Under the Microscope: Browns right guard Wyatt Teller's ascension into a star
In his third season and first as a full-time starter, Wyatt Teller has emerged as one of only a handful of elite guards in the NFL and the most physically dominant. These are bold statements, but when you study his tape and contrast it with the other top-tier guards across the league, they're undeniable. We are going to put his career and season under the microscope to help provide a better understanding of how Teller’s largely unforeseen rise came to fruition.
Outlook as a Prospect
Teller was a four-year starter at Virginia Tech with 43 starts, all at left guard, including 25 consecutive starts to end his college career. He was known as a weight-room junkie, earning the team’s ‘Super Iron Hokie’ honors for a 370-pound push jerk, a team-high 600-pound back squat, a team-high 385-pound power clean and a 420-pound bench press. At the combine he cemented himself as one of the best raw athletes at his position with an incredible broad jump, 3-cone, and wingspan.
Teller's performance spoke to his elite linear explosiveness and ability to unlock his hips from the broad jump. Even more so, it pointed to a special blend of lateral quickness represented in the 3-cone. Usually if an athlete is explosive linearly, they aren’t as explosive laterally, so the combination is eye-catching within the framework of Combine performance. Teller’s enormous wingspan is noticeable on tape and helps him gain leverage on defenders in some more nuanced ways when his base and footwork are on point.
I remember some of these athletic and physical traits flashing on tape in college with his ability to sustain and finish defenders into the ground with ease, but Teller also struggled for consistency, with a tendency to play down to his level of competition that concerned scouts. Teller's best film also came from his junior year in 2016 so the up and down nature of his 2017 senior season caused some trepidation in the eyes of evaluators as well.
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler expressed a similar sentiment in his 2018 Draft Guide, reporting that Teller had questionable practice habits, at least partially due to an ADHD diagnosis he received in childhood that took some time to get under control. Teller himself even talked about it openly and realized it was something he needed to overcome to fulfill his immense potential. On his journey into the NFL, there were some concerns mixed with compelling traits, which resulted in the sort of boom-bust type of profile which led to him being drafted on day three.
Rookie season in Buffalo & Becoming a Brown
On August 29th, 2019, just days prior to NFL teams needing to cut down their roster to the final 53, then-Browns general manager John Dorsey made a trade to bolster the team’s offensive line depth. The former Chiefs GM sent fifth- and sixth-round picks to the Bills for a seventh-rounder and Teller, who was projected to be a backup guard for Buffalo. Since the move secured the rights to a young, second-year player in Teller with very good physical tools for minimal draft capital days before he might have become a training camp cut, it was rightly pegged as a sound, but unspectacular move. While Dorsey’s process earned the equivalent of a golf clap in media circles, nobody could have seen the results that laid bare a little over a year later.
Teller caught my eye in 2018 when I did my weekly O-line tape study across the league, and I noted it on my Twitter account at the time, but I wanted to get a better idea of what inspired Dorsey and the scouting staff to make the call to add Teller to the roster. I went back and studied all seven of his starts for the Bills during his 2018 rookie campaign.
Below are some of the most impressive clips that I found from Teller. You can see him making the types of blocks and showing the same sort of traits to what he is doing this season, and although they weren’t nearly as common as they are now, the blend of size, length, play strength, power, and competitive toughness were captivating. You can even see the signature snatch/trap technique that he uses now as a rookie, and against no less of a star than Calais Campbell.
Year 1 in Cleveland - Shades of Greatness
The Browns had little go their way in 2019, partly due to an offensive line I ranked 27th in my preseason and midseason unit rankings. Teller was oddly a backup for the first six weeks of the season before the team finally benched starting journeyman right guard Eric Kush at the end of the game vs. the Patriots in Week 8.
Teller went on to start the next nine games to finish out the season and quietly had some dominant performances that most people overlooked, probably because the team lost six of his nine starts and finished the year 6-10.
During this past off-season, I did a review on Teller’s 9 starts and came away incredibly impressed by what I saw. Let’s dive into why people perhaps shouldn’t be as surprised at his seemingly dramatic rise as they seem to be.
In Teller’s second start, he went up against a talented Bills defense and had a rep where he executed an angled-drive block and came "up and under” Bills 3-technique Star Lotulelei to generate leverage with his hands before driving his feet and folding him onto the ground.
Since Lotulelei was a renowned run-defender known for his stoutness at the point of attack, this was the first rep I saw that really got me to perk up in my chair and pay closer attention to him moving forward.
Three weeks later, the Browns traveled to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers for the second time in three weeks. Teller had a couple awe-inspiring displays of torque, power, and finishing ability against rookie sixth-round pick Isaiah Buggs, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds.
The level of competition above should be noted. Mauling a 6th round rookie isn’t as impressive as it would be if it were someone a couple tiers higher as a player, but it makes it evident that Teller is capable of reaching a level few other guards can replicate regardless of the competition.
These are all impressive flashes, but the game -- and really the rep that sold me on both Teller’s ability to at least be a quality starter this season with the upside for more -- occurred the following game in Week 14 vs. the Bengals.
From 2014-2018, Geno Atkins was an elite player for the Bengals, with a strong case for being the strongest player at his position over that span. He took a step back last year, but Atkins was still an above average starter with elite flashes of strength.
In the below clip, Teller is tasked with executing a ‘deuce block’, which is a double-team with the right tackle from the 3-technique (Atkins) to the backside linebacker, who in this case is the ‘Mike’ backer. You’ll notice at the snap that Atkins reduces down inside to avoid the right tackle before attempting to work back over and get back into the ‘B’ gap. Atkins made a costly mistake.
