After making the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, it’s clear the Cleveland Browns are headed in the right direction. Their commitment to rebuilding the offensive line has been instrumental to the team’s recent success. While it may not mean much, they were rewarded by being the top-ranked unit in the recent PFF offensive line rankings. So, let’s take a look at how good the Browns offensive line really is.
Browns Top the PFF Offensive Line Rankings
Rebuilding the OL
After finishing the 2018 season at second in the PFF offensive line rankings, things took a turn for the worse in 2019. John Dorsey, the general manager at the time, blew up the offensive line by trading all-pro right guard Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants for defensive end Olivier Vernon. From there, Wyatt Teller and Eric Kush would essentially split time at the right guard in the 2019 season, and neither of them did very well. Teller finished the 2019 season with a 56.8 grade from PFF, while Kush received a 45.4. Dorsey would eventually leave town, and he left a mess for Andrew Berry to fix. Berry, like he’s done his entire career in Cleveland, made some great moves that gave the offensive line a big upgrade.
First, he drafted Jedrick Wills Jr. with the 10th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. On top of that, he lured Jack Conklin from Tennessee to play right tackle. They were both very good last year. Conklin posted an overall grade of 84.0 from PFF. Wills is still a work in progress, but he made big strides last year. He ended up being the weak link on the offensive line, receiving a 62.6 overall grade, which shows just how good the Browns are up front. On a good note, Wills impressed last year in pass blocking. He’s a promising young player who has the potential to be one of the best left tackles in the NFL.
Best Interior Linemen in the NFL
While the tackle position was very good last year, the interior offensive linemen on the Browns were nothing short of incredible. Joel Bitonio, a three-time Pro Bowler, had his best season of his career last year. He posted a career-high run blocking grade of 81.8. Bitonio has steadily improved every year since being drafted, and hopefully he can be even better this season. JC Tretter finished the 2020 season as the second-best center in the NFL, according to PFF. Tretter too posted a career-high grade of 81.0.
The biggest question mark heading into the season was the right guard position. Teller was bad in the 2019 season, but in 2020 he made up for it big time. He is an absolute animal up front, and paves the way for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Teller ended last year as the best guard in football. He posted an overall grade of 92.3.
2021 Browns Offensive Line Expectations
The season the Browns had in 2020 was incredible. The offensive line gave quarterback Baker Mayfield throwing lanes every single week. On top of that, the hog-mollies up front genuinely love blocking for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. You may not have noticed, because he doesn’t talk much, but Chubb gives credit where credit is due. He and Hunt frequently talk about their blockers up front. Bitonio even apologized to Chubb after the 2019 season, because they didn’t get him to 1,000 rushing yards.
Rest of the AFC North
Clearly, the Browns have the best offensive line in the NFL, but how about the rest of the AFC North? Well, no team from the AFC North made it into the top-10. John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens came in at number 12. The Ravens traded Orlando Brown Jr. to the Chiefs. They would end up replacing him with another AFC North player in Alejandro Villanueva. The Bengals come in at 24th, even after making a tough decision on Draft Day to pass up on Penei Sewell and take Ja’Marr Chase instead. Surprisingly, the lowest-ranked team in the AFC North is Pittsburgh, who comes in at 29. The Steelers have three new starters up front, which could make for a rough season.
In the end, it’s been awesome to see how the Browns offensive line has grown to become the best in the league. However, three of the five starters on the line are veterans. It’s going to be very difficult for those players to replicate last year’s performance, but it’s also not out of the question. With the offensive line leading the way, it would not be surprising if Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt both surpass the 1,000-yard mark.