In 2018, the Browns had one of the league’s best middle cores on the offensive line with Joel Bitonio at left guard, Kevin Zeitler manning the right guard spot, and J.C. Tretter at center.
Then Zeitler was traded to the New York Football Giants straight up for defensive end Olivier Vernon, and the offensive line hasn’t been the same since.
Then-GM John Dorsey thought he had an ace in his pocket with second-round draft pick Austin Corbett waiting in the wings to fill the void. Besides, Zeitler was about to turn 29 while Corbett was a young man ready to become 24 early in the season. Plus, Corbett was the very first player taken in the second-round of the 2018 draft. That is what is called “late first-round talent at second-round money.”
Vernon had just made the Pro Bowl in 2018 and was New York’s best pass rusher. So in Dorsey’s eyes with Corbett at the ready, this meant he was basically getting Vernon for free.
Corbett was essentially penciled in as the starter on the first day of training camp. There was a microscope nestled directly upon Corbett which hit a snag - he struggled in training camp and in the first two preseason games. Soon, the experiment to supplant Zeitler failed and Corbett, instead of anchoring as the starter at right guard, soon became Tretter’s backup at center - a position he hadn’t played since high school. Corbett began to have an identity crisis and his opportunity to start began to fade with each week of practices and his play in the third preseason game.
In the end, journeyman and former sixth-round pick Eric Kush had won the job. After seven starts and poor play by Kush, the position was then handed to Wyatt Teller, a former fifth-rounder that was acquired in a trade prior to the 2019 season. Teller would finish out the year, Corbett was traded to the Los Angeles Rams while Kush was released this past February.
So, what is the plan for the right guard spot for the upcoming 2020 season? Here’s five possible solutions, in no particular order.
Drew Forbes - Browns
Size: 6’, 5” 303 pounds
Drafted: 2019 Browns Round 6
Awards: Second Team All-Ohio Valley Conference (2017), First Team All-Ohio Valley Conference (2018)
2019 salary: $585,000
In the 2019 NFL draft, the Browns selected seven players. None had as much time, effort and scouting done as the team had performed on Drew Forbes. He was invited to six 30 visits including one the Cleveland brass and coaches had him come in on so that they could get to know him better. Forbes freaked out when he was paraded into the Browns’ locker room and saw Baker Mayfield’s locker. It was at that moment he realized what being considered for the NFL was all about.
Forbes played four sports in high school: soccer, football, basketball and track. A three-year starter at left tackle in college, he was timed at 4.95 in the 40 despite being over 300 pounds. Forbes instantly projected as a guard at the NFL level. He was known as a “finisher” on the offensive line and is considered a tough guy that plays with passion for the game. Forbes is solid blue-collar and is viewed as a promising player.
He had a decent training camp as a rookie. Forbes started one preseason game and then injured his knee in the final preseason game against the Detroit Lions. The Browns thought so much of him that they situated him on the final 53-man roster, and then immediately placed him on IR-designation so that he might be able to return during the season. He was later activated in mid-November. This year he should be able to display that he has all the physical talent to become an NFL starter as long as his development is short. He could become the starter at right guard, or a rotational player, or even considered for the left tackle position. Either way, he has incredible athleticism and versatility.
Fourth-round: Pick #115
Logan Stenberg - Kentucky
Size: 6’, 6” 317 pounds
Awards: First Team All-SEC (2019), Outland Trophy finalist (2019), Second Team All-American (2019)
2019 salary: (none)
If you don’t know this player’s name, most of the NFL coaches and scouts didn’t either until he showed up at the Senior Bowl. He then dominated every single defensive lineman all week at this All-Star event. That included Neville Gallimore, projected to be drafted in the bottom of the first-round. Three-year starter at guard in college. Did not allow a single sack and only one QB pressure his senior season in a tough conference.
Three words: tenacity, versatility, mauler. Projected at either guard or center in the NFL. Is absolutely his best while run blocking and enjoys this aspect in a game the most. Is good at pass protection, but will need some fine-tuning at the next level. Stenberg is considered a finisher and is very powerful. Excellent is quick pass sets and rarely is seen with much separation between himself and the defender. A smart guy who comes to play.
