Cleveland Browns: Expect big things from Jedrick Wills Jr. in year 2
Cleveland Browns left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. is primed to take a big step forward in 2021
When the Cleveland Browns made Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr. the 10th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, he was immediately slotted in as the team’s starting left tackle. But the expectation was that he would struggle out of the gate, for multiple reasons.
First, he was entering the league during the COVID-19 offseason, and that meant minimal in-person contract with his coaches and teammates through training camp. That’s a raw deal for any rookie, let alone one switching sides on the offensive line. Wills did protect Tua Tagovailoa’s blindside in college, but he played right tackle.
Switching sides has often been compared to wiping one’s behind with one’s non-dominant hand, and there are many offensive linemen who simply lack the capability to play both sides because the switch is so difficult.
Even assuming a smooth transition, offensive line is such a hard position to play in the NFL that rookies rarely excel there. And if they do, it’s probably as a run blocker and not in pass protection, which is what made Wills’ rookie campaign so interesting. He was dominant in both phases at Bama, but struggled to consistently create push in the run game in 2020. If there were any part of his profile that was expected to translate immediately, it was his explosiveness and ferocity as a run blocker.
That is not what happened. Wills was the weakest link on the best offensive line in the league, but that doesn’t mean he was bad. Quite the opposite in pass protection, actually. There were times when he looked like a rookie, but overall, he provided the team with consistency at left tackle the likes of which Cleveland had been missing since future first-ballot Hall of Famer Joe Thomas played his last NFL snap in 2017 (you may now cry, it’s alright).
With a full season in the scheme under his belt, and an offseason (and preseason) full of in-person instruction from Bill Callahan, Wills is primed to take a big step forward, especially in the run game. The Browns rushing attack was already fairly potent, so if Wills can even approach the run blocker he was at Alabama, things will get that much better for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
The Browns tried multiple options to fill the void left by Thomas, but Wills seems like he’ll be the solution for at least the next decade. It is incredibly unlikely he’ll ever be close to as good as Thomas, perhaps the position’s greatest technician of all time, but he doesn’t have to be.
He just has to be the best version of Jedrick Wills Jr., and with excellent teammates and one of the league’s all-time best offensive line coaches, he has a good chance to be one of the game’s better tackles for a good long while.