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Each week during the 2021 season, we'll examine our NFL draft steal of the week — a younger player whose NFL success has surpassed where he was drafted. We'll try to look back at the why and how of where they were selected and what we thought of that prospect prior to the draft.
Virginia Tech OG Wyatt Teller
As the Buffalo Bills were approaching cutdown day in the late summer of 2019, they found themselves with a glut of interior offensive linemen. A few hundred miles to the southwest, the Cleveland Browns had a vacancy at their right guard spot.
It led to a trade that barely made ripples outside those two NFL cities: The Bills shipped Teller and a 2021 seventh-round pick to the Browns for 2020 fifth- and sixth-round picks. Little did we know it, but former Browns GM John Dorsey had just pulled off perhaps his best trade during his time in Cleveland.
Teller had started the seven games of the 2018 season at left guard for the Bills as a rookie, but the following offseason saw the team bring in a slew of veteran blockers to compete for multiple OL spots, including left guard. When Bills coaches deemed others as having played better there, the Teller trade went down.
Through the first seven games of the 2019 season, Teller played a grand total of 11 offensive snaps. Then in Week 9 against the Denver Broncos, he started at right guard for Cleveland. Only COVID-19 and injury would keep him out of the lineup from that moment on.
On Tuesday, the Browns made Teller the second-richest offensive guard in the NFL. His new four year, $56.8 million deal falls behind only the Kansas City Chiefs' Joe Thuney in terms of average salary per year (not counting franchise-tag deals).
Teller first drew national attention last season, when he was named second-team All-Pro despite missing a combined five regular-season games. He returned for the Browns' first playoff run in 18 years. Teller's slobberknocker block on the Chiefs' Tyrann Mathieu in the AFC title game made the Browns guard something of a household name.
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) January 19, 2021
And in 2021, Teller has maintained his excellence. Pro Football Focus rates him as the NFL's second-best guard this season, behind only the Cowboys' Zack Martin. And Teller again was highlighted for a massive block — this time in the Week 9 pasting of the Cincinnati Bengals, pulling through the hole to flatten safety Jessie Bates III.
— NFL (@NFL) November 7, 2021
Why did Teller slip to the late fifth round three years ago? And could the Bills have possibly known what they were giving up? We dive into Teller the prospect to see how it went down.
Why did Wyatt Teller slip in the draft?
Teller's rise as a prospect was an interesting journey. A former top-60 overall Rivals recruit, he committed to the Hokies as a defensive lineman and spent part of his redshirt freshman year on that side of the ball. However, the coaches wanted to tap into Teller's raw power and surprising athleticism in order to convert him to the offensive line.
While he developed on the fly as a blocker, starting 43 games over four years for the Hokies, Teller also established himself as a weight-room warrior, setting multiple school records in power lifting. And though he was named first-team All-ACC in his final season in 2017, Teller played better as a junior in 2016, according to scouts.
Still, he helped himself out with a strong week of work at the 2018 Senior Bowl and later tested extremely week at the NFL scouting combine, boasting above-average size and registering top-20th percentile numbers in the 3-cone drill, broad jump and bench press. In addition, Teller interviewed well with teams, coming across as a businesslike, even-keeled player whose temperament turned nasty on the field.
But scouts still wondered about his up-and-down play as a senior, lamented that some of his athletic traits didn't always show up on tape and pegged him as a guard only in the NFL. One team we spoke with after the 2018 NFL draft noted that Teller also had struggled at one point with managing his ADHD diagnosis (something he's spoken openly about since then), which often led to some shaky practice habits and focus at Tech.
Still, there was some top-100 chatter at one point with Teller, making his slide well into Day 3 a bit of a surprise from the outside looking in. He was the 18th offensive lineman drafted that year, and though it was considered a strong OL draft that year, Teller still was picked behind two blockers (fourth-rounder Rick Leonard and fifth-rounder Cole Madison) who never ended up taking a single regular-season snap in the NFL.
How we viewed Teller as a prospect
Teller's length, thickness and power stood out on tape. He was an elite finisher in college, especially in the run game. We were also a bit worried that his testing numbers didn't quite match up to his tape, but there was enough quality movement to believe he could be an average guard at the very least.
It turns out we undersold him — quite a bit, in fact.
We loved his long arms (33 7/8 inches), big hands (10 1/8 inches), muscular frame (311 pounds with very little "bad" weight). We saw his potential in a dominant 2016 season, along with parts of his 2017 season. But there were too many instances where Teller played down to his competition that final year.
In the end, we asked ourselves: How highly do we rate a good run-blocking, seemingly average pass-blocking offensive guard? For that reason, Teller finished just outside our top 100 overall prospects for the 2018 class. Our pre-draft best guess would have been that he'd have gone early on Day 3, likely somewhere in Round 4.
At no point did we assume he'd end up one of the best guards in the NFL, even with his unmet potential. We're happy to take the giant L on this one, just as most of the NFL did. There are slides and surprises every year, but it's fair to say Teller's evolution has been a fairly shocking one.
Teller turns 27 years old in a few weeks, which actually puts him on the younger side among the most established offensive guards in the NFL. He's older than 2018 draft classmate Quenton Nelson (25) and players such as the Patriots' Michael Onwenu (23) and the Falcons' Chris Lindstrom (24), who can fairly claim to be in this discussion.
But the majority of the other top performers at the position — including Martin, Thuney, Browns teammate Joel Bitonio and others — are closer to 30 years old, or past that mark. It's a position where 31 players age 28 and older are current NFL starters or major contributors currently, health notwithstanding.
Although offensive tackle and center boast far more older players still performing at a high level, cagey veteran guards such as the Titans' Rodger Saffold and the Ravens' Kevin Zeitler have been able to carve out long careers.
With his new deal locking him in with Cleveland through the year 2025, Teller figures to be a pillar there for several years to come.