Browns Rookie Among Top Draft Steals After Quietly Having Huge Year

Martin Emerson, Browns

Getty Martin Emerson Jr. #23 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after deflecting a pass during the fourth quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 31, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Never underestimate the value of a mid-round NFL draft pick. The Cleveland Browns didn’t, and now it looks as though they have a top-level starter on the roster for the next several seasons.

Cornerback Martin Emerson has started just five of 11 games for the Browns this year, but don’t expect that to remain a trend for long. The rookie, selected No. 68 overall in the third round out of Mississippi State, has been stellar all season. Perhaps no statistic illustrates that better than the number of passes he has disrupted so early on in his professional career.

“Martin Emerson has 10 forced incompletions this season,” the PFF CLE Browns Twitter account posted on Tuesday, November 29. “Only three CBs in the entire NFL have more.”

According to Pro Football Reference, Emerson has actually been credited for 11 pass breakups to go along with 50 total tackles, including one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit and one sack.

Emerson Has Been Browns’ Best Cornerback by Large Margin in 2022

Martin Emerson, Browns

GettyTE Cameron Brate of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is tackled by CB Martin Emerson Jr. #23 and LB Deion Jones #54 of the Cleveland Browns during a game at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 27, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

Not only has Emerson surprised by producing like one of the best cover cornerbacks in all of football in 2022, he’s also been the best player in the secondary on his own team — and by a considerable margin.

According to Pro Football Focus, Emerson is ranked as the 20th best CB in the NFL out of 121 players qualifying at the position. He boasts an overall rating of 73.2 and a 75.9 rating in pass coverage.

Greg Newsome is ranked 59th on that same list, with overall and pass coverage ratings of 62.1 and 62.7, respectively. Meanwhile two-time Pro Bowler Denzel Ward, who signed a $100 million contract over the offseason, has had an abysmal year. While Ward has the excuse of dealing with injury issues that kept him sidelined for three weeks in the middle of the season, he has produced PFF ratings of 46.2 overall and 49.4 in pass coverage — good enough to slot him just 112th out of 121 qualifying cornerbacks through 12 weeks this season.

Emerson in Line For Full-Time Starting Job With Browns Next Year

Garrett Wilson, Jets

GettyWR Garrett Wilson of the New York Jets catches a pass while being defended by CB Martin Emerson Jr. of the Cleveland Browns during a game at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

Emerson’s playing time skyrocketed upon Ward’s exit ahead of the team’s Week 6 matchup against the New England Patriots, as he saw between 94%-98% of all defensive snaps over that game and the following two contests.

His snap count dipped back down to 55% against the Miami Dolphins in Week 10 following the Browns’ bye and Ward’s return, but leapt back up to 91% and 100% against the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively, in Weeks 11 and 12.

Newsome has played more than 91% of all defensive snaps when healthy, though he’s missed the previous two weeks with a concussion. Ward has also served in a starting role and been a regular presence on the field every week he has been healthy.

The cornerback position in Cleveland was forecasted to fall somewhere between formidable and excellent coming into the year with Ward on one side and Newsome on the other. But Emerson has played his way into the conversation for a starting job even when Newsome returns, and definitely when training camp begins ahead of the 2023 season.

The rookie has already clearly passed every other CB on the roster, including former second-round pick Greedy Williams. The Browns have already declined Williams’ fifth-year option and he will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

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