After passing on wide receiver in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Browns still had a huge need at that position. Outside the Lines' report on Josh Gordon's potential suspension turned that hole into something else entirely—a desperation.
With its first pick of Day 2, however, Cleveland chose to instead address the offensive line by selecting Joel Bitonio. The Nevada left tackle isn't a sure thing to stick on the outside and could move inside to guard.
At 6'4", 302 pounds, Bitonio is a great athlete who can play in space. He is a perfect fit in Cleveland's zone-blocking scheme, which requires linemen to attack the second level and pick up moving defenders.
Bitonio lacks the ideal length of a tackle, which could force him inside. Additionally, Bitonio isn't overly powerful and is susceptible to the bull rush. The Nevada product isn't going to physically dominate anyone at the line of scrimmage.
Fortunately, Bitonio plays with a tenacity and intensity that most players lack. His sheer willpower will win him battles at the line of scrimmage, and his intelligence and athleticism are both well above average. Bitonio's strong technique will make him ready to start as a rookie.
The question at this point is whether Bitonio will play right tackle or guard. The answer will likely be determined by a competition between Bitonio and incumbent right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
Schwarz played well as a rookie but struggled some in pass protection in his second season. He isn't anything special physically and could be upgraded.
At guard, Cleveland also has a hole. John Greco is a good guard, but the spot next to him is vacant. Shawn Lauvao left in free agency and wasn't good anyway. Jason Pinkston hasn't been able to stay on the field and is also unproven.
Bitonio is also a better schematic fit than any of the Browns' other guard candidates. None of them have the same athleticism and ability in space that Bitonio offers.
Whoever the Browns decide is the better right tackle will stay on the outside. The loser will move to guard and excel. If Bitonio is at guard, he will often be asked to pull and pick up defenders at the second level.
With an uncertain quarterback situation and a horrible wide receiver unit, Cleveland is set to run the ball a lot in 2014. The team signed Ben Tate in free agency to fix the running back position while also re-signing All-Pro center Alex Mack.
This makes the addition of Bitonio even more important. The Browns needed another athletic lineman who would work in their scheme in order to establish a successful run game. Now, Cleveland has one of the NFL's best offensive lines, and there is no reason why the team shouldn't be able to run the ball effectively.
While Bitonio may not be the flashy pick Browns fans were hoping for, it is a good one. Bitonio fills a need regardless of whether he ends up playing tackle or guard.
Cleveland still has a lot of work to do, especially at wide receiver, but Bitonio should be a foundational player for years to come.
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