The Vikings are having a revelation this season, winning three straight divisional games — since starting the season 1-5 — on the will of Dalvin Cook and the offensive line.
Second-round rookie Ezra Cleveland has played a pivotal role in the turnaround, starting in all three of the Vikings’ wins since the bye week. He produced the sixth-best performance by a Vikings guard since 2016 against the Green Bay Packers in Week 8 — just his second career start — with an 81.1 Pro Football Focus position grade for the game, per InsideTheVikings reporter Will Ragatz.
The Vikings will have to make do without Cleveland against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday as the rookie was ruled out on Friday with an ankle injury he sustained early against the Chicago Bears, which he decided to play through.
Cleveland’s void in the starting lineup has instilled fever dreams across the Vikings fan base as speculation has ensued over who will take his place after the historically poor performances by both Pat Elflein, who was released last week, and Dru Samia, who is on the COVID-19 reserve list, at right guard.
The Vikings announced that practice squad center Brett Jones will replace Cleveland in the lineup, per Fox 9’s Jeff Wald.
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Who is Brett Jones?
Jones, a native of Saskatchewan, Canada, was a second-round pick in the Canadian Football League draft. He won the Most Outstanding Rookie Award in 2013 and the Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Award the following year with the Calgary Stampeders, who won the Grey Cup in 2014.
Jones worked his way through the ranks of the New York Giants and earned first-team reps in 2017, starting in 13 of 16 games. Pro Football Focus gave him a 70.2 positional grade, which ranked 15th out of 35 qualifying centers, per Raditz.
The Vikings traded a seventh-round pick in 2018 to acquire Jones, who started the first three games of the season at center in relief of Elflein. Jones has remained on the bubble of the Vikings roster as a backup center given his lack of athleticism. He’s proven to be a strong pass protector, but getting to the second level has proven to be his weakness that is not suitable in the Vikings zone-run scheme.
Jones is not a one-to-one replacement of Cleveland athletically, but he’s arguably the Vikings’ best interior pass protector which could play in favor of the Vikings passing game, should the run game struggle against the Cowboys.
That’s a big if considering the Cowboys have allowed the second-most yards per carry (5.0) and the most rushing yards per game (157.0) this season.
Brett Jones Documentary Debuted This Week
Coincidentally, a documentary, “Uncharted North,” about Jones was released on Youtube the day before the announcement that he would start on Sunday.
The documentary details Jones’ rise from playing football in rural Saskatchewan to battles with Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks in college, hoisting the Grey Cup in the CFL, overcoming an ACL injury and his arrival to Minnesota.
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