Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland was drafted in the second round a year ago as the potential future left tackle of the franchise but quickly transitioned to playing guard for the first time in his career.
Starting in nine games his rookie year, Cleveland took his bumps and bruises but emerged as the team’s top guard entering the 2021 offseason. The Vikings selecting Virginia Tech left tackle Christian Darrisaw No. 21 overall in this year’s draft signals that Cleveland will stay at guard this upcoming season.
Despite the position change, Cleveland showed enough as a rookie to land himself among some of the most promising sophomore prospects in 2021.
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Cleveland Ranked the 3rd Best Sophomore Prospect
Pro Football Focus’ Seth Galina ranked the top 15 breakout candidates who “could become stars” in their sophomore years and placed Cleveland at No. 3 on his list. Cleveland was ranked behind only Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy.
Here’s what Galina wrote on Cleveland’s prospects in Year 2:
The former left tackle at Boise State was moved to guard immediately after being drafted by the Vikings, and although there were some rocky moments, he did enough to warrant a spot on this list.
From Week 6 — the beginning of his tenure as a starter — to Week 10, Cleveland was the 52nd-highest-graded player at the position (57.2) among 70 guards who played at least 100 snaps. From then on, everything started to click. His grade rose to 71.5 over his last five games, which put him 17th among guards to close out the season. He graded out better as a run blocker over the course of the season, which makes sense given the intricacies of switching from tackle to guard in pass protection, as he was tasked with taking on bigger bodies inside.
Cleveland’s second half of the 2020 season provides hope that he can become a top player at the position for Minnesota as early as this season.
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Vikings Offense Hinges on 2 Rookies & Cleveland
Minnesota made one of its toughest decisions in releasing veteran left tackle Riley Reiff in March. Reiff was coming off a career year, allowing just one sack on 567 pass-blocking snaps.
Reiff’s departure leaves right tackle Brian O’Neill and center Garrett Bradbury as the only two linemen who have at least 10 NFL starts in their career.
Cleveland, who is switching back to his natural side at left guard, per Vikings.com, will anchor Darrisaw, while Wyatt Davis (No. 86 overall, Ohio State) is the projected starter to take over at right guard.
The young trio has shown promise that could justify cautious optimism. However, until they show long-term production, the line is just as much of a question mark as it was last season — ranking 27th overall entering the 2021 season, per PFF.