You can watch hundreds of reps and dozens of games from Atkins over the course of his career and you’d be hard-pressed to ever find him thrown around to this degree. This is about as impressive of a single rep as any run-blocker can have considering the competition, but also easy to overlook on a five-yard gain.
When studying his 2019 tape, the main thing that needed improvement in Teller's game was simply being more consistent with his technique and having more answers for the problems defenses present on a week-to-week basis. Suffice to say, the perfect man for the job would enter the picture less than a year later.
Year 2 in Cleveland - Improvements are made & a star is born
The Cleveland Browns offensive line entered the season with high expectations. I even had them ranked 8th overall in my top 32 preseason OL rankings. The optimism was centered around the signing free agent right tackle Jack Conklin, the drafting of Alabama star Jedrick Wills Jr. to play left tackle, and the hiring of head coach Kevin Stefanski and legendary offensive line coach Bill Callahan.
This marriage was expected to bring a diverse mix of coaching philosophies and scheme with the ability to get the most out of the players up front, which is exactly what we’ve seen through the first ten weeks of the season. Cleveland’s ground game consists of about 30% gap concepts to offset their predominantly zone-based scheme.
One benefit from the team’s implementation of gap concepts into their running game is Teller’s superb ability as a puller, which has led to the Browns prioritizing getting Teller on the move on counters and power plays.
Through six starts, we’ve gotten to see what a real life wrecking ball looks like in shoulder pads. Watch what Teller can do as a puller:
The most amazing part about Teller’s ability to pull is how he looks doing it. The two best descriptions I’ve heard for what he looks like on tape are Brock Lesnar and The Mountain from Game of Thrones.
To be as big and burly of a man as he is with such nimble, quick feet while also latching his hands accurately into the frame of defenders on the move has resulted in a ridiculous rate of big blocks. Teller has been eviscerating defensive linemen and linebackers this season in a way no other O-lineman at any position is doing.
Another lesser known, but critical factor in Teller’s success has stemmed from the hiring of assistant offensive line coach Scott Peters, former NFL guard and center, movement specialist, and founder of Tip of the Spear Football. I was fortunate to be able to call Scott to discuss Teller and some of the teaching points behind his ascension.
One of the most important factors in Teller’s play being at such a high level is the overall emphasis on having proper body mechanics on every snap and ‘playing within the integrity of his body.’
When the body has a strong base with a firm center of gravity, and is square, there is an opportunity for maximum power output from the ground through the hips and ultimately the hands. This is the sort of thing that shows up regularly when studying Teller on tape.
Peters also underscores the idea of ‘softening’ a defender’s body by ‘attacking corners of the body’ with independent hands. This is meant to knock the defender off center, causing their pads to rise, and body to turn at an angle where they are much less powerful.
Below is a good example of Teller using some of the tools he’s being taught on a rep vs. Bengals edge-rusher Sam Hubbard, who kicks inside to a 3-technique on 3rd down and 7.
Teller does a nice job using independent hands and attacking corners of Hubbard’s body (shoulder) while fighting to stay square, closing space on the pass-rusher with his hips, and establishing leverage with his hands to finish.
The result is Hubbard’s body being softened from the blows and eventually submitting to Teller’s control.
Earlier in the season Teller put on a show against one of the league’s stronger interior defensive lineman in Washington DT Da’Ron Payne.
You can see on this down block vs. Payne aligned in a shade, Teller attacking the corner of his body, softening him up (watch his pads rise), and staying square throughout the rep. The result is Teller being able to use his hips to creative movement to open up a huge hole for the runner.
On this next clip, the Browns are running a draw concept that Teller initially oversets Payne on and is out of position. He responds with an independent strike using his inside hand to regain leverage on Payne, then ‘closes space’ with his hips and gains back control with excellent pad level. Payne is ‘knocked out of line’ and uprooted in a way rarely ever done to him.
The most impressive single clip that I found of Teller is him executing a drill Callahan has been using for years called the “square drag” to absolute perfection. The square drag progression vs. a 3-technique is taught like this:
- Footwork to playside blocker is square laterally to cover up DT color
- Playside foot is lateral 6” step
- Backside foot drags (no hurry) square hips. Slide body to overtake
- Double under hand punch (fork like strike) thumbs out and lift
- Basically 2 lateral steps (playside/backside)
- In practice put D-lineman’s hand one yard off the O-lineman’s down hand
- Momentum moves forward after lateral movement
- Don’t turn shoulders, try to stay square (head can turn a little)
Teller flawlessly translated each of these coaching points to the field in Week 10 vs. the Texans on a picturesque wide zone run. I would bet this makes it into Callahan’s teach tape for the technique at his next clinic appearance.
You can go through each of Callahan’s coaching points and see them all show up on this rep. The cherry on top is how Teller finishes the block with authority and stamps the defensive tackle into the ground.
The finish is also right out of the Callahan coaching bible. To finish blocks Callahan teaches a simple progression called “Leverage, climb, tip.”
a. 2pt Fit position (similar to the fork-like strike from the square drag)
b. Brace and Pop defender, climb and then tip him
Lastly, Peters told me that they teach their blockers not to ‘cross their midline’ with their hands, which essentially means to not overextend from one side to the other because it leaves an opening for a defender to win inside. This plays off of the earlier point of always remaining square and maintaining the integrity of the body.
Staying proactive in pass-protection is another Peters coaching point that can be seen in Teller’s signature snatch/trap move that several Browns O-linemen use (Wills, Joel Bitonio to name a couple), although not quite at the frequency that Teller uses it. This is a great technique to stay aggressive and dictate the terms to the rusher.
What we are witnessing in Teller is the epitome of what it looks like when elite traits meet elite coaching, and there are few things more satisfying to watch in all of football.