The massive hole on the left side of Cleveland’s offensive line may be shrinking.
Needing to find a replacement at tackle following the retirement of perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, the Browns used the first pick in the second round of the NFL draft Friday night on Nevada’s Austin Corbett, a walk-on who turned into a four-year college starter and is versatile enough to play three positions.
The 307-pounder is close friends with Browns guard Joel Bitonio, who played alongside Thomas for several years and told Corbett about the person and player he could replace.
“As far as it goes in being ‘the next Joe Thomas,’ that is just a rare, rare human there,” Corbett said. “If I can learn from him and follow in his footsteps, that’s just amazing.”
Two picks after getting Corbett, the Browns used the No. 35 overall selection on bruising Georgia running back Nick Chubb, who ran for 1,345 yards last season, two years after suffering a knee injury.
The pick was announced by Browns legend Jim Brown, the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.
“I have no questions about this guy,” said vice president of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith, who compared Chubb to former All-Pro Jamal Lewis. “Just give him the ball.”
The Browns traded their third second-round pick, No. 64 overall, to Indianapolis for the No. 67 pick and took Miami defensive end Chad Thomas. Cleveland also received a sixth-round pick from the Colts.
If football doesn’t pan out, Thomas has a music career to fall back on. He plays nine instruments and has produced for hip-hop artists, including Rick Ross.
For the Browns, the first two days have provided a chance to bolster a roster that failed to produce a win last season. They’ve been bold, taking quarterback Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 pick, and feel much better about their future.
“The main thing is that we have improved,” said assistant general manager Eliot Wolf. “You set out to improve every single day. We feel like we have done that. Obviously, if we go out and do not win a game, then none of this means anything. Anyone can win in March or April.”
As the league’s lowest scoring team last season, the Browns needed playmakers. Chubb gives them another and he joins a running back group that includes free-agent signee Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson, Cleveland’s best offensive player last season.
At 227 pounds, Chubb can run inside and he’s quick enough to turn the corner for a big gain. He scored 15 touchdowns last season finished his career with 4,769 yards, second in SEC history to Herschel Walker.
“When you play running back in the SEC, you have to be able to create between the tackles with your feet and you have to be able to play a physical style of football, and Nick Chubb exemplifies all of that in his running style,” Highsmith said. “Not only is he a great football player, he’s a tremendous person, tremendous individual, tremendous leader and he exemplifies what we’re trying to build here in Cleveland.”
Corbett fits that mold as well.
He was undersized when enrolling at Nevada, but inspired by his brother who played at San Diego State, he worked his way into getting a scholarship and eventually drafted by the Browns.
“No D-I program wants a 240-pound offensive lineman. My brother at the time was playing at San Diego State,” he said. “He was on scholarship so he kind of set the bar for me. If he can play D-I, then so can I.
“Then I just got the opportunity to walk on at the local college here at Nevada. That was the only way I could play D-I. Financially, that was the only way so it made sense for us. It is just a difference in how you have to go about yourself when you are a walk-on.”
The Browns plan to move right tackle Shon Coleman to the left side, but he could be challenged for the starting job by Corbett.
“If Austin is able to be the left tackle, it would be great,” Wolf said.
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Thomas started for two seasons with the Hurricanes, recording 10 sacks.
Andrew Berry, another of the team’s player personnel vice presidents, feels Thomas can have an immediate impact as a rookie.
“We thought he was one of the most physical defensive linemen in the draft,” Berry said. “We think he’s a very talented, strong, athletic defensive lineman who can play multiple spots along our front. He is a player when we talk about setting the edge or keeping contained in the run-game, he can really put on a clinic tape of being able to do that at one of the end spots.
“He is just a strong, long, physical guy that uses his hands well.”