Believe it or not, the often-criticized Justin Gilbert is making a major contribution to the team....on Special Teams.
Gilbert has nailed down the job as first string kickoff returner, averaging 30.2 yards per return. The team felt good enough about his contribution that they were able to cut Shaun Draughn, who was averaging 21.2 yards per return. That clears a roster spot, as the Browns want to carry three tailbacks (Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson and recently-activated Robert Turbin), with Malcolm Johnson as the fullback. If Gilbert were not successful as a returner, Draughn would have been kept as a fourth tailback in order to have him as a kickoff returner.
Justin Gilbert was a disaster as a rookie. Thank God for Johnny Manziel, so no one really noticed Gilbert's failures. This year he has been used as a backup in the defensive backfield while excelling in kick returning as well as coverage teams.
The surprising thing has been Gilbert's emergence as a legit threat on kickoff coverage. Gilbert has 4 solo tackles on special teams, second to Special Teams stud Johnson Bademosi, who has 6. Unlike Bademosi, however, GiIbert has 4.3 speed, which means opposing returners are not having much time with Gilbert homing in on them.
In 2014 Gilbert was a terrible disappointment, gaining a reputation for immaturity and hostility, while not being able to master the skill of playing cornerbak in the NFL. He was drafted 10th overall, with the intention of being a cover corner in the Joe Haden class. Well, that didn't happen, and frankly Gilbert is still not very effective in the defensive backfield.
So far Gilbert has only seen 1.9% of the snaps at DB. So Gilbert may still be a disappointment at the level, particularly in view of his large salary and the fact that the Browns invested a very high draft pick for him. But if he continues to play at a high level on special teams, he can at least be a valued member of the team even if he causes them to burn a little more of Jimmy Haslam's cash than they might otherwise.