The Cleveland Browns finished off their 2018 season with a 7-8-1 record. The season had its ups and downs, but overall it was a productive year that has raised hopes for the franchise going forward. Freddie Kitchens is now the head coach of the Browns and this offseason should have a lot different feel to it because of the success the team felt this season. But, before we get to the offseason, let’s go over what transpired this past season in our final report cards. We will now turn our attention to the Browns offensive line and how they graded out in 2018.
Overall Grade: B
Joel Bitonio: A
Kevin Zeitler: A
JC Tretter: B+
Chris Hubbard: C
Greg Robinson: C-
Desmond Harrison: D
Austin Corbett: INC
Kyle Kalis: INC
Earl Watford: INC
Top Grade: Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler
The centerpieces of the Browns offensive line are the two guards, Bitonio and Zeitler. They form one of the best guard duos in the entire league. Both players are best when in pass protection, with Zeitler allowing just 11 total pressures this season and Bitonio allowing just 13 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Both, though, are complete blockers with the ability to run block with the best of them. They both led a Browns interior offensive line that may be considered one of the best, if not the best in the entire league. They are the pillars of the offensive line for many more years to come.
Biggest Strength: Interior Offensive Line
Left guard Joel Bitonio, center JC Tretter and right guard Kevin Zeitler form one of the better interior offensive lines in the NFL. As I noted above, Bitonio and Zeitler are two great guards, who lead the offensive line as the pillars of line. But, Tretter is no slouch. Tretter rebounded from a down 2017 to have a good 2018 season. The three allowed the Browns to keep quarterback Baker Mayfield’s face clean, so he can have the throwing lanes to make the throws. The Browns should leave this trio alone because it is one of the best interior lines in the league.
Biggest Need: Offensive Tackle
The offensive tackle spots are the areas on the line that brought the overall offensive line grade down for me. The three main offensive tackles who saw action this season were either average or below average. The Browns can definitely upgrade this position this offseason. Left tackle is the biggest weakness of the two tackle spots. Both Greg Robinson and Desmond Harrison tried their hand at left tackle last season. Harrison was bad, while Robinson was better, but not close to being the sure fire fix for the position.1 At right tackle, Chris Hubbard was average at best. He had his ups and downs, but he was not a player who should automatically receive a spot next season. The Browns could look to get two new offensive tackles next season.
2019 NFL Draft Priority: High
The Browns need to protect their cornerstone, Baker Mayfield, and so figuring out the offensive tackle spots is really important this offseason. The Browns will need to evaluate this position and look to upgrade it both through the NFL Draft and free agency. The first shot will be in free agency. The need is an important one that the Browns could use a first or second-round pick on offensive tackle if the right player is on the board and the value is there.
2019 Free Agency/Trade Priority: High
The Browns should look to help upgrade their offensive tackle positions in free agency. There are a lot of really talented offensive tackles on the market with many of them being young players with a lot of years to go in their careers. Some of the options in free agency are Trent Brown, Donovan Smith, Daryl Williams, Bobby Massie and Ja’Wuan James. These names include both left and right tackles. There are a lot of good tackles on the market this season who can be upgrades for the Browns.
The Browns offensive line improved throughout the season with the line playing its best at the end of the season. There were a lot of factors in this improvement. The first was the change from Desmond Harrison to Greg Robinson at left tackle. Robinson played better than the struggling Harrison, which helped settle the line down. But, the biggest factors to the improvement were quarterback Baker Mayfield and the play calling of Freddie Kitchens. Mayfield was able to get the ball out of his hands quicker under the play calling of Kitchens, while the quarterback also helped create more time with his pocket mobility. The urgency and need for offensive tackle help have definitely simmered a bit because of the found realization that both the quarterback and play calling can aid the offensive line and the pressure they face.
But, I am in still in the position that the Browns should look to upgrade their offensive tackles. The interior offensive line needs no changes this offseason, but the tackle spots can use some better play. I would not place the need above many of the other needs on defense, but if the value and opportunity is there, the Browns should upgrade their tackle positions. Chris Hubbard was OK last season. Greg Robinson was a definite improvement at left tackle over Desmond Harrison, but Robinson has been largely a bust throughout his career. So, relying on just a half of a season for Robinson to answer the ever-important left tackle job is a risky move. The free agency market is really enticing for me and I think the Browns could use their big cap space to nab one or even two of them to shore up the tackle spots and make this an even better offensive line. An addition or additions will also help improve the depth of the offensive line, too. I just would not be totally confident in the offensive line if the Browns decide to go into next season with these same tackles.