The Vikings acquired offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland in the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL Draft, with pick #58 overall. The Vikings had been in trade talks with the Washington Redskins prior to and during the draft, in an effort to acquire LT Trent Williams, but that effort went south the morning of the second-round of the draft, leading the Vikings to take a tackle later that day.
Boise State | FBS - DIV-I | Mountain West Conference
Ezra Cleveland redshirted his freshman year in 2016 before becoming the starting left tackle for all 14 games in 2017. He earned first-team all-conference honors starting 13 games in 2018, and did the same in 2019 as a junior.
He suffered a turf toe injury early in the season in 2019, and was unable to practice the rest of the season.
The following are Ezra Cleveland’s Combine measurables, along with (% rank) among offensive tackles, with 99% being top, 1% bottom. Any pro day results are marked with an asterisk *.
Height: 6’6” (78%) | Weight: 311 lbs. (50%) | Arm length: 33 3/8” (40%) | Hands: 9” (2%)
40 time: 4.93s (96%) | 10-yard split: 1.74s | 20-yard split: n/a
Vertical Jump: 30” (75%) | Broad Jump: 111” (90%) | BP reps: 30 (83%)
3-Cone Drill: 7.26s (98%) | 20-yd Short Shuttle: 4.46s (94%) | Age: 21.7
Overall, Cleveland is a roughly average sized tackle, but with small hands and less than ideal arm length, but elite athletic traits.
The scouting reports on Ezra Cleveland are very consistent: elite athleticism, but lacking functional strength, a finesse tackle, not a finisher. Pretty much across the board, scouts love Cleveland’s athleticism, footwork, and mobility in down field blocks. But they also lament his lack of functional strength, anchor ability, and lack of a mauler mentality or mean streak. That, combined with a lower level of competition in the Mountain West conference raise questions about his preparedness for the next level as a pro.
Pass Sets - Light feet and easy movement skills allow him to drop off the LOS with relative ease; but with that said he’s too soft at contact and can become a swinging gate for inside counters and power rushes to uproot him. Needs to find more punch power and functional strength to hold ground and anchor.
Length - Anatomical length would be classified as “fine” but his functional punch range and strike zone is only modest and he needs to be more assertive and anticipatory with his throws to keep rushers off balance more consistently. Does not show ideal functional strength in extended scenarios.
Balance - Everything looks pretty good until you put a body on him. He’ll get pushed around too easily and get bullied at the point of attack by heavy hands, causing him to hinge, turn or lose leverage too easily. Catches hands and doesn’t have the core and lower body strength to squat and hold ground.
Hand Technique - He doesn’t illustrate a lot of secure fits — he’s a puncher and a feeler but doesn’t really set the hook and gather control of the block with consistency. Would love to see more punch power developed to offset gap penetration and ensure secure blocks being latched in at first contact.
Power at POA - Wouldn’t call him a mauler and wouldn’t call him “sufficient”, either. Needs more core strength and lower body power and hand explosion. Doesn’t reset the LOS at his wins come from mobility on extended plays or riding defenders out of the play with momentum on his side.
Football IQ - He’s very raw. He’s highly promising but he’s super raw none the less. He needs better awareness to protect his inside and he needs more savvy hand usage to capitalize on his mobility gifts. He’s pretty effective with his angles to the second level or climbing out of double teams.
Functional Athleticism - This is where he currently shines. He’s light on his feet and an easy mover in all directions, whether that be laterally or taking depth in his pass sets. Foot speed helps him stay in control and mirror in space or stay persistent and press into the body of defenders.
Anchor Ability - Needs to continue to develop his frame and become a more powerful player — worried right now that he doesn’t have the threshold of strength to be an effective pro. He’s got plenty of room to grow on his frame as well — so may just need an incubation period.
Flexibility - He’s smooth and fluid. Not always the most disciplined to have a dynamic base but that is more a byproduct of strength issues and consistent footwork than it is mobility and range of motion. Hips are fluid and offer needed hinges to roll through contact. As he adds more mass, he’ll be fine here.
