As we count down the days to training camp, Around the League will examine one player from every team set for a breakout campaign in 2012. Next up: The Cleveland Browns
Most of our breakout players for our "Making the Leap" series are guys who haven't performed at a consistently high level yet. Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden is an exception.
His inclusion in our series is a matter of semantics and perception. We believe Haden is already one of the 10 best cornerbacks in football. No one seems to know it yet. Perception often lags behind reality. (Remember how long it took for anyone to notice Nnamdi Asomugha?)
Haden hasn't received his due as a pro for a few reasons. Cornerbacks don't get attention unless they play on a good team or pick off a lot of passes. Haden had six interceptions as a rookie, but none in his second season. He was still a great young player.
Haden officially finished 12th in passes defensed as a rookie. According to ProFootballFocus, he allowed fewer than 50% of passes thrown at him to be completed. It's no mistake that the Brownswere much better covering No. 1 receivers than No. 2 wideouts, according to Football Outsiders.
That's because Haden is one of the few young cornerbacks that often tracks the opposition's best wide receiver. He still gives up too many big plays to be called truly elite, but the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft is just now hitting his stride.
Watching Haden on tape, we're most impressed by his competitiveness and versatility. He is a solid run defender. He battles on every play. He should be headed for a Pro Bowl nod.
There is a big gulf after the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis and the rest of the cornerbacks in football. Haden has as good a chance as any youngster to fill that gap.