The Cleveland Browns have arguably one of the best offensive lines in the league. Bill Callahan is an eminent offensive line coach in the NFL. A lot of time and effort has been formulated to keep this group elite.
But last year, the center position was a complete mess all season long.
First, veteran anchor J.C. Tretter was surprisingly released as he was set to make $10 million in the upcoming season, and analytics state centers shouldn’t make that much.
When Cleveland touched down at Jacksonville International Airport last August for a preseason game against the hometown Jacksonville Jaguars, the offensive line was set. There hasn’t been a new guy in the center position since 2016. Nick Harris had won the starting job so far in training camp over others such as veteran free agent signee Ethan Pocic, free agent rookie Brock Hoffman and seventh-round draft selection Dawson Deaton.
This appeared to be a good group and had depth. At kickoff in the Jags game, the only questions that remained would be whether Hoffman could secure that third spot or would it be the draft pick Deaton.
“The Browns is the Browns” rang true that exhibition game.
Harris (6’-1”, 293 pounds) sustained a knee injury on the second play of the game when he was bull-rushed and fell backward twisting awkwardly. Pocic, who had 24 NFL starts with the Seattle Seahawks after being drafted in the second round, finished the first half while Hoffman took all of the snaps in the second half.
The history of Harris getting hurt is evident. In his rookie campaign, he was placed on IR with another knee issue. Then in 2021 he again found IR his home with a hamstring injury. The former fifth-round pick now had three injuries as he enters his third season.
Next, it was Deaton’s (6’-5”, 306 pounds) turn. Several practices later, the rookie from Texas Tech tore his anterior cruciate ligament. On August 16th, both Harris and Deaton were placed on season-ending IR.
Hoffman was cut on the last cutdown and then re-signed to the practice squad the following day. The center position showed Pocic on his own, with either guard Michael Dunn or Hjalte Froholdt as the primary backups. Both had played some center in high school. Eventually, both Jordan Meredith and Greg Mancz were also signed to the practice squad.
Then what always happens, did happen. Pocic (6’-6”, 310 pounds) suffered a knee injury in Week 11. He was placed on IR on November 22 and then activated on December 23. Froholdt became the emergency center while Mancz was optioned up to the main roster.
Since the 2022 season concluded, Pocic signed a three-year, $18 million contract extension while Mancz and Meredith were released as Deaton was waived on July 6, 2023, with an injury designation.
The Wypler tale
Wypler (6’-3”, 300 pounds) played center, tackle, and defensive tackle at powerhouse St. Joseph’s Regional High School in the borough of Montvale, New Jersey. He had good speed clocked at 4.85 in the 40 with his weight at 280 pounds. He could bench 340 pounds with a deadlift of 575 pounds. Wypler also played lacrosse and was on his school’s wrestling team.
He had offers from Notre Dame, Purdue, UCLA, Stanford, Nebraska, North Carolina, Duke, Ohio State, Maryland, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Michigan, Boston College, Penn State, North Carolina State, West Virginia, Florida, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Virginia, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Rutgers, and Syracuse.
He was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN and 24/7 Sports and was ranked as the Number 2 center in his class. His final two colleges came down to Stanford and Ohio State.
Wypler started at center one game during his true freshman year before redshirting. As he entered his redshirt freshman year he played all 13 games. At season’s end, he was named Honorable Mention All-Big 10.
In 2021 he lost his job and was expected to be a backup, but was thrown back into the starting lineup when the starter Harry Miller became injured in the opener against Minnesota.
Wypler came through once again and became the anchor. He allowed just one sack and seven hurries all season. Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranked him the Number 3 center in the nation with a grade of 82.5. At season’s end, he was named Third Team All-Big 10.
Now Wypler had two full seasons under his belt with a high-powered offense in a tough conference. He had 26 starts and allowed just one sack in 918 pass block snaps.
In his final year at Ohio State, Wypler finished with a 99.2% pass-blocking efficiency grade according to PFF.
In the sixth round at pick #190, the Browns drafted Wypler, the second Ohio State offensive line prospect along with OT Dawand Jones.
Why the big fall?
Wypler was expected to be either a Day 2 or early Day 3 draft selection. ESPN had him being selected by the Chicago Bears at the top of the third round at Number 64.
And yet, in the sixth round, the Browns found him sitting there at Number 190. That is quite a big fall. Why? He was a notable name.
Mainly, it is because he followed his third-year sophomore season by declaring for the draft, which surprised many in the Ohio State program. His decision was based on information that stated he could assume he would have a third-round grade.
Wypler was a two-year starter in a tough conference and was considered one of the most athletic centers in college football. He was stout at the point of attack even against much bigger defensive tackles.
But the big knock on him was he gets off-balance often and will lose early in the rep of engagement.
Yes he has quickness, is good at pulling, and is a very good run blocker. And while he is indeed a technician, he has been projected to become only an average starter in the right scheme.
In film study, Wypler gets out of his three-point stance after the snap pretty quickly and immediately has his hands up for pass protection or moves toward his man on a running play. He is a solid anchor and will lock on where no defender will get around him.
He is a player who will move vertically very well but does have some lateral concerns. He also plays with solid pad level and is able to get up under his defender’s shoulder pads, and while he doesn’t always move his man, the route into the backfield is definitely closed off.
Wypler’s burst off the snap could be more explosive but has no issue getting into the second level, making a decision of which man to attack, and remaining engaged. This part of his game is exceptional.
Where does Wypler fit?
Can Wypler make the final 53-man roster?
Since the Browns have only three centers in camp, he has a good shot at becoming the backup if he can show that he belongs in that spot.
In that scenario, most likely Harris would be moved to a backup guard position, and then become the emergency center. Harris has been inserted at left guard in the past and played well when starter Joel Bitonio missed games. The versatility with Harris is a huge plus and what Coach Callahan always looks for in his group.
Wypler is a good athlete, just not an elite athlete. He is also intelligent. His feisty disposition along with good athleticism are the main portions of his game along with the fact that players just don’t go through him nor get through his gap. The one sack in two seasons is proof of that.
Wypler was not drafted to come in and start at center for the Browns this year. Pocic was given a three-year deal for a reason though the team has an out after either the 2023 or 2024 season. But he is another piece for quality depth along this offensive line.
Nobody wants a roller coaster repeat of last year which was mix and shuffle all season long.
It is notable that Browns GM Andrew Berry has quietly been building a second-tier offensive line for the future and at much cheaper rates. They may need this for the remainder of quarterback Deshaun Watson’s huge contract. That money has to come from somewhere.
Both Harris and Wypler will be cheap to retain along with fourth-round OT James Hudson and the rookie Jones, another fourth-rounder. It is possible that this backup group could become the starting unit if they can continue to develop and gain valuable experience as well as tutelage from the current veterans and Coach Callahan.
Which is when the value of selecting Wypler will come into play.