The offensive line was a real weak spot in 2019 for the Cleveland Browns. Will upgrades be enough to help Bakery Mayfield in 2020?
The Cleveland Browns hold the title of the most disappointing offense in the NFL in 2019. While there were worst performers statistically, the lack of production with so much firepower on the roster was painful for fans to watch. Baker Mayfield not looking comfortable in the pocket, and constant questionable play calls were a theme of the Browns last season.
If you look at any team in football (besides the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots), all successful teams have one thing in common — a strong offensive line. Russell Wilson is too athletic, and Tom Brady throws the ball too quickly to need a great offensive line to stay competitive, but that is not true for anyone else.
Why will things be different in 2020 for the Browns offense? Number one, Kevin Stefanski is a huge upgrade to Freddie Kitchens. It was clear after week two of last season that Kitchens was in way over his head as a play-caller and head coach. How many times on third and two did the Browns line up in shotgun with one of the best running backs in the league? How many times did they throw a fade to Odell Beckham on third and goal from the two-yard line? So many possessions settling for three points instead of seven.
The second reason the Browns offense will improve in 2020 is the offensive line. After being sacked 40 times last season, the line had to be addressed and was quickly by Stefanski and Andrew Berry. Stefanski hired the best offensive line coach in the business in Bill Callahan. That doesn’t solve every issue, but coaching can’t be overlooked in any position.
Look at the rosters Bill Belichick was able to win Super Bowls with. Berry followed up by drafting a day one starter with pick No. 10 in the 2020 draft and signing the best free-agent tackle on the market.
The Browns may have gone from the worst offensive line in the league, to one of the best. Let’s break down the roster at each position.
Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard were likely the worst tackle tandem in the NFL last season. While the Browns interior line was strong, the outside pass rush must be slowed down to have any success throwing the ball. Now in 2020, the Browns have two new starters at tackle, and Hubbard goes from an average starting tackle to a tremendous backup swingman.
Jedrick Wills Jr.
The No. 10 overall pick by the Browns from Alabama is a former All-American, Jedrick Wills Jr. Wills was a right tackle for the Crimson Tide but was protecting the blind side of a left-handed quarterback the last two seasons. Wills was the second tackle taken in this year’s draft that was loaded with offensive tackle talent.
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Offensive line coach Callahan shared that he had Wills rated as the number one tackle prospect. Wills is average in size and length but possesses a strong punch and quick feet which should all him to transition to left tackle in the NFL. The left tackle position in Cleveland has been a revolving door since the retirement of Joe Thomas, let’s hope under coaching from Callahan and mentorship from Thomas, Wills will be a dominant force at tackle for the next 10 years in brown and orange.
No one is happier to have Jack Conklin on the team than Mayfield. Berry did a tremendous job of signing Conklin to a shorter-term deal that wasn’t overly expensive given his skillset.
After a breakout rookie year which earned Conklin first-team All-Pro honors, Conklin has had some minor setbacks in 2018 and 2019 because of injuries. He only missed seven games in 2018 but was reportedly held back in 2019 from lingering concerns. After a full year to heal, look for Conklin to want to prove his worth after ultimately being dumped by the Tennessee Titans for his back-up.
Conklin fits the Stefanski zone scheme perfectly and will stand a much better chance of blocking T.J. Watt than Hubbard ever did.
The Browns interior line will continue to be strong with only one position to have competition for the starter in 2020. The strong center/guard play last season was a big part of Nick Chubb's running success and should only be better next season with upgrades at both tackle positions.
Former Green Bay Packer J.C. Tretter came to the Browns in 2017 to play center and has been nothing short of tremendous. Unfortunately, Tretter was a part of the disastrous 0-16 perfect season but has been the biggest leader on the offensive line.
Tretter has started 16 games in three straight seasons, which is a tremendous feat with so many snaps in the trenches. At age 29, Tretter is still in his prime and will be a major part of the Browns success in 2020.
Perhaps one of the Browns greatest draft picks in the last decade is former second-round pick Joel Bitonio. Sometimes it is easy to overlook the importance of guard play, but Bitonio is a top left guard in the NFL making the pro-bowl in both 2018 and 2019.
Bitonio was an all-pro snub last season because of the lack of success the team had. Bitonio suffered a foot injury 2016 that cost him 11 games but has since 2017 has started every game alongside Tretter. There may be no better interior duo in the NFL than Bitonio and Tretter in 2020.
At this moment look for second-year man Drew Forbes to win the contested battle for the right guard position in 2020. It would not be surprising if the season started with a rotation between Forbes and 2019 starter Wyatt Teller before switching to Forbes fully by the end of the season.
Forbes is a college tackle who transitioned inside and showed great promise last offseason before an injury in the fourth preseason game. Forbes had not been named the starter, but general manager John Dorsey was a big advocate. With friendly competition and a year of development, look for Forbes to stand out and have a big year surrounded by a ton of talent on the Browns offensive line.
The great news for Browns fans, not only did the starting five offensive linemen get better, the supporting cast who will likely see the field with inevitable injuries has also improved. At times last season, the Browns only carried seven active offensive linemen because of suspensions and injuries. That will not be the case in 2020 with upgraded starters and back-ups to help protect Mayfield.
Chris Hubbard and Kendall Lamm
After being the Pittsburgh Steelers swingman in 2015 and 2016, the Browns were ecstatic to sign Chris Hubbard as the starting right tackle in 2018. While Hubbard didn’t live up to expectations, he was a team player and restructured his contract this offseason and will become the swingman for the Browns in 2020. There's a chance Callahan will want Hubbard to compete for the starting role of the right guard, but it’s still believed Forbes will fend him off for that position.
Kendall Lamm will be the next backup at the tackle position. Lamm came to Cleveland last offseason after four years with the Houston Texans where he started 13 games at tackle in 2018. After getting a shot in Cleveland because of ejections, Lamm was injured and was never able to recover. Lamm may have more upside than he showed in 2019, but don’t look for him to see a ton of action in 2020.
The Cleveland Browns traded for Wyatt Teller before last season, and he ultimately ended up winning the starting job halfway through the season. Teller, who will be entering his third year in the NFL does a fine job run blocking but struggled with bull rushers and constantly allowed the pocket to collapse.
Teller can be a starter in the NFL but will fare as an interior backup for the Browns next season. He could be an interesting trade piece if rookie Nick Harris or Drake Dorbeck would happen to stand out in camp.
Nick Harris and Drake Dorbeck
In the fifth round of the 2020 draft, the Browns took center Nick Harris from the University of Washington. Harris plays with a chip but could be limited by his size in the NFL. Harris likely won’t be ready to be a day one starter but could eventually be developed into a starter.
The Browns also signed an undrafted free agent tackle in Drake Dorbeck. The Southern Miss standout has massive size at 6-foot-6 and 320-pounds but will have some adjusting to NFL game speed. Dorebeck may struggle to make the roster but could be a potential practice squad guy if the Browns see potential.
There is no doubt that Mayfield and the offense struggled in 2019, but it certainly was a collective effort. The offensive line was bad, and the play-calling was even worse at times. With a refocused Mayfield and an improved culture in Cleveland, look for the new offensive line to have a huge impact on a stand out offense next season.