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Analysis: Browns confident Jedrick Wills Jr. has the skill set, work ethic to thrive in new challenge

Jedrick Wills Jr. played where he brought the most value during his two years as a starter at Alabama. 

In 2018, Jonah Williams, a future first-round pick, was playing his final college season at left tackle, and Wills was too good to keep off the field, so he took over at right tackle. Acclaimed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was left-handed, so it made sense for Wills to remain at the position in 2019 and protect Tagovailoa's blind side.

The Browns, who selected Wills on Thursday with the 10th overall pick, don't necessarily need the talented Crimson Tide blocker to start his NFL career at right tackle. That's where the Browns added one of the best to play the position in recent years, Jack Conklin, at the start of the new league year.

There's another big, important spot to fill on an offensive line that will have a much different look on the edges in 2020 and beyond.

Coach Kevin Stefanski agreed it would be "Plan A" to put Wills at left tackle, one of the biggest areas of need Cleveland carried into the 2020 NFL Draft. And after a thorough evaluation that led them to Wills, the Browns are confident he'll succeed in the transition.

"I do think that there's going to be some physical reprogramming or gaining a little bit of comfort but from our perspective with Jed, the reason that he was playing the right side at Alabama is because they had a very successful left-handed quarterback," Browns EVP of Football Operations and GM Andrew Berry said. "In terms of the actual physical skill set, his speed, his athletic ability, his ability to pass-protect, all of those are top notch from our perspective and we think that he can really play either side of the line of scrimmage."

Berry and Stefanski didn't completely dismiss the idea of Wills remaining at right tackle and Conklin potentially switching sides, but it's clear the Browns hope Wills can become the long-term answer to a position that's been tough to fill since Joe Thomas' retirement.

Wills was the top-rated tackle on the Browns' draft board, Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta said. That spoke volumes in a draft that wound up placing four of them within the first 13 picks. Wills was the second of four, as Georgia's Andrew Thomas went No. 4 to the Giants while Louisville's Mekhi Becton (No. 11, Jets) and Iowa's Tristan Wirfs (No. 13, Buccaneers) followed shortly thereafter.

Berry said the Browns, who went through a number of mock exercises before the virtual draft, did not foresee Wills being available at No. 10, and the team fielded offers to trade back from their spot. Wills was just too good to pass up, and that would have been the case even if the Browns didn't have a major void to fill at left tackle.

"We really like him a lot," Berry said. "He was one of the guys that we really targeted coming into the evening. It was less about perhaps running out of options and [more about] seeing a player where the overall talent level matched with some of our goals entering the weekend. It was really more about that than anything.

"Ultimately, you never really know how the board is going to fall. In this instance, it really fell in our favor, but we do go into it with an open mind and not try to be too narrow because you do need a little bit of luck to go along the way."

When he spoke at the NFL Combine, Wills said he was already working on making the transition to left tackle. The hardest part, he said, was the muscle memory and all of the other nuances of the position.

Berry said the Browns were impressed by what Wills had been able to accomplish over the past month, especially with the limitations of social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whenever the Browns and other NFL teams are able to resume normal operations, Berry and Stefanski expect Wills to expand what he's already accomplished under the tutelage of longtime offensive line coach Bill Callahan.

"I do think we will have the opportunity to work virtually with Jedrick. It will not be ideal like getting your hands on him, but I am really confident in (Callahan's) ability and in a setting and explaining what he wants to see," Stefanski said. "I am confident because I think Jedrick is already on the way to doing those things. "He has been well-coached. He has been a left side stance before. I think it is just going to be the muscle memory over and over. 

"When we do get him, whenever that is, there will still be work to done and we know we are getting a young player so it is going to be a process. It is going to be a process of development, and I trust that we have the guys to get it done."

The Browns have selected Jedrick Wills Jr. in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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