For all the hype former Browns general manager John Dorsey created with the moves he made last offseason, his failure to solidify the offensive line spoiled the arrival of Odell Beckham Jr. and growth of Baker Mayfield after a historic rookie season.
Mayfield experienced a notable dip across the board. His completion percentage dropped below 60%, touchdown percentage fell 1.5%, interception percentage increased by one, yards per game decreased by almost 30 and his passer rating fell to 78.8 after posting 93.7 as a rookie.
Coach Freddie Kitchens deserves his share of the blame; while Mayfield wasn’t as sharp with his decision making, the offensive line was difficult to overcome. Mayfield was sacked 40 times, an increase from 25 in 2018, and brought down on 7% of his dropbacks.
Dorsey and Kitchens have been fired and two key moves have been made to fortify the offensive line entering the 2020 season. Cleveland signed offensive tackle Jack Conklin to a reported three-year, $42 million contract before investing its No. 11 draft pick on Alabama’s Jedrick Wills.
Is everything in place for this Browns’ offensive line to turn the corner? Let’s examine.
Where It’s Set
At right tackle, Conklin isn’t the first-team All-Pro caliber blocker he was billed as his rookie season but he’s one of the better right tackles in the NFL. He’s a balanced run and pass blocker with the mobility needed to thrive in the zone-based rushing attack in Cleveland. He’s a substantial upgrade to Chris Hubbard, who was the primary starter at right tackle in 2019.
Joel Bitonio is entrenched as the starting left guard and J.C. Tretter is a deserving fixture at center. Both Bitonio and Tretter are firm top-10 players at their respective positions.
“A two-year starter for Alabama, Wills enters the NFL with 28 career starts and developed into a polished blocker over his career. Wills is a refined pass blocker with exceptional technique, mobility, power and body control that makes him a dominant performer in pass protection. As a run blocker, Wills has tremendous functional strength and a maulers mentality to create vertical push and work angles in the run game. While he’s developed wonderfully at right tackle, there is no reason to believe he could not transition to the left side if needed. Wills is a blue-chip talent and plug-and-play starter in the NFL. He has the upside to become one of the top offensive tackles in the league by Year 3.”
In addition to being solid at four of the five starting spots, Cleveland has Drew Forbes, Nick Harris and Colby Gossett, who are intriguing developmental prospects that could eventually compete for starting roles. While Hubbard isn’t a preferred starter, he’s the backup swing tackle with seven years of experience and 43 starts; it’s a suitable role for his skill set.
Where There Are Questions
The biggest question for the Browns is at right guard, where Wyatt Teller is the likely starter. Teller, a fifth-round pick by the Bills in 2018, was acquired via trade prior to the 2019 season. He’s started 16 games across two seasons and the results have been a mixed bag. He has the potential to lock down the position but he’s the wildcard of the offensive front.
The other noteworthy concern is Wills and his move to left tackle. He was a 29-game starter at Alabama and exclusively played on the right side. While it could be argued that he played right tackle because Alabama featured a left-handed quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, Wills primarily played right tackle in high school. While he has every trait needed to thrive as a left tackle, there is a transition ahead of him that cannot be assumed.
From the starting five to the depth, Cleveland’s offensive line is in far better shape entering 2020 than it was in 2019. The offensive tackle position was correctly overhauled and it will allow for Mayfield to have a chance to recapture the sizzle from his rookie season.