Cleveland Browns offensive line

Fixing the Cleveland Browns’ offensive line in four easy steps

  • 2020 NFL Draft
  • 2020 NFL Free Agency
  • Cleveland Browns
  • NFL
By Jereme Jones March 16, 2020 0 Comment
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The Cleveland Browns have a lot of needs for 2020, but none bigger than on the offensive line. Here is our four-step plan for the Browns to turn their weakness into a strength.

The Cleveland Browns offense is loaded with talent at almost every position. They have a young quarterback, two talented running backs, and two big named wide receivers. The exception to this talent stockpile is on the offensive line. The Cleveland Browns’ offensive line was ranked 23rd in 2019 by Pro Football Focus. There is no doubt the team, to reach its potential, must make upgrading their offensive line a primary goal this offseason. Here is how Cleveland can accomplish that goal in four easy steps.

Step One: Draft a Cornerstone Tackle

The last few drafts have not featured a lot of top talent at offensive tackle. In 2018, only one was selected in the top 14 (Mike McGlinchey) and only three total in the first round. Last year, Jonah Williams was the first tackle drafted, going to the Bengals at pick 11. The next tackle off the board wasn’t until pick 22, Andre Dillard to the Eagles. A lack of available talent will not be an issue in this year’s first round.

There are four consensus top offensive tackles in this year’s draft; Jedrick Wills, Tristan Wirfs, Andrew Thomas, and Mekhi Becton. All of them have the potential to be cornerstone left tackles for the next ten years. The Browns need to take advantage of this opportunity and draft one of these young men to build their offensive line around. Does the question become which one do they take?

The Browns’ decision will partially depend on how the draft plays out in the first nine picks. All four of these guys could, and probably should be top ten picks. The good news is that it is unlikely all four will be off the board before the 10th pick. So Cleveland should get a shot at at least one of these guys. Here are our rankings of these offensive tackles.

#1 Jedrick Wills (Alabama)

Wills was a right tackle at Alabama, but he could excel on either side in the NFL. Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is left-handed, so Wills has experience blocking on the blindside. Our rankings had Wills and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs tied, but Wills gets the edge because he grades out slightly higher as a pass blocker. He is an excellent technician who moves well and is very patient in pass protection. Wills is also an excellent run blocker, especially on the backside of zone runs. He should be a great fit in coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense.

#2 Tristan Wirfs (Iowa)

Tristan Wirfs was also a right tackle in college, but he should have no problem playing on either side of the line in Cleveland. There is no doubt he is athletic enough to play the left side, after his record-setting combine performance. We rank Wirfs as the best run-blocking tackle in the draft. He offers a little more physicality and athleticism in the run game than Wills. He is slightly below Wills in the passing game, not so much because of talent, but more because there are things in his technique that can be improved. When you consider Wirfs just turned 21, he has outstanding upside.

#3 Andrew Thomas (Georgia)

Andrew Thomas ranks as our third offensive tackle but is still an exceptional prospect. Thomas was a three-year starter at Georgia; he spent his freshman year at right tackle before moving to left tackle as a sophomore. In his three years of SEC experience, he has shown that he is an outstanding pass blocker. In 14 games last season, Thomas allowed only nine quarterback pressures. He is not as good of a run blocker as Wills or Wirfs, but he is athletic enough to be a solid run blocker, especially in the Browns’ zone scheme.

#4 Mekhi Becton (Louisville)

Becton, the left tackle at Louisville, is the biggest of the four tackles at 6’8″ and 360 pounds. Becton is an outstanding athlete, but he can get a little sloppy with this technique at times, especially in pass protection. We think these are things an NFL coaching staff can help him improve, so while they move him down our rankings, we still rank him as an elite tackle prospect. Becton might need a little more time to reach his potential than the other three tackles, but he is also the youngest of the group. He won’t turn 21 until next month. And he will be ready on day one to be a starting tackle in the NFL.

Which of these guys Andrew Berry and the Browns should select can be debated. What can’t be debated is the need for Cleveland to choose one of them at the 10th pick to secure the future of this offensive line.