Competitive Toughness - Comes up short of the expectations of a tackle in any scheme. Right now, if he were pressed into action he’d probably be better served at center but his build and upside deserve a chance to shine at the tackle position first. Doesn’t play with an overly impressive mean streak, either.
Player Summary - Ezra Cleveland projects as a developmental OT prospect in the NFL. He’s got the movement skills to eventually become a starter, but as is here’s currently too raw to offer consideration for early playing time. Cleveland needs to focus on gaining functional strength and improving his framing of blocks and ability to finish. Cleveland’s movement skills offer promise but the test will be whether or not he’s able to maintain that mobility once he’s stacked extra muscle on his frame. - Kyle Crabbs, TDN
Athletic left tackle able to make all outside zone blocks in the run game, but in dire need of additional mass and functional strength. Tape work can be tricky as Cleveland suffered a turf toe injury in his second game of the 2019 season and was unable to practice for much of the year. Issues anchoring and redirecting edge pressure are independent from his injury, but determining the impact of that injury on his play is challenging. He plays with patience and technique but lacks base width and contact balance. Cleveland has the athleticism to play swing tackle for a zone-based offense but needs to get much stronger to hold up as a starter. - Lance Zierlein, nfl.com
Overall, Cleveland is compared to players like Vikings right tackle Brian O’Neill, former Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil, Eagles tackle Andre Dillard, and Patriots guard Joe Thuney, as athletic linemen in need of more functional strength, and lacking in maulers mentality coming out of college.
The bulk of Ezra Cleveland’s tape generally shows him performing fairly well, holding up in pass protection, making blocks in the run game. And from that standpoint he looks good, grades well, seems a solid performer.
But on the other hand, he never dominates and seldom finishes his blocks, even against lower level competition. And that same lower level competition can occasionally blow him back in pass protection, revealing the functional strength concerns and less than ideal anchoring ability. He can also occasionally lose in hand fighting/punch/placement, allowing the defender to slip past him. And he struggled more frequently with a high pad level, which didn’t hurt him so much in the Mountain West conference, but certainly will in the NFL.
Ezra Cleveland is #76 playing left tackle in all game films.
This Boise St vs. Washington film has both sides, so when Boise St. is on defense, look for defensive tackle #55 David Moa, who the Vikings picked up as a UDFA.
Vikings Fit / Projection
Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said he is looking at Ezra Cleveland at both guard and tackle positions, which is also what Vikings director of college scouting Jamaal Stephenson said after Cleveland was drafted, specifically including right tackle. He also said Cleveland needs to get stronger, similar to when Brian O’Neill was drafted two years ago.
But the key for Cleveland’s development, and whether he’ll be able to contribute as a rookie, will be increasing his functional strength and improving some of his technique, particularly his hand placement and punch ability. Lastly, emphasizing finishing blocks and delivering more punishing blows should also be a part of his development program.
But for starters, getting him on an NFL strength, conditioning and nutrition program with a goal of adding 10-15 pounds of muscle and improving his core strength is essential, and hopefully they’ve already got that plan in place.
How quickly, and to what degree, he’s able to add strength and improve his technique and demeanor will ultimately decide Cleveland’s fate in the NFL. He could improve similar to Brian O’Neill, or he could flounder like Pat Elflein, but Cleveland’s superior athletic ability to Elflein is encouraging, and the Vikings success with O’Neill bodes well for Cleveland too.
Ultimately whether he fits best at guard or tackle will depend on the other moving parts along the Vikings offensive line, particularly Oli Udoh, and Riley Reiff. Cleveland has the athleticism and size to play tackle, but has less than ideal arm length. As a guard, his deficiencies - lack of functional strength, anchor ability, hand usage - would be magnified so improving those areas is essential for a move inside.
Cleveland will have competition at both tackle and guard positions, and it’s not clear he’ll be a starter as a rookie. I suspect he’ll be considered at both tackle positions, and left guard. But he’ll need to show a lot of strength and size development - similar to O’Neill in the off-season he was drafted - to enter the starter conversation this year.