The Combine marks the opening ceremony of the NFL’s version of March Madness. This will be followed by cap cuts, pro-days, and NFL free agency. First, though, the top brass from every franchise must roll into the combine hoping to get a better feel for what talent will be on the board for them in the draft so that they can maximize their free agency acquisitions and coordinate the ideal off-season plan.
The Browns will be examining several positions in what is being referred to as the “most important off-season in franchise history”. One of those positions will be the offensive line and more specifically, offensive tackle.
Joe Thomas is still one of the best left tackles in the game, but with only one year left on his contract and retirement a possibility, the Browns have to be proactive at the position. 2017 was the first full season for former 3rd round draft pick Shon Coleman at right tackle, after he missed his 2016 rookie campaign with an injury. Coleman was far from consistent but flashed starter ability at times. While Coleman may have a future as a starter, the Browns would be wise to assume he will not.
The interior of the Browns offensive line may be the best in the NFL. Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler were consistently two of the best guards in the game all of last year and JC Tretter manned the point at center with great success on all counts. All three are locked in through the 2019 seasons and while depth behind them is important, the Browns can solve that issue by acquiring a pair of starting tackles and moving Coleman into a reserve role at both guard and tackle along with Spencer Drango.
The most logical way for the Browns to address the line is to identify top tier right tackles who have the potential to be left tackles. Putting a strong starter opposite Thomas in 2018 with the idea that they could move that player over to the left side in 2019 is a solid approach to a longterm solidification of the unit. To that end, here are some of the combine results for some potential draft picks that could fill that role.
Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh – Seen as easily one of the most athletic tackle prospects available in the draft, O’Neill did nothing to contradict that notion over the weekend, posting the top 40-yard dash and three-cone drill. Strength concerns given his slender build (295 lbs, 6’7″) were potentially reinforced as he managed just 22 reps in the lift, but bulk and power potential are there given his overall frame. O’Neill draws draft grades that rank him anywhere from #4 (ESPN) to #14 (CBS Sports) overall amongst offensive tackle prospects. While bulk and strength are items you can add with the right training program, natural athleticism is not. O’Neill could be available to the Browns with one of their 2nd round picks and he has the upside to play both tackle positions well.
Kolten Miller, UCLA – Miller is another athletic prospect which is surprising given his 6’9″ frame. He was a top performer in the 40-yard dash and the 3 cone drill which indicates that he is very well coordinated for his considerable height and length. He’s another talent likely available on Day 2 of the draft who could slide in at right tackle on day one and potentially return to the blindside in his sophomore NFL season if all goes right. Another prospect whose athleticism and size is something you can’t coach, making him an appealing target.
Chuckwuma Okorafor, Western Michigan – Okorafor went into the combine with a lot of praise for his agility and quickness for his size (6’6″, 330 lbs), but he had arguably one of the worst combines amongst all tackles posting poor results in the bench press (19), 40 yard dash (5.31), 3 cone (7.87) and both broad (102″) and vertical jumps (23.5″). So why do I have him listed? His body of work on the field suggests these results aren’t indicative of his talent and his versatility as a three-year starter who played both tackle positions is ideal. Almost universally all scouts believe that with a little work on his technique he can anchor either right or left tackle, exactly what the Browns need and he should be available on Day 2, especially after a poor combine showing.