The Cleveland Browns should have one of the league’s top offenses in 2021 after making a major leap last season.
But while quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb and wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. pull down the headlines, everything starts up front with the offensive line, which finished the 2020 season as the league’s top unit.
Cleveland’s skill players thrived on offense thanks to the additions of right tackle Jack Conklin and left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., the offseason transformation of right guard Wyatt Teller, the continued top play of left guard Joel Bitonio and center JC Tretter, and the addition of veteran offensive line coach Bill Callahan to the coaching staff.
It is no surprise, then, that 80 percent of Cleveland’s starting offensive line landed very high on Pro Football Focus’ preseason rankings of the best players at their various positions.
First up is the guard duo of Bitonio (No. 4 in the rankings) and Teller (No. 9), making the Browns the only team to have two players ranked in the Top 10.
Bitonio, who is the longest-tenured player on the roster, was praised for his pass blocking:
Passing is king in today’s NFL, and you can make a good case that Browns guard Joel Bitonio is the best pass-blocking guard in football. He has put up PFF pass-blocking grades above 80.0 for five straight seasons and has topped 85.0 each year since 2017. Bitonio gave up a sack in the Week 1 debacle against Baltimore and then didn’t allow another over the rest of the season.
Teller, meanwhile, was lauded for his work in the run game:
Teller enjoyed a breakout season for the Browns in 2020 that saw him leap to prominence as the best run-blocker in the game. He finished the year with a run-blocking grade of 93.6, one of the best we have ever seen over a season. His pass-blocking wasn’t quite at the same level, and he was responsible for three sacks over the year, but the Browns could have something special on their hands if he can tidy that up in 2021.
Staying on the interior of the line, Tretter checks in at No. 4 overall among centers:
Few players outside of Hudson have matched Tretter’s pass-protection dominance over the course of his NFL career. Dating back to part-time roles with the Packers in 2015 and 2016, Tretter has recorded pass-blocking grades above 80.0 in six consecutive seasons. He also earned the highest run-blocking grade (76.5) of his career with the Browns this past season. The result was an 81.0 PFF grade that fell short of only Linsley at the position in 2020.
Finally, at tackle, Conklin was ranked at No. 12, just missing out on being the fourth member of the line to earn a Top 10 spot:
Conklin excelled in his first season as a Cleveland Brown, finishing with a top-10 PFF grade for the first time in his NFL career. He previously had multiple 80.0-plus seasons that came close, but he finally got over that hump with an 84.0 mark in 2020. Regardless of the run concept, Conklin routinely opened up lanes for Cleveland’s 1-2 punch, and he also performed better than ever on true pass sets. He finished inside the top 15 in both run-blocking grade and true pass set grade in 2020.
The Browns offense is one of the main reasons why the team is considered a candidate for the Super Bowl this upcoming season.
And if that comes true, it will be thanks in large part to the dirty work put in by the guys on the offensive line.