Before last season, the offensive line had Kevin Zeitler firmly at right guard. Although Zeitler had never been selected to the Pro Bowl, he was considered by many right on the cusp of such an honor. Then, he was shipped off to the New York Football Giants for defensive end Olivier Vernon straight up.
The reasoning for the trade was that the Browns already had the heir apparent to Zeitler on the roster with Austin Corbett. He was a second-round pick of Cleveland in the 2018 NFL draft and was supposed to become the eventual starter. Suddenly, the term “eventual” became “now” in one swoop of the trade stick.
There became a cog in that plan: Corbett struggled. In fact, by the third preseason game, he wasn’t even playing guard any longer and was listed as the backup center to J.C. Tretter. Oops.
On opening day, the starting right guard was Eric Kush. By mid-season, Wyatt Teller had supplanted Kush and held the position until the disappointing 6-10-0 season concluded and head coach Freddie Kitchens was shown the door just hours after giving the hapless Cincinnati Bengals their second-only win of the season.
If Las Vegas was to give odds on who would win this year’s right guard position, the best odds would be laid on Drew Forbes. The Browns scouting department spent endless hours scouting Forbes and then selected him in the sixth-round of the 2019 draft with the idea that he would become a starter somewhere along the offensive line. As a rookie in camp, he impressed but sustained a knee injury which landed him on IR for much of the season.
Forbes was then activated in November and appeared in two games without much fanfare. But the hope was that he would come into training camp this year and not only compete for the starting right guard spot, but possibly win it.
And then along came this pandemic thingy. The NFL suddenly had a new player category: opt outs. These are athletes who are still roster members yet aren’t injured yet will be paid to not play during the 2020 season.
What exactly are opt-outs, how do they qualify, and how much will they be paid? Glad you asked.
Basically, any player could sit out the entire 2020 season and yet be paid to remain home, however, with stipulations.
For one, they had to submit in writing their intention to do so as a volunteer. Secondly, the player received a diagnosis that he has a high-risk condition (there is a lengthy list that apply), or is hospitalized, or relocates to a medical facility because of the virus, or has a family member who has passed away because of coronavirus.
Another condition for an opt out is that players must be under a current contract or subject to a tender. Because of the opt out, they will not receive an accrued season. Also, they will be paid $150,000 but comes as a salary advance. However, higher-risk players who opt out do receive an accrued season plus are eligible to receive $350,000 which is not paid as an advance. Undrafted free agents are not eligible for either.
There are a few players with the Browns that took the opt out, but for this article the most significant are Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett and Malcolm Pridgeon - all offensive guards. With this many offensive linemen not being relied on this season whatsoever, it definitely thinned the herd. Cleveland has had to scramble to invite men who are definitely going to play to come in and compete for the starting position, become potential backups, just camp fodder, or snag one of those “protected” practice squad slots.
The fight for right
The Browns will have a fight for the right guard slot and it is currently going on. Who will become the starter on opening day? Only offensive line coach Bill Callahan has an idea, and he’s not saying. Our experts here at DBN debate who will be the last two to duke it out for the starting right guard slot for opening day. But first, let’s look at the candidates:
Evan Brown (6’-2”, 302 pounds) Experience: 2
Casey Dunn (6’-3”, 292 pounds) Experience: 2
Michael Dunn (6’-5”, 307 pounds) Experience: 1
Nick Harris (6’-1”, 302 pounds) Experience: R
Chris Hubbard (6’-4”, 295 pounds) Experience: 7
Kendall Lamm (6’-5”, 310 pounds) Experience: 6
Wyatt Teller (6’-4”, 315 pounds) Experience: 3
Willie Wright (6’-3”, 300 pounds) Experience: 1
The starting right guard position appears to be Wyatt Teller’s to lose — and that could be a problem.
Teller stepped into the starter’s role midway through last season and, to put it as nicely as possible, was not very good. He allowed 16 quarterback pressures, was possibly even worse in the run game as he picked up a run-blocking grade of 48.2 from Pro Football Focus (PFF) and finished with season with an overall PFF grade of 56.7.
Those in Teller’s camp are banking on the fact that he will have right tackle Jack Conklin instead of Chris Hubbard lining up on his outside, which should hopefully improve Teller’s performance on game days. Going through a full training camp with the Browns, as opposed to joining the team at the end of the preseason as he did last year, should also be beneficial to Teller.
If Teller can at least be average, then the Browns will be set with the starting five along the offensive line. If he pulls an Austin Corbett, however, the team could be in trouble because the backup options are not very appealing.
Teller vs. Hubbard: the most likely option behind Teller will probably end up being Hubbard, who the Browns view as a versatile option as a second-team guard after restructuring his contract during the off-season.