Step Two: Sign a Veteran Tackle

Before the Browns get to the draft, they need to already have a new starting offensive tackle on the roster. Neither of last year’s starters, Greg Robinson or Chris Hubbard, should be a starter in 2020. It is quite possible neither is even on the roster in August; Robinson is a free agent, and Hubbard is a candidate to be a salary-cap cut. Signing a new starter in free agency would be a way for Cleveland to send an early message about their dedication to rebuilding the offensive line.

Does the question become what type of player the Browns should be looking for in free agency? There are a lot of options out there, but we think they should target a particular type of player: a veteran on a short contract. The Browns not only need talent at tackle, but they also need leadership. This is a team that has a lot of big personalities but not a lot of strong leadership. A veteran tackle will also be able valuable in helping out a rookie tackle. Signing a veteran on a short contract also gives the team some payroll flexibility with big deals on the horizon for Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield. Cleveland can fill a lot of needs with the right signing. So, who meets the criteria?

Two guys would be perfect fits for the Browns: Jason Peters and Andrew Whitworth. Our top choice would be Peters. He is a 38-year old who has spent 16 seasons in the NFL, including the last 11 with the Philadelphia Eagles. Peters has made nine Pro Bowls and has been named First-Team All-Pro twice and Second-Team All-Pro four times. With age has come some injury problems, but when he is healthy, he is still one of the better tackles in the NFL. Even at 38, Peters still has enough left in the tank to come in and be the starting left tackle.  And with his resume, Peters can go right in and be a leader for both the offensive line and the team.

Andrew Whitworth is another 38-year old who would be an excellent signing for the Browns. Whitworth, a 14-year veteran, has been to 4 Pro Bowls and is a 2-time First-Team All-Pro and has also been a Second-Team All-Pro once. He spent the last three seasons with the Rams and continues to play at a high level; last season, Whitworth only allowed one sack. Whitworth also has a lot of experience in the AFC North after playing his first 11 seasons in Cincinnati.

Either option, Peters or Whitworth, would be a perfect fit for the Cleveland Browns’ offensive line. They both offer quality, experience, and leadership. It would also allow the team to put a little less pressure on their rookie offensive tackle, by enabling them to start on the right side of the line.

Step Three: Sign a Starting Guard

Once the Browns fill their needs at tackle, they need to look inside at right guard. Last season, Cleveland used both Eric Kush and Wyatt Teller at the position, but neither played at a high level. The Browns need to look for a value-priced guard in free agency to fill this need. The best candidate out there is Stefen Wisniewski.

Wisniewski is a nine-year veteran who played for the Super Bowl champion Chiefs last season. He is not a big name, but he does bring a lot of experience and played well in his five starts in Kansas City. He also offers the team some position flexibility, as he has starting experience at both guard and center. Wisniewski could fill the right guard spot until a young guard, perhaps Drew Forbes or a 2020 draft pick, is ready to take over. He would also have a minimal impact on the salary cap, which is essential for a team with a lot of needs to fill.

Step Four: Draft a Developmental Tackle

Once they fill the starting spots, the Browns will still need to find a developmental tackle to groom to take over for whichever veteran they sign. Either Peters or Whitworth would be a short-term option, so the team must have a cheap replacement ready to go in a year or two. There are a lot of mid-round tackles the Browns could target, but our two favorite options are Hakeem Adeniji and Yasir Durant.

Hakeem Adeniji is a 6’4″ 300lbs offensive tackle from Kansas. He shows more ability as a pass blocker than a run blocker. However, he is athletic and could be a good run blocker in a zone scheme. Adeniji also offers some position flexibility. He has experience at both guard and center at Kansas.

Yasir Durant is a 6’7″ 330lbs offensive tackle from Missouri. He is a good pass blocker with a strong anchor and the ability to mirror and slide. With his size, Durant can engulf rushers. He isn’t quite as good as a run blocker but still shows talent and does have experience in a zone scheme.

Both players should be around at picks 97 (3rd Round) and 115 (4th Round) and would be great options for the Browns at either spot.

The Cleveland Browns have an opportunity to be a playoff team in 2020, but only if they are aggressive in rebuilding their offensive line. By taking these four steps, Cleveland can take their biggest weakness and turn it into one of their biggest strengths. The bonus is that they can do it all relatively inexpensively. It would allow the team to focus more money on their other needs, including linebacker and safety. With the new CBA agreement in place, seven teams will make the playoffs in 2020. If the Browns follow this plan, they could be one of those seven teams.

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