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Football Outsiders talks about the Browns’ change at center in 2017

In Part 2 of our preview with Football Outsiders, we hear some about the potential of the team’s offensive line, specifically at the center position.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

In Part 1 of our interview with Football Outsiders, they talked about their pessimistic outlook for QB DeShone Kizer and how WR Kenny Britt is a bit underrated. In Part 2 of our interview, Vincent Verhei breaks down the change at center on the offensive line with some stuff that comes straight from their 2017 Almanac, which costs just $20 for the PDF version.

DBN:Cameron Erving was the team's starting center this year and a major liability at center. Besides adding Kevin Zeitler this offseason to their starting offensive line, Cleveland signed J.C. Tretter, formerly of the Packers. Just how big of a difference will we notice between Erving and Tretter?”

Vince: “Forgive me for quoting myself from the Almanac, but this bit about Cleveland's interior line includes some of our favorite stats from this year's book:

You’d be hard pressed to find an NFL team that suffered a bigger talent drop-off at any one position from 2015 to 2016 than the Browns did at center. While Alex Mack was voted to another Pro Bowl in Atlanta (a game Mack missed because he was preparing to play in the Super Bowl instead), Cam Erving and the Browns were struggling just to function in Cleveland. The Browns surrendered 19 sacks to defensive tackles and 10 more to inside linebackers. No other team gave up more than 11 or five, respectively. The Browns were 27th in adjusted line yards [Football Outsiders' stat that attempts to measure a team's run blocking by limiting the effects of big runs and adding penalties for hits in the backfield] on runs up the middle and tied for first in fumbled snaps, and Erving was one of five centers with at least seven penalties."

Given the wretched state of Cleveland's centers last year, Tretter should be a big upgrade almost by default, but let's not expect the second coming of Mike Webster either. Including the playoffs, Tretter only started 11 games in four seasons in Green Bay. Last season, he was 33rd out of 39 centers in rate of snaps per blown block. So he'll almost surely be better than what Cleveland had at the position in 2016 (it's not like he could be much worse), but this position will likely need a bigger upgrade somewhere down the line.”

It’s a little surprising to hear how low was Tretter ranked by Football Outsiders with respect to blown blocks. We can’t make an apples-to-apples comparison to Pro Football Focus, but they ranked him with the fifth-best pass blocking efficiency in 2016, and the ninth-ranked center overall:

Some other offensive line nuggets we dug out about the offensive line from Football Outsiders included:

  • Cleveland ranked 32nd in the NFL last year in adjusted line runs to the left end, and 23rd when going to the right end.
  • However, the numbers above are misleading, because often times, good runs to the right involve pull/counter runs with LT Joe Thomas and/or LG Joel Bitonio coming across the formation.
  • The Browns lead the NFL in amount of money committed to the offensive line.

We’ve got one more part to go in our preview, which will shift focus to the defensive side of the ball.