Browns Mailbag

Browns Mailbag: What's the Browns' biggest strength entering 2021?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

The Browns Mailbag is once again OVERFLOWING with an array of fantastic questions.

We're tackling four of them before we head into a three-day weekend.

What location will the 2021 NFL Draft be in Cleveland? — Carmen A., Mentor

The details are still coming together on the specifics, but expect plenty of activity to take place near the lake by FirstEnergy Stadium, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Great Lakes Science Center. Recently, two former Port of Cleveland warehouses were razed to create more space for the events. We'll keep you posted in the coming months as plans come together for what should be an exciting event that will also adhere to protocols that keep attendees safe from COVID-19.

Are there any plans for a reliable kicker? — Wayne H., Coschocton

Cody Parkey, a journeyman veteran in his second stint with the Browns, was as reliable of a kicker this past season as the Browns have had in years. Parkey connected on 19-of-22 field goals with 10 coming from 40 or more yards and many of them coming in the adverse conditions of FirstEnergy Stadium. He was 43-of-47 on extra points and made all of his kicks in the Browns' two playoff games.

Parkey is set to be a free agent when the new league year begins in March, though there's plenty of time between now and then for the Browns and Parkey to strike a deal before other teams can get involved. We'll just have to see how it plays out. The other kicker on Cleveland's roster is Matt McCrane, who was signed to a reserve/futures deal last month after holding a spot on the practice squad for most of the year. McCrane connected on 8-of-12 field goals in 2018 with the Raiders and Steelers.

Considering how close we came to playing in this season's Super Bowl, it is clear that we currently have notable team strengths. What would you point to as our biggest strength, and how can we foster that area of strength and build upon it as we look to improve enough to win next season's Super Bowl? — Nick D., Wayne, West Virginia

This is an awesome question, and I particularly loved that part at the end. After winning a playoff game and taking the eventual AFC Champions down to the wire, that SHOULD be the ultimate goal.

My answer to this one is the offensive line. This group was simply fantastic last season despite a number of injuries that limited the starting five to just eight complete games together. Yes, just eight. Even still, the group was the backbone for a Browns offense that provided some of its best numbers in a generation.

"Those guys did an amazing job all year," RB Nick Chubb said. "I know it was probably hard for them because every game somebody new was out, having to go in and adjust with all of the different communication and all of the different things that they do to be a great O-line. Props to them because they did a great job. They were just great. They made everything happen for us." 

Joel Bitonio, Wyatt Teller and Jack Conklin all garnered some kind of All-Pro recognition. Bitonio made his third straight Pro Bowl. Teller was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the NFL's best run-blocking guard while Bitonio was ranked as the best pass-blocking guard. JC Tretter was a top-five pass-blocking guard, according to PFF. Rookie LT Jedrick Wills Jr. performed at a high level and solidified a position that had given the Browns issues ever since future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas retired. The offensive line was the first in PFF history to finish No. 1 in pass blocking and run blocking grades.

And here's the best part … all of them are slated to be back in 2021.

"It is exciting to know that we are all going to be back next year and will be able to grow together and continue to learn and get better, and hopefully, continue to provide this team a run game that helps this offense and this team win," Tretter said.

Now to the second part: How do the Browns continue to fortify this position group?

While they likely won't need to make as many moves as they did last offseason, the Browns still have some areas to address. Veteran T Kendall Lamm is poised to be a free agent and Chris Hubbard, an invaluable sixth man, will be coming off knee surgery. That means the Browns may have to fortify their depth at tackle, a position at which you can truly never have enough players. Whether that's in free agency, the draft or both remains to be seen.

I feel like we need to have a stud at every level of the defense. We can develop the pass rushers we have and shore up the CBs in the second round, but I think Browns should take Tulsa LB Zaven Collins, who's a freak that can rush, tackle and cover and most likely will be available at 26 in the first. Every mock draft I've done he's available yet no one's talking about him. Shouldn't we give him a look? — Matthew B., Winter Park, Florida

You're not alone with your opinion, at least among those who are churning out mock drafts at this time of year. In our Wednesday roundup, Collins was the most popular pick among the 12 we analyzed. ESPN's Todd McShay likes the "versatility and burst" from Collins, who won the Nagurski Award as college football's best defensive player in 2020. NFL Network's Bucky Brooks says Collins is "a long, rangy linebacker with size, strength and thumping ability" while NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah compared him to Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch.

As for Collins being available at No. 26 … that's a little more up for debate. Of the eight mock drafts from our roundup that didn't have Collins going to the Browns, only three had him falling beyond No. 26. And, to add insult to injury, three of them had the Steelers at No. 24 taking Collins.

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