Do the Cleveland Browns have the best guards in the NFL?
The Cleveland Browns spent a lot of money upgrading their offensive line this offseason. Do they now have the best guards in the league?
Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report recently wrote about which teams have the best position group at each position. Per his article, the Cleveland Browns have the best guard position group in the NFL.
Davenport had this to say about the Browns’ guard group:
"The Browns spent big on the offensive line in free agency, and the centerpiece of those additions was Kevin Zeitler, who made the trip up Interstate 71 from Cincinnati. In almost 1,100 snaps for the Bengals in 2016, Zeitler allowed just one sack and graded sixth at the position.The 2016 season was a wash for left guard Joel Bitonio, who missed six or more games for the second year in a row. However, when he’s on the field, the fourth-year pro has quickly become one of the best in the business. In his lone full season in 2014, Bitonio was a top-five guard, allowing just one sack and three quarterback hits all season long.The Browns also have an excellent “swing” option at the position in 10th-year veteran John Greco, who can back up both Bitonio and Zeitler and who was a top-25 guard in his own right a year ago."
Davenport focuses on the addition of Kevin Zeitler as the main piece that puts this group over the top. The addition of Zeitler to a group that already included Joel Bitonio and John Greco is a formidable group to face.
The diversity of this group cannot be understated. With Bitonio and Zeitler, the Browns have two athletic, mean and extremely effective blockers. Both can effectively pass block, run block and pull on power plays.
Related: Is John Greco on the endangered list?
Schematically, having Bitonio and Zeitler allows head coach Hue Jackson to eschew the traditional right-handed power scheme with a left-handed counter attack. The Browns now have athletic guards which allows Jackson to run power to either side the formation and to use the occasional counter to the weak side in both directions.
This may seem insignificant but any time a team can attack any whole from anywhere on the field, it is a significant schematic advantage.
Helping these guards will be an upgrade at right tackle. The offensive line, more than any unit on the field, must work in concert. A weak link can hold the entire unit back. Right tackle could be that weak link.
However, whether the Browns go with Shon Coleman or Cameron Erving, right tackle will be significantly upgraded over Austin Pasztor. Pasztor was not great last year but he was a serious liability after Week 3. Coleman and Erving are better run blockers at the point of attack and should allow for big holes on power schemes.
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Of interest in Davenport’s article is the mention of John Greco as a swing player. A swing player is a player who can backup both guard and tackle. In the case of Greco, he may back up the center as well. But Greco’s role is an interesting topic.
John Greco is currently recovering from surgery and may start the season on the PUP list. Also, Greco has been the one lineman that does not seem to fit the direction the Browns are moving in.
In fact, the Browns did not see Greco as a long-term solution. They addressed the guard position in the 2016 NFL draft by selecting Spencer Drango in the fifth round. The weak spots heading into the 2016 season were right guard and right tackle (it was assumed Erving would figure out center, which he did not).
This may come as a shock, but if Spencer Drango can come into his own this training camp and a backup center can emerge into their own as well, John Greco may not even make the 2017 Browns final roster.
Is Davenport right about the Browns having the best guard position group in the NFL? Absolutely.
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But the position may not be as strong as he portrays in terms of backups. But if the Browns’ weakness at guard is in their backups, then the Browns are in an excellent position heading into training camp.