We continue WFNY’s grading period of the 2017 Cleveland Browns season by taking a look at the offensive line position. The offensive line will finish our examination of the offense for the 2017 season.
The Browns offensive line saw an immense upgrade over the last offseason. The Browns added two big money free agents last offseason, signing guard Kevin Zeitler and center J.C. Tretter. So, the Browns went into the 2017 NFL season with Joe Thomas at left tackle, Joel Bitonio at left guard, J.C. Tretter at center, Kevin Zeitler at right guard and Shon Coleman at right tackle. Let’s take a look at how the position graded out in 2017.
Overall Grade: B-
Joe Thomas: A
Joel Bitonio: A
Kevin Zeitler: A-
J.C. Tretter: B-
Shon Coleman: C
Spencer Drango: C-
Zach Banner: INC
Chris Barker: INC
Geoff Gray: INC
Rod Johnson: INC
Marcus Martin: INC
Austin Reiter: INC
Top Grade(s): Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio
The offensive line had a tie for the top grade in the unit, between Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio. Joe Thomas played in just seven games, but in those seven games, he performed to his Hall of Fame stature. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just 11 total pressures in the 300 pass blocking snaps he took. Of the tackles who played in at least 75% of their team’s passing plays over the first seven weeks, Thomas allowed the fourth fewest pressures. He is a player, who still was at the top of his game with not much drop off given his age. He was the player that he always has been, the steady force on the left side of the line. The only reason he did not earn a perfect grade is because of his injury causing him to miss the majority of the season.
Joel Bitonio finally played an entire season and his performance earned him a top grade in the unit. Bitonio had a season where he did not get a lot of talk, but an offensive guard that is a good thing because it means he is not getting beat a lot or giving up much pressures. According to Pro Football Focus, the left guard gave up just 24 pressures in the Browns 679 passing plays. That is the 15th fewest pressures allowed by any guard, who played in at least 75% of their team’s passing snaps. With Thomas missing most of the season, Bitonio’s presence on the left side helped limit the damage of missing Thomas.
Biggest Strength: Offensive Guard
The Browns might have the best offensive guard duo in the entire league. Kevin Zeitler and Joel Bitonio both played pretty well for the Browns this past season. They both played every snap for the team and were good in both run and pass situations. Bitonio is just 26, while Zeitler is 27 years old, meaning the Browns have a pair of guards in their prime, who can be the guards for many years to come. Having two spots on the offensive line shored up by two players in their prime and under contract for multiple years is a luxury for the Browns.
Biggest Need: Offensive Tackle
The Browns offensive tackle position is in a bit of an interesting position. At left tackle, Joe Thomas has been the stalwart at that spot, but he missed the majority of the season with an injury. With his age and the injury this past season, Thomas’ future with the team is up in the air. Will he be back next season and if so is that his final season with the Browns? So, the Browns should be in the market to find a left tackle for the future in the event Thomas finally calls it quits. But, at right tackle, Shon Coleman did not clinch the position with a great performance this season. He was up and down all season, giving some questions of whether he is the answer for the Browns at right tackle. The Browns might need to address right tackle if they think an upgrade is warranted.
The Browns offensive line did not perform to the level I expected it to, but overall the line was solid this past season. The addition of Kevin Zeitler at right guard created a great guard duo with Joel Bitonio. Both players were strong this season. The other new addition to the offensive line, center J.C. Tretter, did not play as well as Zeitler, but he was OK in the middle of the line and I think is a good piece for the future of the line. Right tackle Shon Coleman had an up and down year. I am going to give him another year because this past season was his first full season as a starter. He is developing and learning the position. Joe Thomas’ snap streak finally ended after he suffered a season ending injury in Week 7. Before the injury, he was performing like Joe Thomas. In replace of Thomas, Spencer Drango stepped into the left tackle spot. I thought he outperformed my expectations, but overall he showed that he is not starting quality left tackle. He was an OK stop gap, in my opinion.
I think another year together, the Browns offensive line will perform better and become one of the best in the league. But, there are some things the Browns need to do before next season. The number one task is figuring out the future of Joe Thomas. Will he come back next season? Will that then be it for the Hall of Famer? The Browns must answer these questions first. Then, they should look to find possible replacements, either in the draft or free agency. The Browns should not wait to find a replacement when he finally leaves, but be proactive in their search for a future left tackle. The Browns also must figure out if they are comfortable with Shon Coleman at right tackle. The tackle position will be the spot to watch on the offensive line this offseason.
The Browns will start the season next year with the same starting five they had going into 2017. That means Joe Thomas will return for at least one more season.