Sashi Brown tore the house down to rebuild the foundation. John Dorsey tried a quick flip, but he hired the wrong contractors and put too much focus on having a luxurious pool. The Cleveland Browns believe they have a solid structure in an ideal location with loads of potential, but there are definitely some areas within the team that requires being patched or completely re-worked as Kevin Stefanski takes over the coaching side of the organization. One of those areas is at offensive tackle where replacing both Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard should be considered necessary components facilitating offensive improvements for the 2020 season.
Better play by the tackles will help quarterback Baker Mayfield be able to make more plays from the pocket, help running back Nick Chubb have more lanes to run, and also will help alleviate issues at right guard should the Browns not have enough assets to fix three positions on the offensive line.
The issue is further compounded by the likelihood Stefanski will institute more zone-blocking components in the offense, which is the scheme employed by the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, and Tennessee Titans in last weekend’s conference championship games. Such a scheme puts more emphasis on intelligence,1 intuitiveness,2 quickness,3 and fleetness of foot4 by the offensive line, while de-emphasizing strength and length to a degree.
The vast difference in styles and usage is likely one of the reasons offensive line coach James Campen was not retained despite being a well-respected coach. Obtaining a coach who has taught and understands the scheme is as important as having lineman such as Joel Bitonio and J.C. Tretter who fit the needed elements across the line.
The good news is the 2020 offseason happens to have a plethora of available tackles both in free agency and the upcoming NFL draft. If the Browns are dedicated, then they could find options superior to what they currently employ.
Here are the options and how they could be used to fix the biggest issue holding back the offense.
Conklin and Castonzo had outstanding years, but it is unlikely either reach free agency. If one does, then the Browns should push hard to sign them. There are other decent options for starters– though with bigger questions. Steeler offensive linemen tend to not play as well outside of Pittsburgh as they get coached well in their scheme– for reference, see Hubbard’s time with the Browns. Lucas played well down the stretch upon being thrust into the starting lineup, but he has had limited experience. Perhaps the best option for the Browns in free agency would be to sign 38 year old Jason Peters as a short-term patch or to lure Bryan Bulaga from Green Bay.
There are not many scenarios where the Browns should not select an offensive tackle with the No. 10 overall pick, but the franchise should feel comfortable letting the draft play out to their slot rather than any need to trade up. There are four Tier-1 offensive tackles in this draft worthy of being drafted from the Browns’ post, and many others who would be good backup offensive linemen in later rounds.
Mekhi Becton: The other three OT in the Tier-1 group are 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds. Becton is a monster at 6-foot-7 and 360 pounds. Such girth projects a lineman that would have less functional athleticism, quickness, and agility. However, Becton is equal or better in these areas plus adding advantages in strength and stoutness. A former basketball player, Becton moves with fluidity, finds unblocked defenders in space with ease, and finishes his blocks with ferocity. Despite not many prospect lists having him as a first-round pick during the season, my expectation is that he “rises” up boards as more of the true analysts watch his tape. Unless red flags arise, he is at the top of my wish list for the Browns.
Jedrick Wills: Wills played on the right side at Alabama but would provide value even if he stays there in the NFL. He appears the strongest of these candidates on film with an easy strength to stop incoming rushers. With outstanding balance and form, Wills projects as a fit with nearly any style offense at the next level. The Tide had him moving forward more than laterally, so there could be some concern about his overall agility if he does not test well. The clean technique and film though make him have perhaps the highest floor of any tackle prospect this year.
Andrew Thomas: Thomas was my No. 1 OT prospect before the Browns switched to a more zone-heavy scheme. He has a great base and powerful hands. When tasked with the basic left tackle duties, he is stout and quick. However, his weakness– relative to the others above him here– is his lateral movement and abilities in open space. Those become more prominent deficiencies in the expected scheme. It is a testament to the strength of this tackle class that the ‘fit’ drops such a strong prospect.
Tristan Wirfs: Like Wills, Wirfs played on the right side. He has a great first step and punches to initiate contact with his opposition and his ability to move laterally gives him benefits to exploit. The worry with Wirfs is a lack of agility that has caused him some consternation when needing to deal with speed rushers, which holds him below the other prospects listed here.
The Cleveland Browns have the fancy new pool with the outdoor barbeque. They have a solid foundation and are in a prime location. But, none of that matters if the drywall is falling off the studs throughout the house. It is time for the franchise to replace the offensive tackles and go into the 2020 season ready to showcase what they’ve built.