The Browns offensive line had been pegged as one of the league’s Top 3 groups. That is, as long as all of the starters remain healthy. Conklin is an amazing talent when he is playing, but sadly, is the most injured in this unit. So, when he went down right out of the gate after just 22 snaps with a torn ACL and MCL, heads began to swivel for what to do next, and who exactly would take his place.
The past two seasons, the heir apparent was James Hudson, the former fourth-round prospect out of the University of Cincinnati. In all, Conklin missed 12 games which Hudson filled most of them if veteran Chris Hubbard wasn’t healthy and could be inserted instead.
The surprise from the bench was that instead of Hudson hearing his name called like in the past, it was rookie fourth-rounder Dawand Jones out of Ohio State.
And now, for five games, Jones has been entrenched into the right tackle position. Within those five matches, there have been 377 offensive snaps. Jones has taken 349 of those snap counts.
Several media outlets are stating that the Browns’ offense is well-coached even though they have lost their starting quarterback, starting right tackle, starting running back, starting left guard, and backup left guard.
Jones is a mountain of a man standing 6’-8” and weighing a whopping 360 pounds. He was a bit heavier (374 pounds) when he showed up for training camp and was told to slim down. The word “slim” doesn’t exactly pertain to Jones, but he did lose some weight. The difference was that his first step became quicker. Everyone knows an offensive tackle needs great feet.
Suddenly thrust into action against the Bengals, Jones was pitted against DE Sam Hubbard. The results were astonishing in that Jones played very well and did not appear like he was blocking in his first-ever NFL contest. Hubbard was active in the run stoppage game with eight tackles that game, but he had zero sacks, zero tackles for loss, and zero QB hits.
As Conklin found a new home via the IR list once again, Jones was penciled in to start in Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It should be noted that the Steelers’ defense is usually full of game-changers and is tough to move the ball against. It just so happened that Jones would be lined up with one of the best pass rushers in the league T.J. Watt.
In that game, Cleveland gave away the game with several turnovers that resulted in 17 points for
Pittsburgh. Jones meanwhile held his ground as Watt got just four tackles, two tackles for loss, four QB hits, and a mere sack. This is a guy who has double-digit sacks the past few years and eight so far this season. So, for Jones to give up a single sack to a pass-rushing demon says quite a bit about his progress so early in his young career.
In Weeks 3 and 4 against the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens, respectively, Jones was lined up against Titans DE’s Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry, and Ravens DE Justin Madubuike. Simmons was held-checked to just two tackles with no other stats. Madubuike had one sack, two tackles, two QB hits, and one tackle for loss. However, his sack was on a stunt and not attributed to Jones. Autry also had a sack, but not while he was engaged with Jones.
And then there is the performance Jones put up against the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Nick Bosa of the San Francisco 49ers. At the game’s end, he had three total tackles, one tackle for loss, two QB hits, and one sack.
Needless to say, none of Jones’ defenders have done much. Jones has committed only two penalties and has an overall Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of 60.6.
In the surprise victory over the unbeaten 49ers, the Browns offensive line PFF grades were as follows:
RT Dawand Jones - Overall: 73.5, pass blocking 67.4, run blocking 78.8
C Ethan Pocic - Overall: 71.9, pass blocking 84.2, run blocking 67.2
RG Wyatt Teller - Overall: 69.1, pass blocking 72.3, run blocking 71.4
LT Jedrick Wills - Overall: 69.0, pass blocking 58.3, run blocking 78.1
LG Michael Dunn - Overall: 58.4, pass blocking 38.6, run blocking 62.5
Other rookie nominations
It is no secret that QB C.J. Stroud of the Houston Texans is having a great season. To date, the Texans are suddenly 3-3-0 this year after going 3-13-1 in 2022.
Stroud is currently the eighth-rated quarterback and has 127 completions on 213 attempts for 1,660 yards, nine touchdowns with just one interception, a 59.6 completion percentage, and a 55.5 QB rating.
Other rookies doing well at this point are WR Puka Nacua of the Los Angeles Rams, Miami Dolphins RB De’Von Achane, S Brian Branch and TE Sam LaPorta of the Detroit Lions, and Atlanta Falcons RB Bijan Robinson.
Even in the NFL, Dawand Jones still makes everyone else look small. pic.twitter.com/NXNhcWy0BV— Eleven Warriors (@11W) August 4, 2023
The bummer is that the winner of the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award is usually a skill position player. That is because they are able to generate feasible stats while an offensive lineman has minimal stats and accolades.
But there is no doubt that Jones is playing on a level that should enable his name to be considered.
The big question should be, what’s next for Jones?
In 2020, Conklin was signed to a three-year $42 million extension which would run out after this year. Since that extension, he has been on the COVID list, landed on IR with an elbow injury, and tore his patellar tendon in the right knee.
Then in December of last season, he inked another extension worth $60 million that makes him a roster member for another four years.
It is a fact that Conklin is a very good offensive tackle – when he is healthy. But there’s the rub. Do the Browns want to continue forward with a player who doesn’t come cheap and essentially is a constant threat to be injured?
If Jones continues with his above-satisfactory season, will the front office decide to retain Jones going forward and allow Conklin to move on? Next season, Conklin will be 30 years old and is a Two Time First Team All-Pro. Jones is just 22 years old.
Or maybe examine the opposite offensive tackle position.
For the second season, LT Jedrick Wills, age 24, has gained a lot of criticism because of lax play and has been accused of giving up on plays. Both head coach Kevin Stefanski and GM Andrew Berry have stated before this season began that they are satisfied with Wills when questioned in media pressers.
Instead of a big second contract or an extension, Cleveland picked up his fifth-year option this past off-season. That does not mean they are infatuated with his play. It simply is a method to not lose his services going forward in order to decide what to do with him.
It was the same process when QB Baker Mayfield’s final year of his rookie deal was coming to a close. They didn’t offer any sort of extension but instead exercised their option on the fifth year and played a wait-and-see. In the end, they traded him without spending any big bucks on him because of inadequate production.
Could this become the route the franchise has with Wills?
It just may be possible that either Conklin or Jones can move over to the left tackle position next year.
In college, Wills was named the starter at right tackle going into his sophomore season at the University of Alabama and was a three-year starter at RT. Conklin played both tackle positions during his freshman year at Michigan State, then was switched to left tackle where he had 35 starts. Jones started 13 games at right guard in 2021, and all 13 games at right tackle last year.
It might make sense to start Jones at right tackle and move Conklin back to his natural position of left tackle if the coaching staff perceives that Wills is a liability and isn’t looking to sign him to a hefty second contract.
With Hudson a dependable body as a backup, then perhaps the Browns can either sign a veteran as another backup or draft a new guy in the later rounds to groom.
That may solve the offensive line at both tackle spots going forward. But one thing is a certainty: Jones will man one or the other for years to come.
Do you think there is any chance an offensive lineman could win Rookie of the Year?