The Cleveland Browns have plenty of holes on their roster. However, right tackle is not a hole. The Browns should avoid drafting a right tackle in 2017.
The Cleveland Browns offensive line looked bad last year. There was constant pressure and hits on the quarterbacks leading to multiple quarterback injuries. Conventional wisdom places all the blame for these issues on the offensive line. However, a deeper look into the issue tells a different story.
Pro Football Focus recently ranked the Browns offensive line No. 16 overall in the NFL. That is exactly middle of the road. If the Browns have a middle of the road offensive line, then why all the hits and pressure? The Browns had the combination of average offensive line play combined with poor receiver and quarterback play. The combination of the three created the disaster, which is why addressing the offensive line will not solve the matter.
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General buzz among fans is that the Browns need to address the offensive tackle position. The fans’ position is supported by NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks’ recent mock draft, which has the Browns taking Ryan Ramcyzk with the No. 12 overall pick. If the Browns were to add Ramcyzk, they would be adding another first-round pick into an offensive tackle position which is already well stocked.
The Cleveland Browns have many holes all over the roster, but offensive tackle is not one of them. Of the many ways to effectively use draft picks, taking an offensive tackle would be a waste. There are two viable options already on the Browns roster to solidify the right tackle position next year. To all Browns fans relief, Austin Pasztor is not one of those options.
Pasztor played well given the circumstances he was thrust into. He was asked to move from the interior of the line to the outside. He was given on-the-job training which led to serious growing pains. By the last four games of the season, Pasztor had turned into an adequate tackle but clearly not the long-term solution. Another issue facing the team was lack of production from the center position.
As Pasztor was an interior lineman learning to play outside, Cameron Erving was a natural tackle learning to play inside. Offensive linemen are notoriously difficult to develop at the professional level. Basic techniques and concepts such as stance, hand placement and learning to play with leverage are no longer strongly emphasized at the collegiate level. Is it any wonder that Erving, a tackle moved to center at Florida State, came into the league, like every other offensive lineman not from Wisconsin, needing to learn the position?
Drafted mainly as insurance for the impending departure of Alex Mack, Erving spent his first season as a swing interior lineman. However, he would practice at tackle as well. The failure of former Browns head coach Mike Pettine’s staff to lock Erving in at a position and develop him led to an almost completely lost year of development. It fell upon new Browns head coach Hue Jackson’s staff to identify a position and develop Erving.
Former Browns offensive line coach Hal Hunter Jr. liked Erving in the 2015 Draft. The choice was made to play him at center. Like Pasztor, he received on-the-job training which lead to serious growing pains. By the end of the season, it was clear Erving was not an NFL center. What was yet to be determined was could he play his natural position of tackle in the NFL. The Browns were willing to find out.
The Browns decided to use the final game of the 2016 NFL season to evaluate their talent at right tackle. What they should have learned was there is a lot of right tackle talent already on the roster.
Cameron Erving was moved from center to start at right tackle. His performance was outstanding given the circumstances. Given one week to move from interior to exterior meant that most of his preparation focused on plays and schemes. Developing right tackle technique would have to wait. During that game, Erving showed above-average run blocking and pass blocking skills.
Amazingly, the techniques that failed him in the interior were what helped him succeed at tackle. He was able to use a deep drop which help him to set up his punch on pass protection. He used good leverage in the run game to open massive holes. He showed enough promise to warrant a look at offensive tackle next year. And Erving is not the only option at right tackle.
Also playing right tackle in the game was third-round draft pick Shon Coleman. Coleman’s season was a redshirt season. Coming out of the University of Auburn’s spread system, Coleman was not asked to do many things professional offensive linemen are asked to do. After a season of learning, Coleman showed why he was a day-two pick.
His skills in run blocking were impressive. He opened massive holes in the run game. He did this while using poor leverage technique. Should he learn proper leverage, his run blocking ability is frightening. His pass protection needs major work. But his technique was similar to Austin Pasztor’s at the beginning of the season. He opens too wide allowing edge rushers past him. Another year of development or on the job training and Coleman is a serious run blocking option at right tackle.
At this point the Browns have two viable options for right tackle next season. Both come with growing pains. The Browns have a first-round pick invested in a highly athletic, strong and now experienced offensive lineman who is only 24 years old. They have a third-round pick invested in a 25-year-old offensive lineman still learning the game who needs a season or two more to develop into a serious road grater run blocker. Cameron Erving is the more athletic, more experienced, technically better and younger option at right tackle. Shon Coleman is older, less technically sound but his upside for the run game is higher than Erving’s.
Adding 23-year-old Ryan Ramcyk to the mix does not make sense for a team rebuilding. The Browns have major holes at quarterback, safety, outside linebacker, pass rusher etc., and adding another player to a position already possessing viable options does not make sense.
The Browns have the answer to right tackle in-house. Browns fans have seen Erving bottom out at center and are ready to write him off. However, Erving’s play at right tackled has earned him a look next season. The Browns also should continue to develop promising tackle Shon Coleman. Doing so will produce a long-term solution at right tackle.