That is in large part to an offensive poised to be one of the league’s most exciting, and a rebuilt defense that should lend more than the occasional hand on gamedays.
Everything - at least on offense - starts up front, which is good news as the Browns boast the league’s top-ranked offensive line, according to the preseason rankings at Pro Football Focus.
PFF’s Steve Palazzolo ranked the various units based on not only the quality of their starting five, but also rewarded teams that have quality depth.
The Browns return all five starters from the league’s best offensive line in 2020, a unit that ranked first in pass-blocking grade and second in run-blocking grade. They overhauled the tackle position prior to 2020, and free agent right tackle Jack Conklin delivered with career-highs in both overall grade (84.0) and pass-blocking grade (81.5). Rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. was the weak link on the unit, recording a 62.6 overall grade, but he impressed with a 77.6 pass-blocking grade. His explosiveness in the run game will be an asset if he cleans up some technique issues.
At left guard, Joel Bitonio is coming off a career-high 81.8 run-blocking grade while also earning 85.0-plus marks in pass protection in each of the past four years. Right guard Wyatt Teller was the biggest question mark coming into 2020, but he finished the campaign with the highest overall grade among NFL guards (92.3). Teller brought power and quicks to the run game on his way to a league-high 93.6 run-blocking grade, though he struggled in pass protection down the stretch and finished the season with just a 61.7 mark in that facet.
Center J.C. Tretter was already one of the league’s best, but he posted a career-high grade 81.0 overall grade in 2020, good for second among centers. As for the backups, Chris Hubbard is a solid swing tackle who can play guard, and fourth-rounder James Hudson projects similarly. The Browns return the league’s best offensive line, and while it looks strong on paper, it may be unrealistic to expect four veterans to replicate last year’s career-highs.
There have been several years recently where the Browns had a strong offensive line, but were lacking the other necessary pieces to fully take advantage of the work being done by players like left tackle Joe Thomas, center Alex Mack, guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, to name a few.
Those days are behind them, and with everyone returning on offense for a second season in head coach Kevin Stefanski’s system, the Browns are poised to reap the benefits of running an offense behind the league’s top offensive line.