The Cleveland Browns have one of the league’s top offensive lines - as long as everyone is healthy.
Except for center Ethan Pocic, who was one of the league’s biggest surprises in 2022 after he stepped in when starter Nick Harris was injured in the preseason, the line has struggled to maintain its consistency whenever a starter has gone down.
The Browns have other needs early on in the draft, but there is never a bad time to invest in the offensive line and if general manager Andrew Berry is interested, a name to watch in the later rounds is offensive tackle Jake Witt from Northern Michigan.
Witt had a pre-draft visit with the Browns, and The Athletic’s Dane Brugler mocked Witt to Cleveland in his seven-round mock draft, so let’s take a look at one of the draft’s most-unexpected prospects.
Name: Jake Witt
Position: Offensive tackle
Height/Weight: 6-foot-7, 302 pounds
College: Northern Michigan Wildcats
Stats (2 seasons): 22 games, 22 starts (9 at tight end, 2 at right tackle, 11 at left tackle)
Relative Athletic Score
Jake Witt is a OT prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.80 #RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 27 out of 1293 OT from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/JWBIcmAXqn pic.twitter.com/gFlHAhkjwl— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 19, 2023
Average “Big Board” Position As of Publishing Date
282nd Overall (NFL Mock Draft Database)
PFF Big Board Rank: 211
What an Expert is Saying
This is an interesting one for sure. Watched Jake Witt a few weeks ago and he has some interesting developmental tools, could be a 7th round option if he’s still on the board late in the draft.pic.twitter.com/rzxaKv9Hd8 https://t.co/1hDn3WBAH8— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) April 5, 2023
Pros and Cons
Witt is one of the “feel-good stories” that populate the build-up to the draft each season. He started his collegiate career in 2018 as a member of the basketball team at Michigan Tech. He transferred to Northern Michigan in 2019 but did not play sports that year. He joined the football team in 2020 only to see the season wiped out by COVID-19.
Finally, in 2021, Witt returned to the field as a tight end for the first nine games of the season before moving to right tackle during halftime of the team’s Week 9 game due to injuries along the offensive line. He settled in at left tackle last season and played well enough to earn Second-Team All-GLIAC honors.
Despite his limited playing time, Witt’s athleticism and potential have caught the NFL’s attention, according to Lance Zierlein at NFL.com:
Witt’s athletic testing was off the charts and it helps that teams recognize he is still filling out his long frame. The tight end convert has only been at the tackle position for one full season, so teams understand he’s going to be behind from an instinct and technique standpoint. He’ll need to make progress as a Year 1 practice squad candidate for teams to continue the investment. He’s nowhere near ready to play pro football, but he will be a coveted free agent if he goes undrafted given his traits and athleticism.
The buzz around Witt grew after his pro-day workout, where his numbers would have put him at the top of his positional group had he been invited to the Scouting Combine, according to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler:
With only 13 career starts on the offensive line, his tape is understandably inconsistent, and he played much lighter than his current weight. However, Witt’s pro-day workout created a buzz among NFL scouts because of his remarkable testing numbers and movement skills in the positional drills. Overall, Witt is on the basement level in terms of his development on the offensive line. But with his athletic traits and natural talent, his ceiling for a patient coaching staff might be the penthouse. He is a draft-and-stash prospect worth a dart throw.
Browns Player Drafting Could Impact
The Browns are not exactly flush in terms of depth at the offensive tackle position with James Hudson, who the team reportedly likes but has not shown much when called upon so far, and Joe Haeg as the current primary backups. And while Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr. are the unquestioned starters, there are questions around both given that both have dealt with injuries the past two seasons.
Hudson seems safe, so if the Browns decide to add some new faces at offensive tackle, then Haeg and Tyrone Wheatley Jr. would be in line for a change of scenery this fall.
Low to medium: Teams can never have enough depth along the offensive line, which the Browns have learned in recent years as injuries have hit Conklin, Wills, right guard Wyatt Teller, Pocic and Harris.
Cleveland could be a good landing spot for a raw player like Witt given that he could spend a year improving his strength and learning from the game’s best offensive line coach in Bill Callahan. Continuing to invest in the future of the offensive line is never a bad idea, and Witt’s upside could be worth the gamble if he is still on the board near the end of the day on Saturday.