Offensive line dreaming
With most of the talk swirling about which quarterback the Browns should select with the top pick in the National Football League college draft later this month, relatively little thought is given whom to take with the fourth overall selection.
Should they go running back if Saquon Barkley somehow is still on the board? Or maybe give Myles Garrett a bookend partner for the pass rush and take Bradley Chubb, the best edge rusher in the lottery if he falls.
Either would fit very nicely into John Dorsey’s plans to rebuild the team. But there is another area of concern the general manager certainly has to be aware of if he is a true believer that football games are won and lost in the trenches.
The Browns have a massive hole at offensive left tackle with the retirement of the peerless Joe Thomas. Right now, the plan is to shift Shon Coleman from right tackle over to the left side, a position he played in college.
Let’s be perfectly honest here. Nothing short of another perennial Pro Bowler is going to account for Thomas’ absence. Coleman is no Joe Thomas, admittedly an unfair comparison at this point of his young career.
He is far from the solution, given his uneven performance last season. But there is a solution and it involves the draft, specifically the fourth pick. It’s radical and flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
In a weird way, though, it makes sense.
The heart and soul of any offense is the line. The plug uglies up front can mean the difference between an average offense and something that resonates somewhere between good and great.
Todd Haley, the Browns’ new offensive coordinator, had the luxury the past six seasons of working with one of the best offenses in the NFL. He had Pro Bowlers at quarterback, wide receiver and running back. It all worked because he had a terrific offensive line.
And that’s where this year’s draft comes into focus. It is relatively weak for offensive linemen, especially at tackle. But there is one offensive lineman who clearly stands out above the rest.
Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson is a 6-5, 330-pound ball of nastiness who has 10-year Pro Bowler written all over him. Only one problem. He’s a guard and the Browns already have two pretty good ones in Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler.
Then you realize – assuming here the coaching staff does, too – that Bitonio was a left tackle in college and played the position well. The Browns switched him inside to guard because Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz were the tackles. Enough said.
So why not draft Nelson, plug him at left guard for the next decade and shift Bitonio to Thomas’ old spot? Bitonio is an upgrade over Coleman. The idea is to strengthen the offensive line, not weaken it.
The Browns last had a decent offensive line back in 2014-15 with Thomas and Schwartz at the tackles, Bitonio and John Greco manning the guards and Alex Mack at center.
It definitely would be a radical move and yet understandable to select Nelson. The likelihood of it eventuating, though, resides somewhere between are you kidding me and never.
In any other year, taking Nelson at four would be a no brainer. That’s how good he is. But this, of course is not just any other year.
Too bad. He would have looked good in the Seal Brown and Orange.