The Cleveland Browns had a big decision to make during the 2018 off-season at the left tackle position. Future Hall-of-Famer Joe Thomas had just retired, and their free agent targets decided to sign elsewhere.
Entering the week of the draft, the most likely starter at left tackle would have been Spencer Drango. That changed on the second night of the draft when the Browns selected Austin Corbett with the 33rd overall selection.
Most scouts envisioned the University of Nevada left tackle to be kicked inside in the NFL, as they did not believe he had the length to manage NFL edge rushers. Despite that, the Browns still felt that Corbett could be the heir apparent to Thomas.
During mini-camp and training camp, Corbett spent time working at both tackle and guard. But once the pads were put on in August, Corbett was seeing most of his practice time as the third-string left tackle.
But later on in camp, then head coach Hue Jackson announced that Joel Bitonio would be moving to left tackle and Corbett jumped into the starting lineup at left guard. This was the expected lineup for when the Browns opened the 2018 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, the lineup changed once again following the preseason. The coaching staff decided to move Bitonio back to left guard and have undrafted rookie Desmond Harrison start at left tackle. That move forced Corbett into a reserve role, which would work well for him since he can play almost every position on the offensive line.
After not starting a game during the 2018 season, there remains a lot of questions about the 23-year-old. Especially considering that the organization may have found out that he can not play tackle in the NFL.
Had the Browns felt Corbett was able to play tackle, they would have played him at left tackle over Harrison, who has potential but still needs to be coached up. If they still feel that Corbett can play tackle, then his best chance to crack the starting lineup in 2019 is to win one of the two guard spots or the center job.
Winning one of those three jobs is incredibly unlikely, however. The strength of the Browns offensive line in 2018 was the interior three. Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler were two of the best guards in the entire league last season, and J.C. Tretter was also one of the best centers in the league.
Add in the fact that Tretter’s former offensive line coach in Green Bay, James Campen, is now on the Browns coaching staff, it will make it even harder for Corbett to beat out Tretter for the center job. Campen is familiar with Tretter and helped become a solid starter in the middle of the Packer offensive line.
If the Browns envision Corbett as the team’s center of the future, then the team may let Tretter enter free agency following the 2019 season. Tretter is entering the final year of his deal, and could be expecting a raise in salary if he performs at the same level he did in 2018 next season. But with how well Tretter played for Browns last season, it would be an odd decision to let him move on to another team.
It would be even harder for Corbett to win one of the two starting guard jobs because of the performance of Bitonio and Zeitler. Both guards were able to limit pressure on quarterback Baker Mayfield in 2018. Their performances in the middle helped create time for Mayfield to pick apart defenses from the pocket.
The best chance for Corbett to win of the two guard jobs is if the Browns were to trade either Bitonio or Zeitler. With how well they played in 2018, Cleveland could receive some solid compensation for one of the offensive linemen. However, Bitonio is the longest tenured Brown, and it would be hard to lose his presence in the locker room.
Zeitler would be the most likely to be moved, but that in general seems incredibly unlikely. He is entering the third year of a large five-year deal, and his cap hit would hurt the Browns in cap space. So a Zeitler trade would make very little sense.
That leaves Corbett with only a couple of options for 2019: stay in the reserve role, try to win a tackle job, or the Browns trade him.
The most likely option is that Corbett is once again the sixth offensive linemen for the Browns next season. There is a low probability that he would win one of the three starting interior jobs, and general manager John Dorsey would not cut bait with one of his top draft picks so soon.
Cleveland may think that he still he has a chance of playing tackle. They could make it a priority for Campen this off-season to help develop Corbett as a tackle. Campen did great work with developing the Packers offensive line, and perhaps he could be a better teacher for Corbett than Bob Wylie was.
Both tackle positions appear to be open for competition, as both spots were the weak spots of the Browns line last season, although the second half of the season was much better. It is just a question of if Corbett has what it takes to play tackle in the NFL to win one of the jobs.
The 2019 off-season will be big for Corbett, as he needs to show great development since last season. Right now, many view him as a bust because second round selections do not usually sit the bench for an entire season. If he wants to change that narrative, he has a lot of work to do if he wants to be a starting offensive linemen for the Browns next season.