The Cleveland Browns closed out the 2019 season in a disappointing fashion on several fronts.
One of the most glaring - and most predictable - problems during the season came along the offensive line.
The Browns had a good thing going in 2018 as the team finished the year as the No. 2 ranked offensive line by Pro Football Focus. That effort was the result of the strong efforts from guards Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler, along with center JC Tretter.
That all started to change in the offseason, however, after former general manager John Dorsey decided to trade Zeitler - who just completed his fifth consecutive season of starting at least 15 games - to the New York Giants for defensive end Olivier Vernon - who just completed his third consecutive season of playing 12 games or less.
With no realistic backup plan at right guard, the offense struggled, which is why it is little surprise to see the Browns plummet all the way down to No. 23 in this year’s end-of-season rankings:
Nearly a year ago to the day, the Browns finished the 2018 regular season with our second-ranked offensive line. It’s been a long year for Cleveland. The team’s 2018 success stemmed largely from an interior group that was a wall in pass protection with Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler. Bitonio and Tretter had similar success in the passing game, but the combination of Wyatt Teller (56.8 overall grade) and Eric Kush (45.4 overall grade) had significantly less success than what Zeitler accomplished. That dip in pass protection, in addition to a bottom-10 run-blocking grade from the line, pushes them down the list in 2019.
Bitonio and Tretter delivered their normal stout play along with the line (all PFF grades via cleveland.com). Bitonio finished with an overall grade of 74.2, was the top pass blocker with a grade of 86, and tied for the best run blocker with a grade of 65. Tretter, who pulled down an overall grade of 72, was second in pass blocking with a grade of 85.5 and third in run blocking with a grade of 64.3.
After those two, however, every offensive lineman that Dorsey brought in, with the possible exception of Kendall Lamm, was seemingly on a mission to see who could get quarterback Baker Mayfield injured first:
- Left tackle Greg Robinson? A team-high 11 penalties while allowing 26 quarterback pressures for an overall grade of 66.9.
- Right guard Wyatt Teller? Allowed 16 quarterback pressures - in just 11 games! - and posted a run-blocking grade of 48.2 for an overall grade of 56.7.
- Right tackle Chris Hubbard? A team-high 38 quarterback pressures and six sacks, to go along with eight penalties for an overall grade of 50.6.
- Right guard Eric Kush? Allowed 19 quarterback pressures in seven games before being benched for Teller, and a run-blocking grade of 46.8 for an overall grade of 45.4.
- Tackle/guard Justin McCray? Well, he did share the top run-blocking grade with Bitonio at 65, but he also posted the lowest pass-blocking grade at 41.7, good for an overall grade of 50.9.
- As for right tackle Kendall Lamm, injuries limited him to just three games, and he allowed two quarterback pressures in 43 pass-blocking snaps, finishing with an overall grade of 69.2.
So what should be the takeaways in all this?
For starters, if a player is benched by a team with a worse offensive line than the one you currently have - as Kush was in 2018 with the Chicago Bears - or is on the brink of being released by a team with a worse offensive line than the one you currently have - as Teller was at the end of the 2019 preseason with the Bills - then you probably do not want any part of them.
If you believe that going into a season with Robinson and Hubbard as two of the main people charged with protecting the most valuable asset on your team, then you probably need to re-evaluate just what a viable offensive lineman looks like in the NFL.
Finally, any mock draft that does not include the Browns addressing the tackle position early and often should be trusted about as much as co-owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam when it comes to coaching hires.