The Cleveland Browns received some criticism for taking offensive lineman Joel Bitonio in the early second round of the draft instead of picking up a touted wide receiver prospect, most namely Marqise Lee, because they knew that Josh Gordon would get hit with a lengthy suspension. I was upset the Browns failed to address the wide receiver position, but I held off on criticizing them due to Bitonio’s talent. Bitonio stopped top pass rushers like Kyle Van Noy last season, and he was a possible first-round pick who can be a capable starter at guard or tackle. The Browns are wisely starting him off as a guard, as that’s a greater position of need. Notoriously slow-starter (to a season, that is) Mitchell Schwartz could have kicked inside to allow Bitonio to play at right tackle, but keeping Schwartz on the outside and playing Bitonio at guard made the most sense.
It certainly seemed that way in the first preseason game, too, as Bitonio looked excellent out there, especially when paving the way for the running game. ESPN’s Adam Caplan reports that the Browns believe Bitonio “will be a star” in this league, and he noted this after stating his admiration for the Browns running game (the talented duo of Ben Tate and Terrance West with the underrated-but-fumble-prone Dion Lewis behind them as a change-of-pace back with pass-catching ability).
Bitonio has all the tools to be a very good starter in this league at either guard or tackle, but it looks like he’s settled in nicely as a guard. His versatility only boosts his value, and it will be exciting to see the Browns line get to work. If Bitonio does become a star, then the criticism against the Browns for not drafting a top WR will dissipate completely (though that might have more to do with the likes of Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins), and the Browns left side (and middle) of Joe Thomas, Bitonio, and Alex Mack will be easily the best in the NFL.