The Browns didn’t trade down.
They didn’t make a deal for Trent Williams, Washington’s seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle.
They stayed locked in at No. 10 and drafted Alabama right tackle Jedrick Wills, whom chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta called their top-rated prospect in a stacked tackle class.
The Browns believe they got the right guy in the athletic Wills, and they’re “very confident” he can make the transition to the other side and be their left tackle for many years to come.
“We thought he was a guy that really fit in terms of talent, makeup and need and was really just kind of perfect for us,” Andrew Berry said Thursday night after making his first pick as a general manager.
The Browns’ biggest need entering the offseason was left tackle — they hadn’t been able to fill the void since Joe Thomas retired after 2017 — and when Wills (6-foot-4¼, 312 pounds) was still on the board in the NFL Draft, they were pleasantly surprised, chose not to pursue a trade down and pounced.
“We ended up in a really fortunate spot tonight where best player available on our board happened to be a position of real need on our team,” DePodesta said. “That doesn’t happen every year, but we were fortunate that that was the case and we’re thrilled to get Jedrick on our team.”
Wills was the first pick of the new Browns regime featuring Berry, DePodesta and first-time coach Kevin Stefanski. Despite the first virtual draft in NFL history with everyone isolated at their homes, they said the operation went smoothly and they were unified in selecting Wills.
“There was a ton of organizational consensus around the pick,” Berry said.
Wills, 20, was a two-year starter at right tackle for the Crimson Tide, protecting left-handed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s blindside. Tagovailoa was picked No. 5 by the Miami Dolphins.
The Browns signed Jack Conklin to a three-year, $42 million deal in free agency to play right tackle, so they were looking for someone in the draft to play the other side and protect Baker Mayfield’s blindside. Stefanski said if needed Conklin could play on the left side, like he did at Michigan State, but the plan is to go with Wills.
He played right tackle in high school and college, but the Browns saw the movement skills and mindset to make them comfortable he can quickly execute the switch.
“Obviously ecstatic,” Stefanski said. “There’s a lot of things I like about this kid. He played a bunch of games down there at Alabama, he’ll turn 21 next month. I like his makeup, I like his tenacity, his toughness, his intelligence.
“Great movement skills, plays with a nastiness. I think we got a winner and I think we got the right person.”
The moment @JWills73 got the call …#BrownsDraft pic.twitter.com/dKTs3ik366
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) April 24, 2020
Teams’ offseason programs are being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, so it will be awhile before Wills can get on the field with his coaches and teammates. When he does, veteran line coach Bill Callahan will lead the transition.
Callahan is a big reason for the organization’s confidence in choosing Wills. Callahan evaluated his film and was satisfied he could pull off the switch. In addition, Callahan oversaw Tyron Smith’s move from right tackle to left tackle with the Cowboys, and Smith has since been to seven Pro Bowls.
“I know it’s going to be a tough transition, but I have full faith in him in getting me to that point,” Wills said of Callahan.
Left tackle was by far the main focus of the predraft conversation concerning the Browns. DePodesta called it a “highly unusual” draft class at the position, with four highly rated prospects he called worthy of the 10th pick.
The Browns were fortunate how the first nine picks played out. Georgia’s Andrew Thomas was the only tackle taken, by the Giants at No. 4.
Wills, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs were still on the board for the Browns. Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who seemed like the only non-left tackle option for the Browns, went No. 8 to Arizona.
The Jets took Becton at No. 11, and Wirfs went to Tampa Bay at No. 13.
DePodesta said Wills was the Browns’ highest-rated tackle in the draft, and his availability made it a no-brainer to stay put and not pursue a trade for Williams, who wants out of Washington. The Browns would’ve had to part with a draft pick and pay Williams big money. Instead, they went with the younger, cheaper, healthier rookie.
“We did think we had a decent shot at one of these guys falling to us at No. 10,” DePodesta said of the tackles. “We were going to wait to see what happened there before we really pursued any other avenue.”
Wills felt he was the best tackle in the class and appreciated the Browns agreeing.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I firmly believed that I was, so them believing in me, it makes me feel good and I’m going to prove them right.”
Wills was a second-team All-American as a junior in 2019. He allowed only one sack and 3.5 quarterback hurries in 771 snaps.
Alabama coach Nick Saban recently told The Chronicle-Telegram recently he was confident Wills could make the switch to the left side.
“He’s athletic enough to do it,” Saban said. “He’s really smart, he’s got power, he can move, he’s got good range. He’s really a good player.”
Wills quickly heard from Mayfield, Thomas and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after he was picked.
“Just lemme know how much time you need to finish your route 13,” Wills replied to Beckham on Twitter.
Wills knew some NFL teams would ask him to switch sides, so he’s been preparing on his own.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “Football is filled with challenges, so whenever I can get to it, I’m ready.”
Berry admits Wills will need to be reprogrammed and get comfortable but doesn’t doubt his talent to do so.
“His speed, his athletic ability and his ability to pass protect, all of those are top-notch from our perspective,” Berry said.
Wills can also run block, and at Alabama ran the wide zone scheme Stefanski will use.
“We think really physically he is certainly one of the prototypes for our system,” Berry said.
“Once we got to know the person and spend some time with him and our coaches spent some time with him, we really felt very comfortable that we were getting a guy that certainly fits our scheme and certainly fits our building,” Stefanski said.