The Cleveland Browns drafted James Hudson with the idea of developing him. But after a season that saw inexperienced tackle forced into action, we look back at Hudson’s rookie campaign.
The Cleveland Browns made James Hudson the 110th pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. The selection of Hudson was a clear move towards the Browns future as they believed they were set at offensive tackle for the 2021 season. Fate would have other ideas.
Hudson, a top 30 defensive end prospect coming out of Central Catholic high school in Toledo, picked the University of Michigan as his school of choice. After a tumultuous two years, which included a redshirt year and a positional switch to the offensive line, Hudson opted to transfer to the University of Cincinnati.
He was then forced to sit out another year due to NCAA transfer rules but started every game his redshirt Junior year earned a first-team All-American Conference nomination.
At the time, the Browns looked at their Hudson pick as a luxury. At 6-foot-5 and 315lbs, Hudson has the physical jumping-off point to develop into a starting offensive tackle but lacks experience and refinement. After all, Hudson had only played in 15 games at the position in college.
Cleveland Browns had to turn to the rookie too early
Slated to be a developmental project, the Browns had faith that Bill Callahan would be able to mold the rookie to be ready for action in 2023. However, Jedrick Wills injured his ankle in the season opener and swing tackle Chris Hubbard suffered a triceps injury during the same game that eventually landed him on the IR. Then the final blow came when right tackle Jack Conklin injured his knee in Week 5.
Due to injuries, Hudson was not afforded time to develop, and after a few relief appearances, made his first NFL start in Week 6. His first start was a mixed bag of results. Hudson played well in the run game, but due to the Browns falling behind, the rookie was exposed on some third-down passing situations.
It was not until Week 14 that Hudson’s name was called again. In his second start, Hudson faired much better. The Browns still schemed around some of the rookie’s shortcomings, but it was evident that Hudson had improved some of his deficiencies under the tutelage of Callahan.
Hudson would go on to start the final two games of the season. In Week 17, he would struggle anytime he was left one on one with T.J. Watt, but that is not an indictment on the rookie but more of an acknowledgment of Watt’s experience and abilities. Hudson would rebound in the season finale and finish his rookie campaign on a positive note.
When grading out Hudson’s rookie year, it should once again be noted that he was drafted with the idea of being redshirted in 2021. However, the experience he gained could prove to be invaluable. He now knows the speed of the game and what he needs to improve upon.
Rookie grade: C-
With an offseason in an NFL strength and conditioning program combined with Callahan’s watchful eye in front of him, it is not out of the realm of possibilities that Hudson could start out next year as Cleveland’s swing tackle. Hudson’s development is going to come down to how much work he puts in. The path is there for Hudson to become the Browns starting right tackle in 2024.