The Cleveland Browns closed out the 2019 season with an offensive line in crisis.
The team dealt with poor play from starting offensive tackles Greg Robinson, who allowed a team-high 11 penalties and 26 quarterback pressures, and Chris Hubbard, who allowed a team-high 38 quarterback pressures and six sacks.
Right guard was not much better, as the Browns went from bad in Eric Kush, who allowed 19 quarterback pressures in seven games with a run-blocking grade of 46.8, to just as bad in Wyatt Teller, who allowed 16 quarterback pressures with a run-blocking grade of 48.2.
General manager Andrew Berry took one look at that and went to work in the offseason to fix the issue by signing right tackle Jack Conklin in free agency and selecting left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Several teams poured significant resources into improving their unit up front, with some doing so more successfully than others. Over the course of free agency and the draft, one team did more than any other to improve its offensive line ⬇️ #GoBrowns https://t.co/tr2jJPaCBN— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) May 13, 2020
Those moves landed the Browns at No. 1 on Pro Football Focus’ list of the most improved offensive lines heading into 2020:
The lack of production the Browns got from Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard at their starting tackle spots in 2019 hindered the offense in what was supposed to be a breakthrough campaign in Baker Mayfield’s second season. The Browns’ tackles graded out at 57.5 overall last season, ranking 30th in the NFL (ahead of only the Dolphins and Chargers).
Cleveland began its offensive line rebuild by targeting arguably the top offensive lineman on the market in free agency — 25-year-old right tackle Jack Conklin. He is coming off arguably the best year of his career in 2019, earning an 80.5 overall grade and dominating in the run game, where he earned an 83.7 run-blocking grade while paving the way for Derrick Henry in Tennessee. He’s not exactly a sure thing when it comes to one-on-one pass protection against some of the better edge defenders in the NFL, but he’s serviceable there, which is a definitive upgrade over what Cleveland had last season. His prowess as one of the better run-blocking tackles in the NFL should play well in Kevin Stefanski’s new offense, clearing room to run for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
The Browns then came back with Jedrick Wills in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, securing what they hope to be the bookends on the offensive line for years to come. Wills is a very good athlete, and he uses that to his advantage as a run blocker, getting out in space and up to the second level on linebackers. At Alabama last season, Wills earned a 90.5 run-blocking grade to go along with an 82.5 grade in pass protection. At just under 21 years old, there is still plenty of time for him to continue to improve technically, and he has all the physical tools to become one of the league’s top tackles.
While the addition of Conklin and Wills should help the Browns take a major step toward ensuring the continued good health of quarterback Baker Mayfield, they still have the issue at right guard.
Teller will face competition in training camp from second-year player Drew Forbes, a sixth-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft who spent most of the season on injured reserve, and possibly Nick Harris, a fifth-round selection in this year’s draft who has potential, but is projected to be better at center than guard.
There is also the possibility that the Berry will take a hard look at Larry Warford, a three-time Pro Bowl right guard who was released last week by the New Orleans Saints for salary cap reasons.
Even if the Browns decide to stay with the status quo and hope that some combination of Teller, Forbes and Harris can at least be average at right guard, the additions of Conklin and Wills to left guard Joel Bitonio and center JC Tretter have the team in a far better place than they were at the end of 2019.