What does Jack Conklin bring to the Browns offense? That is an easy one. The best right tackle on the free-agent market. A third pro bowl caliber lineman to protect Baker Mayfield. There are a ton of generic answers out there that are accurate but don’t provide the details. While we got the best right tackle on the market, does he fit? How good is he at some of what is expected from the Browns new offense. Conklin has been one of the better right tackles in his four years in the NFL, so how does that help the Browns new attack. Before getting to Conklin, what is the zone blocking offense?
The Zone Blocking Scheme
Stefanski is bringing the zone blocking scheme created by Mike Shanahan back in the Terrelle Davis Superbowl days with the Broncos. Shanahan’s coordinator back in those days was Gary Kubiak. Kubiak was an offensive assistant last season, helping implement that system in Minnesota. Stefanski was in charge of the offense and thrived calling plays within the zone concept. According to Pro Football Focus, Minnesota used zone blocking fourth-most in the NFL, behind only the Ravens, Packers, and 49ers. All of these teams went to the playoffs with the 49ers taking it all the way to the Super Bowl.
In simple terms, the zone blocking scheme assigns linemen to block in a specific area (or zone) instead of being assigned to a player. Within the system, you have the inside and outside zone concepts to get the defense moving the direction you want them going. The outside or stretch zone, Stefanski’s bread and butter, is getting the offense to move laterally and then letting the running back find a cut-back lane. The passing attack mimics this with play action to help open up wide receivers giving the quarterback easy throws.
Stefanski also uses the inside zone, meant to get the defense going vertically. The lineman comes off the line at a 45-degree angle and then fill a “zone” the running play is designed to go. They will then take any defensive player that comes into there zone. The running back fins the whole and turns up-field quickly. All of this is a very simplified version of a more complex and successful system.
How Does Jack Conklin Fit?
When I first wrote about the Browns’ interest in Jack Conklin back in February, the big thing was questioning why. Fans were excited, but a lot of the twitter “experts” asked why the Browns would go after a lineman that does not fit the scheme. While researching that first article, it became clear as to where the Browns interest stemmed. Conklin had played in a zone scheme at Michigan State. The success he had in that system ended with him being a top ten NFL pick. He has since proven to be a top ten run-blocking tackle in the NFL regardless of system and a top 15 tackle in the NFL overall.
Pro Football Focus had him listed as the third-best tackle when wide zone blocking. As stated above, this is Stefanski’s bread and butter. Conklin earned an 80.5 run-blocking grade in 2019. The Titans ran one of the most productive zone systems in the NFL. In the end, Conklin is the perfect fit for the system that Cleveland intends to rely on in 2020.
The offensive line in 2019 gave up 40 sacks overall and was a problem all year in the system they were asked to perform. Starting right tackle, Chris Hubbard gave up six of those sacks and had eight penalties in 891 snaps. Jack Conklin comes over from the Titans, giving up four sacks and committing seven penalties over 931 snaps. While those numbers are pretty close, Hubbard gave up 38 quarterback pressures in 2019. Per PFF among the 62 offensive tackles with at least 800 pass-blocking snaps played since 2016, Titans’ Jack Conklin ranks twenty-fourth in pressure percentage allowed at 5.7%. Conklin may be considered average as a pass blocker that is a huge improvement over what Chris Hubbard brought in 2019.
Conklin brings everything you could want to the zone running scheme. He is also now two full seasons away from the ACL tear that seemed to affect his pass protection ability. Could we see Conklin return to his pre-ACL form? Maybe not. He is still just 25, and even if he never regains his all-pro form, he could certainly be a pro bowl caliber player for the next three years. On top of all that, the contract signed by Conklin may be massive, but it is only for three seasons, and Andrew Berry front-loaded the deal with $20 million in the first year. The structure will allow the Browns to keep Conklin while not having any effect on the future contract of the young players on the roster. Berry made the most critical move a great one overall.
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