Are the Cleveland Browns doing Jedrick Wills and themselves a disservice by allowing the left tackle to play through his injury?
The Cleveland Browns have a serious question that they need to ask themselves. Should they decide to sit left tackle Jedrick Wills and give his ankle a chance to heal, or should they allow the second-year offensive linemen to play through his injury?
Wills, who was chosen with the 10th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, has been a starter since the first day he arrived in Cleveland. The Browns were three years removed from the retirement of perennial All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas, and Wills was tasked with filling the void left behind by the future Hall of Famer. No pressure, right?
The Browns had recently solidified their offensive line when Wills was added to the mix. Wills would not have to single-handedly anchor the Browns line. He just needed to not be a weak link that would allow the chain to snap. Oh, and he had to learn how to play left tackle at the professional level even though he had never even lined up on that side before.
Check, and check. Wills proved to be solid as a rookie and showed the potential for exponential growth as a left tackle. His ability to excel as a pass blocker exceeded expectations, and now Wills was looking to make a leap in his sophomore season. However, Wills injured his left ankle during the first quarter of the season opener while blocking on a Jarvis Landry rushing touchdown and was forced out of the game.
In the two subsequent games, Wills has gutted it out and started both games. But Wills is clearly hobbled and unable to perform at the level that the team needs him to. While still performing adequately in the run game, Wills is unable to play with the quickness and balance that’s needed in pass protection. In both games, Wills has been replaced by Blake Hance, who is a guard by trade.
The Browns have a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Head coach Kevin Stefanski needs to weigh the value of Wills gutting out the next couple of games versus the risk that they might not have their left tackle at full strength in December and January. Should coach Stefanski save Wills from himself at this point?
It’s not an issue of toughness. Wills has displayed the grit and want to that you would like to see out of a hungry young player. More importantly, his teammates have witnessed his desire to be there for them, which is what counts most in the locker room. Clearly, if it is up to Wills, he will suit up and give his best effort to perform on Sundays. But at what cost?
Stefanski should take the decision completely out of the hands of Wills and make the best decision for the overall health and safety of the team. If backup swing tackle Chris Hubbard is able to return from his triceps injury, it would be a much easier decision to make. However, Hance has shown that he can step in when called upon, and Bill Callahan is more than capable of coaching up the next man in line.
All of the variables need to be considered: Wills’ long-term health, his ability to perform at an acceptable level, as well as the safety of Baker Mayfield. It is a classic risk versus reward proposition, and at this point, the risk is weighing in pretty heavy.