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Jedrick Wills Jr. says he’s trending in right direction, motivated by play of rest of O-line, would be ‘great’ if team picks up fifth-year option

Jedrick Wills Jr. remains an enigma nearly three seasons into his NFL career.

The footwork, athleticism and size that made him the No. 10 pick in the 2020 draft are obvious. But the stretches of stellar play, which have increased this season, are too often followed by snaps that call into question if he’ll ever fully reach his potential.

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The Browns have invested a multitude of resources to make the offensive line a consistent strength and one of the best in the NFL, including selecting Wills out of the University of Alabama and moving him to left tackle after he’d played on the right side his entire life. Guards Joel Bitonio (three years, $48 million) and Wyatt Teller (four years, $56.8 million) signed contract extensions last year, and right tackle Jack Conklin (four years, $60 million) inked his Monday.


Despite the commitments, Cleveland’s front five will never be elite without premier performance from the guy protecting quarterback Deshaun Watson’s blindside. Wills, who will be challenged Sunday in a matchup with Washington defensive end Chase Young, is motivated to match his linemates who have received Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition.

“Be on the same level as those guys,” he told The Chronicle-Telegram on Friday. “You see all them get paid, it makes you want to get paid, too. Just you see them grading high, so I was like, ‘OK, (screw) it, why can’t I get a high grade this week, too?’ Which I have. I had one of the highest grades in my whole career this season a couple times. So I feel like we’re trending in the right direction.”

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Wills received praise for a dominant outing against the Falcons and pointed to games vs. the Jets and Buccaneers as others for which he got a high grade from the coaching staff, including the best among the linemen against Tampa Bay.

“It builds a lot of confidence,” he said. “There’s always gonna be games where you’re not perfect. Try not to stack bad weeks on top of a bad week. Just trying to stay in a good range. And I’ve done that. I’ve been pretty high for the most part almost every single game.”

The amateurs on social media and the experts at Pro Football Focus have a different opinion. PFF has graded Wills 63.0 overall, 59th among NFL tackles. He’s 45th in pass protection (69.7) and 55th run blocking (56.3), with nine penalties, five sacks, 11 hits and 36 pressures allowed in 15 games and 1,035 snaps.

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Two members of Wills’ draft class are graded in the top five — the Giants’ Andrew Thomas, who was drafted fourth, ranks No. 3, and Tampa Bay’s Tristan Wirfs, who was drafted 13th, ranks fourth.

Wills said he never looks at PFF, has been off social media for more than a year and doesn’t feel the pressure of being the No. 10 pick.

“I want to live up to my teammates’ expectations,” he said. “I want to have their trust. I want to have the trust of people in the building.

“Fans will hate on you if you’re good or not. They tell LeBron (James) that he’s (terrible) all the time, And he’s one of the best basketball players of all time. For the most part, it’s what I can do to better myself, what I can do to better the trust of my teammates, to better the trust of my coaches.”

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The organization has a decision to make this offseason that will show how much it believes in Wills and his ability to take his game to the next level. The Browns have until May 1 to pick up the fully guaranteed fifth-year option on his rookie contract that’s expected to be worth approximately $14 million for 2024.

Picking it up would show a commitment to Wills. Declining to wouldn’t necessarily end Wills’ tenure in Cleveland but could raise the stakes in 2023 and create a path to free agency.

“That stuff’s there. It’s the reality,” he said. “We still got two weeks left (in the season). We’ll see what happens.

“That’d be nice. It’d be great to still be with those guys and whatnot, but it’s up to them and all I can do is go out there on Sunday and put what I have on film. So that’s the only thing that you have in this league is what you put on film.”

Has he shown he’s a franchise left tackle?

“I would say for myself, just confidently speaking, I’m better than most guys in the league,” Wills said. “So I would say yes. But as far as what they think, I don’t know.”

Perhaps the biggest negative with Wills is a lack of 100 percent effort on every snap. Coordinator Alex Van Pelt said early in the season he could be one of the league’s best tackles if he wants to be dominant.

Wills acknowledged he didn’t finish plays in 2021 because he was protecting an injured ankle but doesn’t have that excuse this season, as he’s stayed mostly healthy. Back pain kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday this week, but he returned Friday and will play vs. the Commanders.

“Gotten better, but still could be better,” he said of finishing. “Just having that want-to, having that drive. putting myself in better positions. That’s about it.”

Veteran line coach Bill Callahan said in the offseason he was looking for a “quantum leap” from Wills, who thinks he’s made significant strides.

“Way better. I think I had a complete turnaround from last year,” he said. “It plays a big deal not being hurt. Felt way better. I feel like there’s been a direct portrayal of that in my game.”

Coach Kevin Stefanski said the process for Wills is ongoing.

“Like any young player, he is always striving for consistency,” he said. “He has had some really, really good moments. Has been able to stay healthy for a vast majority of it. A young player who is progressing.”

Wills has seen the most growth in pass protection and knows there’s more room for improvement in the ground game, including not getting beat inside.

“Just the little things that could take it to another level,” Wills said. “Because I do fine, but I think there’s still more that could be in there.”

He wants to continue to get better against inside moves in pass protection, especially with a mobile quarterback like Watson, but notes the coaching staff shows trust by usually leaving him to block one-on-one.

“I’m on the island almost all day long,” he said. “The offense that we’re in, I don’t get any help really. When they do give me help, I appreciate it, but just try to hold my ground each week. Just trying to put a real staple on that, I know I could be that person.”

A strong finish to his third season starts with stopping Young, the No. 2 pick out of Ohio State in 2020. He tore his right anterior cruciate ligament Nov. 14, 2021, had it reconstructed and didn’t return to action until last week. He had two tackles and a pass defensed in 30 snaps off the bench vs. the 49ers and is expected to start and play more against the Browns.

“Still explosive. Still big, athletic, pops out on film,” Wills said. “Gotta make sure that we get a body on him, do good against him.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.


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