The Cleveland Browns claim that Alabama offensive tackle Jedrick Wills was their top offensive tackle prospect and that there were not many mock scenarios in which they envisioned the player falling into their laps at No. 10 overall.
"He was actually the top tackle on our board from the beginning. We were really excited," Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta said. "It is a really, really good group of tackles so that is certainly not to slight those other guys because I think they would have all been worthy of being taken with our pick. We were certainly excited about Jedrick."
Chances of success are even greater if aided by future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Joe Thomas. Wills says that Thomas has reached out to him.
"Joe Thomas reached out to me and kind of knew that I would be going to that position right away. As soon as I can start that position as fast as possible and kind of send him some videos, get some pointers and clips from his direction, I feel like I will be in good hands," Wills explained.
He later clarified when the retired lineman reached out to him.
"Before and after [the draft]," Wills said. "He had just hit me up on Twitter DM and just told me that he had a talk with (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew Berry. He told me that he really likes my game. Just now, he gave his number and was like, 'Call me sometime if you ever need any pointers.' He knew I was going to be playing left tackle and if I need any pointers on tips and videos or things like that, he will just be there to help me out."
Thomas circled Wills as his top offensive tackle prospect immediately.
"The guy that I'm really excited about when I watched, it seems like he is the most finished, polished product out there for an offensive lineman is Jedrick Wills from Alabama. He is an absolute stud," Thomas said Thursday before the draft, via the Browns YouTube channel. "His change of direction is phenomenal. He creates power with his ankles, knees and hips. He is firm when he needs to be against the bull rush but he can also move men. I can't say enough good things about him when I watch him on tape. He looks like a professional left tackle that is ready for the Pro Bowl in Day 1."
The Kentucky native has played right tackle dating back to his time at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Kentucky. His teammate, Landon Young, was a highly-rated offensive tackle that signed with Kentucky. The Browns will start Wills at left tackle after signing Jack Conklin in free agency to play right tackle.
"I do think that there is going to be some physical re-programming or gaining a little bit of comfort," Berry said. "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. In terms of the actual physical skillset – his speed, his athletic ability and 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."
Head coach Kevin Stefanski is confident that Wills can make the transition because of a valuable addition to his coaching staff.
"I am very confident in Jedrick for a bunch of reasons. First and foremost, I point out (offensive line coach) Bill Callahan. I think he is top notch at developing players. This is something that he has done before," Stefanski said.
"Then you have to look at Jedrick's skillset and you have to look at the makeup of the kid. To some players, it may be a tougher transition than others, but I am very confident that Jedrick has that ability. He has already been working on it. He was down there protecting the blind side of (former Alabama and Dolphins QB) Tua (Tagovailoa) as everybody knows. It is something that he will work at and he will continue to get better, but I feel confident that we have Coach Callahan there to lead that development."
Stefanski, himself, was also a fan of Wills.
"There are a lot of things I like about this kid. He has played a bunch of games down there at Alabama. He will turn 21 next month," he said in reference to the player's age. "I liked his makeup. I like his tenacity, his toughness, his intelligence, and then not to mention that he is a scheme fit for our team. Great movement skills. Plays with a nastiness. I think we got a winner, and I think we got the right person. I keep coming back to it and it is the truth: just trying to get some good players in here and some good people, and he fits the bill."
Cleveland set out to address the offensive line this offseason and they have accomplished it. Entering Day 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft, they can turn their attention to fill some remaining needs on defense. The Browns have seven total selections, including three on the draft's second day. Defensive tackle, linebacker and safety figure to be prominent needs for them.