Hubbard might not be appealing choice, but the list of names behind him gets progressively more dicey. You could probably put the names of Willie Wright, Evan Brown and Michael Dunn in a bag and get the same level of play no matter which name you draw out.
Unless the club signs a veteran like Ronald Leary, Hubbard appears to be the best bet to grab the backup guard spot given his perceived versatility.
Wyatt Teller - After starting the back half of last season at right guard, Teller was the only right guard remaining near the start of training camp due to players opting out. Seeing growth in a player is important, and Teller did just that with some improved pass blocking in his final five games. He only allowed one sack in 2019, and his run blocking progressively improved too. He has the potential to be a stable right guard, but I don’t think he’ll have a higher ceiling than that.
Chris Hubbard - The Browns weren’t happy enough with Hubbard as their starting right tackle, but they liked him enough to restructure his contract to keep him with the team. First and foremost, he will be a versatile backup, who can fill in at either tackle position. But I also think Cleveland would be crazy to not evaluate how Hubbard performs at right guard. Sure, maybe it won’t be a good fit — but sometimes, the unknown can lead to something unexpected. Hubbard commanded a big contract for a reason a few years ago, and maybe a switch to right guard is the way to reignite his career.
Ultimately, I’m not expecting a miracle for Hubbard to start at right guard. He’s played the role of backup tackle in camp, and if Cleveland was serious about letting him compete at right guard, they’d have tried it by now. It’s Teller’s job to lose, and right now, he’s not losing it.
It was so much easier just to place Drew Forbes’ name on the lineup card, but for now, my choice is Wyatt Teller vs. Michael Dunn.
Teller has the experience as a plus and was the second half starter last season, but all those coaches are gone so the slate is clean. He has started a ton of NFL games to be so young. He is a solid player, very strong and can be seen downfield still blocking. Aggressive is his best attribute, but his play speed is just average. Only two penalties called on him last year and just a single sack allowed are both huge pluses. His PFF grade of 56.7 is discouraging though.
Dunn has limited NFL experience, but was a starter in both the AAF and also the XFL and performed very well. He has great size with an imposing physique and can plug into the guard spot beside veteran Jack Conklin very nicely. And he is only 25 years old. In watching college tape of him while at Maryland, he has a great first step and can take on stronger defensive linemen. He began his career at Maryland where? Right guard.
Dunn is very durable (37 straight starts) and was a four-year starter in college.
My thoughts are Teller will win the position mainly for his already proven experience of 16 NFL starts.
For the RG spot I’ll focus on two guys who were on the roster last year: Wyatt Teller vs. Chris Hubbard.
Hubbard was a punchline last year, and while he didn’t play his best football he also certainly wasn’t the lone issue with the offense. Hubbard frankly looked like he was playing hurt for most of the year, which was a problem because he is barely athletic enough to hold up on the edge normally. Throw in a Freddie Kitchens off-season workout plan that tried to make the entire offense as heavy as possible at all costs, and it was a rough end of the year for Hubbard. RT’s have faced too much criticism for a decade or more in Cleveland, simply because they played opposite the best pass protector the world has ever seen (and now they get to play opposite his myth, I’m not sure which is worse). Hubbard looked like he got hurt early and just never made it back. We could do a lot worse than a healthy Hubbard.
Fast forward a year, and almost everything has changed. The man who brought Hubbard in and gave him a big payday is gone. Kitchens is gone, as is his power run game and many collective pounds from the waistlines of the Browns’ offense. Also notably gone are a lot of dollars from Hubbard’s contract, which is probably why he’s still with the team. To me this signals that the new HC/GM combo believe Hubbard can fill in as a versatile offensive lineman who can play G or T in this scheme. Why else would they go through the trouble of restructuring Hubbard’s deal? And while Stefanski’s offense will demand more quickness on the edge, it should also demand less power inside, which is why I think RG is Hubbard’s best spot on the line (also, Jedrick Wills, Jr. and Jack Conklin have the T spots locked down).
As for Teller, this job looks like it is his to lose. I don’t think he is the ideal fit at the position, but he showed some athleticism last year when he played. If he gives us what he gave us last year but with an advanced knowledge of the new scheme he’ll be more than adequate. If he can demonstrate a bit of improved bend to be able to play a touch lower on top of that we might have a multi-year starter. Guards don’t need to be elite in this offense.
In the end, I think Teller wins this job. Hubbard is good and versatile enough to keep around, and his knowledge of the scheme and his years of experience will come in handy in case someone gets hurt or sick on the line. Also, shout-out to Nick Harris here, who I think is going to be incredibly good but is probably a Center only (as a starter). With Teller starting, Harris backing up the interior three positions, and Hubbard backing up the exterior 4 positions, we could probably afford to carry as few as eight OL on the 53-man roster and more TE/WR/FB for Stefanski to tinker with. That’s not half bad.
What say you? Who will win the starting right guard spot?
This poll is closed