Holds his own in recovery mode and is able to battle men much heavier than himself. Will need lots of study time in order to develop, but has the mental capacity to learn quickly and has a very good understanding of the game. Pulling and hitting his man on the run is a weak point for Stenberg. Also will need to bulk up his lower body more for better anchor support. Has a mean streak.
Joe Thuney – New England Patriots
Size: 6’, 5” 308 pounds
Drafted: 2016 Patriots Round 3
Awards: Second Team All-ACC (2014), First Team All-ACC (2015), All-American (2015), PFWA All-Rookie Team (2016), Second Team All-Pro (2019), Two Time Super Bowl Champion (Patriots)
2019 salary: $1,995,000
The best free agent guard on the market is Brandon Scherff of the Washington Redskins. His last contract was a five-year deal worth $33.7 million including a base salary of $12.5 million last year. Raise your hand of those who believe the Browns will spend that kind of money on a guard.
One word for Thuney: intelligent. Played right guard, backup center and left tackle in college and was a three-year starter. Is ranked the 16th best free agent this year and the fifth-highest guard rating with a 77.4 grade. Is one of the league’s best pass blockers and had just 16 pressures in 693 attempts in 2019. Had a great rookie campaign after winning the left guard spot and started all 16 games. He has steadily improved each season.
Thuney is consistent and is very durable as evidenced by starting every game since he was drafted. Runs a 4.95 in the 40. Sharp and can process assignment changes quickly. Several negatives are his arms are considered too short (32.25”) as well as his hands too small (9 5/8”). However, none of that has stopped him from starting 64 consecutive games and notching two Super Bowl rings.
His size is perfect for the guard position although he played his entire college senior season at left tackle. The move inside to guard is where he has shown his core abilities and functional strength. He would bring not only experience but won’t break the bank.
Third-round: Pick #90
Ben Bredeson - Michigan
Size: 6’, 5” 325 pounds
Awards: USA All-American (high school – 2015), Second Team All-Big 10 (2017), Second Team All-Big 10 (2018), First Team All-Big 10 (2019), Second Team All-American (2019)
2019 salary: (none)
Bredeson is a man among boys. That will change in the NFL, but his mentality will not. Played guard exclusively in college and is very strong. Consistent blocker who is quick and can sustain his blocks. Decent in pass protection. Aggressive. Does well against linebackers once he gets into the second level and is a disciplined athlete. Excellent lateral mobility with very strong legs. Does not possess the best hand fighting abilities and will need to work on sustaining blocks for longer periods.
Was a three-year starter in college at guard in a tough conference against quality defensive linemen. Is a mauler in the run game where he excels. Very tough and is a scrapper. Does have some issues with players of the same girth and weight as himself, but is consistent at moving bodies out of gaps. Very good arm length. Would be able to come in Day 1 and compete for the right guard spot.
Wyatt Teller – Browns
Size: 6’, 4” 315 pounds
Drafted: 2018 Buffalo Bills Round 5
Awards: First Team All-ACC (2017)
2019 salary: $660,000
How did Teller play last year in the seven games he started? He was handed the job from Kush in Week 9 against the Denver Broncos. Teller had his own issues and then again played rather decent. He is a former defensive end and was the Virginia State Defensive Player-of-the Year his senior season of high school. He was moved to the offensive line in college and played both guard spots so versatility is in his resume. He is very strong and a college weight-lifter. He excels at pass protector more so than blocking in the run game mainly because of his long arms and big hands.
Teller graded out at 56.7 on Pro Football Focus, which is middle-of-the-pack numbers. But get this: he had just two penalties called on him all year, tied for second-best in the league among guards. As far as his pass reception, Teller only allowed one sack in his seven starts. And right before he was traded from the Bills to Cleveland, he was their starting left guard for the final seven games in 2018 and graded out at 56.1. He is entering his third season and has 14 total NFL starts - so he has experience.
He is an excellent pass protector but a poor run blocker. His pass blocking grades on PFF were in the upper thirds with a 73.8 rating while his run blocking grades resided in the lower thirds with a sub-standard 32.9 rating. Teller is a young man and is still a cheap contract. How much better would he play if he had somebody really, really good at right tackle beside him? Is it possible that new offensive line coach Bill Callahan can mold Teller into a productive run blocker? Can he show improvement and remain the starting right guard?