With the 2020 NFL Draft less than a week away, there has been considerable buzz around Boise State Left Tackle, Ezra Cleveland. Starting 40 games in his career, Cleveland left Boise a season early to enter this year’s draft. From my initial review on Cleveland’s play, I had him slated as about an early third round selection. I thought this was a fair assessment, and I also did not have him in my initial top 20 linemen in the 2020 draft class. That being said, offensive tackle is a marquee position in the NFL and Cleveland has all the physical tools and ability to grow into a very good player.
Cleveland did have an impressive combine performance, running a 4.43 40 yard dash, and putting up 30 reps on the bench press. He also had a standing broad jump of 111 inches and a vertical jump of 30 inches. While this is all impressive, it is just, after all, a big man working out in shorts. This athletic ability also can be seen on his film.
An offensive lineman possessing a nasty streak and playing with an attitude is very important. Cleveland seems to have all of this ability. You can really see just how impressive of an athlete he is as he moves easy and smooth through the open field on his pull to destroy the backers.
One of the things that I liked from Cleveland early on was how smooth he looked in pass protection. At 6 foot 6 inches, 311 pounds with 33 inch arms, pass protection is what he is naturally built to do on a football field. He is an agile pass blocker with a good vertical set and the mobility to move anywhere an edge rusher wants to go. He resets his hands well and uses his long limbs to keep defenders away.
When Cleveland maintains his base and good posture in pass protection, he is hard to beat. Much like any young player, he still has his fair share of corrections to make in his game before he is ready for primetime.
Cleveland is aggressive by nature and that is awesome, but sometimes it can cause him to lunge and be beaten. He can also have trouble keeping his hands up which can make him struggle in pass protection and give defenders an easy bullrush into his chest. At times, he seems a little unsure of himself in Boise State’s scheme. He can also be indecisive when in space and often takes too long deciding who to block when moving up to the next level.
Cleveland is an interesting prospect, and he could even have a legit chance to end up on the Kansas City Chiefs. While the Chiefs currently have Mitch Schwartz and Eric Fisher under contract through 2021, both become free agents in 2022. In the NFL, premium pass protection is hard to find; especially if your team looks to be drafting toward the end of the first round. This draft is absolutely loaded at the tackle position and Cleveland is one of the best athletes of the group. In another year, he could even be considered one of the top guys. If the Chiefs stay at 32 or even trade back into the early second round, there is a high likelihood Cleveland will be there. For him, he would, at least, be a one year developmental prospect in Kansas City. Given the Chiefs’ talent at OT right now, this might not be a bad thing. It will also be good for Cleveland to wait for a year or two and transition from the Moutain West competition to the NFL ranks. The Chiefs will have to be sure that he is the guy they want to be able to protect Patrick Mahomes for, potentially, the rest of their respective careers. It will be a big decision to make and one that could positively or negatively alter the course of the franchise. Whether the Chiefs go with Cleveland or another young offensive tackle, he will be given every tool to succeed while competing for a job.