With our tight end previews complete, it is time to turn our attention to the offensive line position. This will be broken down into three parts, starting with Jedrick Wills, Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter, and Jack Conklin. Part 2 will focus more on the primary backups/contenders for the starting right guard position.
1. Jedrick Wills Jr. - Starting LT
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 312 lbs | Age: 21
Experience: Rookie | College: Alabama
We knew the Browns were going to draft a left tackle with their first-round pick. It was between one of four players, and Cleveland said that they were stunned that Jedrick Wills, their No. 1 offensive tackle, fell right into their lap.
Wills has great power and athleticism, particularly excelling against the run. Jake Burns of the OBR has a full film breakdown of him here. The biggest question is the one that I had on him pre-draft: he was a right tackle in college, so how effective will his re-programming to left tackle be as a rookie? It may be particularly difficult to start off the season, considering teams were not able to have OTA’s, minicamps, etc. that they normally would have had to get ready for the upcoming season. Here is what Dane Brugler said about Wills, his top-ranked offensive tackle:
A two-year starter at Alabama, Wills lined up as the right tackle in offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s scheme, allowing only one sack over his 39 games for the Tide. He protected Tua Tagovailoa’s blindside in college and while he has the talent to switch over to left tackle, all of his in-game snaps in high school and college came at right tackle, creating an unknown in his evaluation. A fired-up competitor, Wills looks like a man among boys as a run blocker, driving defenders off the ball and never passing on an opportunity to bury. He needs continued growth as a technician, but he has steadily developed in pass protection, gaining proper depth in his kickslide with fluid steps. Overall, Wills is a balanced, light-footed big man with the explosive power, aggressive mentality and budding confidence that should translate very well to the NFL level, projecting as a long-term NFL starter with All-Pro upside.
Cleveland has really talked up the fact that Bill Callahan will be Wills’ offensive line coach, and that he helped Tyron Smith make a successful transition from right tackle to left tackle in college. Hopefully Callahan can use his knowledge to fast track Wills’ conversion. Here is what former Browns LT Joe Thomas said about Wills:
Wills Pros; change of direction, ability to create power, ability to stop power quickly, mobility, technique is clearly the best in the draft, size— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) April 20, 2020
Cons; if you watch a lot of his tape, he has had some mental lapses with penalties and getting lulled to sleep by lesser opponents
I’m optimistic about Wills, but I don’t expect him to be an elite player from Day 1, especially with the pandemic shortening the practice time he’s had to make his transition. He should certainly be better than Greg Robinson and company from the start, though.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. Joel Bitonio - Starting LG
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 320 lbs | Age: 28
Experience: 7 years | College: Nevada
It seems like yesterday to me that Joel Bitonio was a rookie, or in his first or second year. Rub your eyes a bit, shake your head, and realize that he’s now entering his seventh season with the Browns, and only recently started to gain some more national recognition despite being as solid as they come. Bitonio has made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons, and has been named a second-team All-Pro in those same two seasons.
Despite some overall offensive line struggles in 2019, Bitonio was solid, particularly as a pass blocker. Pro Football Focus highlighted just how dominant he was in that area for the second half of the season:
Since coming off the bye in Week 9, #Browns Joel Bitonio has 300 pass-blocking snaps.— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) December 26, 2019
He allowed THREE total pressures and ZERO sacks.
His 99.5 pass-blocking efficiency is 2nd in the NFL over that span.
Bitonio had the best run-blocking grade among the starters, although it was not the best mark among overall guards (making what Nick Chubb was able to accomplish all-the-more impressive). I have confidence in Bitonio to adjust well to Kevin Stefanski’s offense, and am curious to see how he will do as a run blocker in the system.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
3. JC Tretter - Starting C
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 307 lbs | Age: 29
Experience: 8 years | College: Cornell
Besides Bitonio, JC Tretter was just as reliable at the center position last year. As the season went on, it became a pressing matter to make sure his contract was extended, and the Browns were able to do that in November: a 3-year extension worth $32.5 million with more than $23 million in guaranteed money. That extension keeps he and Bitonio with the Browns through the 2022 season. In mid-November last year, Nick Shook from Around the NFL highlighted these impressive rankings for Tretter from Pro Football Focus:
- 8th-best overall-graded C
- 9th-best pass-blocking OL (2nd-best C)
- 16th-best run-blocking C
This past March, Tretter became a much more prominent figure in the NFL, as he was elected head of the NFL Players Association. Because of that, he has been at the forefront of messaging and representation in the NFLPA with respect to players returning to football this coming season. Cleveland also drafted rookie center Nick Harris this year, a player they seem really high on. I don’t think there are any intentions to replace Tretter, at least not this season, but rather that center can be a key piece in this blocking scheme, so drafting a backup for insurance was a nice luxury.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
4. Jack Conklin - Starting RT
Height: 6-6 | Weight: 308 lbs | Age: 25
Experience: 5 years | College: Michigan State
The Browns’ first big splash in free agency this offseason was to sign Jack Conklin to a 3-year deal worth $42 million with $30 million fully guaranteed. The three-year nature of the deal puts him on the same expiration date as Bitonio and Tretter.
Conklin was the 8th overall pick for the Titans back in 2016. He was solid in his four years with the team, so Cleveland is getting him right in his prime. The one thing we need to put into perspective is that despite the contract he received, Conklin is not going to be the most dominant right tackle in the NFL. However, just like Bitonio and Tretter are very solid players, Conklin falls into that same category, which is such a drastic improvement over the likes of Chris Hubbard the past couple of seasons.
The scouting report on Conklin is that he’s an above average pass protector, but still not a player who you always leave on an island against the elite pass-rushers of the NFL. Where he excels is as a run blocker, and the thought of that for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt has me salivating.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
How well do you think Jedrick Wills’ transition to left tackle will be for the first half of 2020?
This poll is closed
He will be above average right out of the gate!
He will be about average to start off the year
I’m expecting him to struggle in some spots — but not a disaster.
A disaster. Cam Erving-like.