It took Ezra Cleveland a few weeks to break into the starting lineup for the Minnesota Vikings in 2020, and he wound up slotting in at a position that he had never played before, but what he did do in his rookie campaign was good enough to turn a few heads.
Behind the great E$PN paywall, the four-letter has listed their second-year breakout candidates for the 2021 season, and Cleveland is sitting at #3 on their 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 really did start to come on in the second half of the year last season, and hopefully the experience that he’s garnered will help him to pick up where he left off. When Cleveland was drafted, I think we all pretty much expected him to be the eventual replacement for Riley Reiff at left tackle, but that didn’t happen. Now, with rookie Christian Darrisaw set to take over that spot, it appears that Cleveland is on the inside to stay, but he’ll be moving to left guard this coming season.
If rookie Wyatt Davis can take control of the other guard spot like I believe a lot of us are anticipating he will, the Vikings can be pretty solid up front for the first time in what seems like forever. Hopefully all of that will come to fruition with a bunch of youngsters leading the way.