve known the kid for four years, watched him play. I’m excited for the Browns, and I think they got a great third-round draft pick.”
Sipe should know. He spent the past couple of seasons teaching his own quarterbacks how to avoid him.
“He’s very talented,” Sipe said. “I had to train my quarterbacks to be able to throw against him, or I should say, stay away from him in practice.”
The Browns ties don’t stop there. McFadden’s first official visit with the team was also the first week on the job for defensive backs coach Tony White, who later became his position coach after McFadden made the switch from offense to defense. White watched McFadden and immediately was reminded of Daylon McCutchen, whom White played against in college and who played for the Browns from 1999-2006.
“Both the maturity and the build, he and Daylon are similar,” White said. “The best thing about Leon is he’s always been somewhat of a professional. There are guys who understand where they’re supposed to be and what they need to do to be successful. He’s always been like that, low maintenance. Daylon was the same way. He knew that there are things he could attain if he kept his head on straight and worked hard. Physicality wise, they have a very similar build. Both 5-foot-10, 5-foot-11, little thicker on the lowerbody wise. Daylon was a great cornerback for a long time. Leon can do that.”
The aforementioned switch from wide receiver to cornerback wasn’t entirely welcomed, but McFadden accepted his new role with the same maturity and professionalism to which White alluded.
Only 10 days before the Aztecs’ first game of the season against UCLA during McFadden’s freshman year, they lost their starting cornerback to injury. San Diego State happened to have a talented receiving corps at the time — Vincent Brown, DeMarco Sampson and Roberto Wallace, all of whom now have NFL experience, and senior Mekkel Wesley — were all ahead of him on the depth chart. Seeing an opportunity to get him on the field, McFadden was turned loose to the other side of the ball and started 10 days later against the Bruins.
“At first, I was kind of bitter about it,” McFadden said in a conference call after he was selected 68th overall in the draft. “Our coach, Brady Hoke, he gave me a three-day trial at corner. Ever since I went there, I never looked back.”
McFadden played well quickly despite a smaller stature. Listed at 5-foot-9⅝ in Pro Football Weekly, scouts see a cornerback not too short for his position, but one who doesn’t have the ideal height to combat the taller receivers of the NFL, either. White doesn’t think that’s a problem, and he pointed to how one of the NFL’s best corners is built as an example.
“He’s not a little cornerback,” White said. “He might be shorter, but he’s solid. His core strength, it’s in his trunk and his hips and his legs. He’s very similarly built to Darrelle Revis, too. Physically, that’s how you neutralize those tall wide receivers. You can be 6-foot-2 and soft, but you’re gonna get better results from a guy who’s 5-foot-10 and physical. And he’s a physical presence.”
Like at San Diego State, McFadden will have a chance to start right away. He played exclusively on the outside with the lone exception of following motion in man-to-man coverage. Sheldon Brown is no longer on the Browns’ roster and Buster Skrine was exposed when pushed into a starting role last season. Many believe Skrine would be better suited moving inside to the nickel, allowing McFadden to start from Day One.
Trade that wasn’t
For the second consecutive year, the Browns and St. Louis Rams were close to finalizing a trade but decided not to pull the trigger.
During the first round of the draft Thursday night, the Rams moved up eight spots from No. 16 to No. 8 in a deal with the Buffalo Bills to select West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin. For the No. 8 pick, the Bills received the No. 16 pick, an additional second-round selection, a seventh-round selection, and the two teams swapped picks in the third round.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that same deal was on the table for the Browns, who held the No. 6 pick. Instead of trading down, the Browns selected Louisiana State outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo. In the event of completing that trade, the Browns would have held the No. 16 pick, where they might have taken Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers one slot later), and added a second-round and a seventh-round selection.
Undrafted players sign
The Browns signed 18 undrafted free agents, the team announced Tuesday.
Here is the official list: Eastern Kentucky offensive tackle Aaron Adams; Northern Illinois wide receiver Perez Ashford, a Shaker Heights High School graduate; Stephen F. Austin cornerback Josh Aubrey; Notre Dame center Braxston Cave; Youngstown State running back Jamaine Cook, a Midpark High School graduate; Central Arkansas wide receiver Dominique Croom; Iowa wide receiver Keenan Davis; UTEP wide receiver Michael Edwards; Hawaii defensive end Paipai Falemalu; Louisiana State offensive tackle Chris Faulk; Florida International offensive tackle Caylin Hauptmann; Eastern Michigan tight end Garrett Hoskins; Utah defensive tackle Dave Kruger, the younger brother of Browns linebacker Paul Kruger; Stephen F. Austin wide receiver Cordell Roberson; Illinois defensive end Justin Staples, a Lakewood St. Edward High School graduate; Kansas State tight end Travis Tannahill; Delaware safety Kenny Tunstall; and Temple offensive tackle Martin Wallace.
Wofford linebacker Mike Niam, a Hudson High School graduate, has been invited to try out for the Browns.
The Browns are scheduled to hold their rookie minicamp May 10-12. Rookies report to camp May 9.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj. Beacon Journal sports writer Nate Ulrich contibuted to this report.