1. Joel Bitonio – Guard
While the Cleveland Browns offensive tackles were awful in 2019, their left guard and center combination may be as good as any in the NFL. The anchor to the offensive line since 2018 has undoubtedly been Joel Bitonio. Cleveland drafted Bitonio in the second round of the 2014 draft, and since he has been the team’s starting left guard in 79 of 96 possible games.
Bitonio did have back to back injuries in the 2015/2016 seasons, which caused him to miss 17 total games, but since 2017 Bitonio has started 16 games for three straight seasons. While Baker Mayfield was under a tremendous amount of pressure last season, most of that stemmed from poor play at both tackle positions.
Bitonio held up well against Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, and Stephon Tuitt last season. It’s also important to remember that as bad as the Browns offense was last year, Nick Chubb was the second leading rusher is in the NFL. Yes, Chubb is a tremendous talent, but a major part of his success came from the interior line strength, led by Bitonio.
Bitonio is under contract through 2022 currently but could be another cap casualty if things get tough for the Browns. Right now, his $10 million per year salary in 2021 and 2022 has no dead money and would be full savings to the Browns if they decided to part ways. Because of his durability and leadership, look for Bitonio to be safe from the chopping blocks, but an unlikely candidate for another extension.
With the additions of Jedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin at tackle this year, the Brown’s offensive line will be tremendously improved. Look for the unit anchored by Bitonio to be the biggest reason for a standout year by Mayfield and crew and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
While fans will give most of the credit for success to the skilled positions, Bitonio and crew will deserve most of the credit for a strong 2020 season.