From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#74 Ben Cleveland/OG/Georgia — 6063, 354 lbs.
– Strong player with the upper body strength (30 reps) to deliver a strong punch on his target
– Has a well-built lower-half and the hip bend that is difficult to move off of his spot
– Better athlete that his size would suggest in terms of speed (5.05 40) and explosiveness (28” vert)
– Has the hand size (9 6/8”) and arm length (33”) to work well in terms of reach and sustaining blocks on the interior
– Has the mass and power to engulf defenders with size, displacing them backward in the run game
– Extremely effective on down blocks to wash defenders away, clearing wide running lanes
– Has shown the ability to pull and get the kick-out block on the edge
– Can be difficult to maneuver around due to his thick frame and reach in pass protection
– Participated on punt and placement kick units during his tenure for the Bulldogs
– Will struggle when asked to pick up blocks in space or climb to the second level of the defense
– Not the most fluid mover laterally in terms of mirroring his opponent
– Would like to see him sustain blocks longer given his strength and size
– Can get lazy at times on his blocks, allowing defenders to fall off due to forward lean or lack of hit-and-replace
– Feet with get narrow at times, combined with short, choppy steps to not generate the same push in the run game
– Redshirt senior prospect from Toccoa, GA
– A two-sport athlete, shined on the baseball field at Stephens County
– Graduated early from high school and enrolled at UGA in January 2016
– Redshirted first year on campus
– As redshirt freshman, started the final five games at right guard, seeing action in all 15 games
– Started the first four games at right guard as a sophomore before missing six contests with a leg fracture that did not require surgery
– Started seven of 13 games played at right guard as a junior in 2019
– Missed the Sugar Bowl his junior season because he was academically ineligible
– Played and started in nine games at RG his senior season, opting out of playing in the bowl game
– Third-team AP All-American and first-team All-SEC in 2020, team captain in 2020
Ben Cleveland jumps off of the screen when watching the tape for a variety of reasons. First, Cleveland is a mammoth of a man on the inside, standing over 6’6″ and topping the scales at over 350 lbs. of pure beef. He also boasts the arm length and hand size to finish off what people see as a people-mover at offensive guard. His frame is well-distributed, having ideal bulk in the upper and lower half, and he carries his weight well, being put together pretty well given the mass he carries.
The second thing that sticks out about Cleveland is the strength and power with which he plays. He is by definition a people-mover, having the sheer size, mass, and strength to displace defenders he is tasked to block, moving them out of the way to clear running lanes on the ground. Cleveland is extremely effective when asked to down block on the line, washing defensive linemen down and clearing the outside to spring his back. He does exactly that on this rep against Auburn, taking his man into another defender and putting both into the ground, springing #3 Zamir White for a big gain up the middle.
His size and strength at the point of attack are difficult for any defender to deal with. Here in the same game, we see Cleveland get out of his stance on the snap relatively quickly, helping the RT put a defender onto the ground and picks up a linebacker in the process, tossing him to the turf as the back picks up the easy first down.
When asked to block head-up on a defender, you can normally bank on Cleveland getting a good push up front. He is a good bet to run behind in short yardage situations, carrying the mass to move people backward when he gets going. Here against the Tigers we see Cleveland combo with the center off to the backer, helping the center push back the defensive lineman. Cleveland proceeds to drive the backer back over five yards.
Cleveland’s wide frame and arm length make it difficult to get around him in pass protection, too. He has a strong initial punch, making it almost impossible to beat him around his outside shoulder when he moves his feet with good technique. We see that here on this rep vs. Missouri, where the defender matched up with Cleveland has no chance to get to the passer, with Cleveland’s base and reach making it hard to push him back or knock his hands down.
While Cleveland is a massive human being, he also possesses impressive athleticism for his size. He was asked to pull a lot for the Bulldogs, being required to get the kick-out block on the edge or get out in space and put a body on a defender. Here is an example of Cleveland pulling right to left against the Tigers, getting the kick-out block and springing #4 James Cook for the big gain to move the chains.
We see the same thing here against the Crimson Tide, pulling to the left and getting the defender on the edge, turning his shoulder to clear a big hole on the outside for White to run through for first down yardage.
Occasionally we will see some nastiness in Cleveland’s blocks as well, finishing defenders into the ground for the pancake. Let’s enjoy this rep where Cleveland pulls and picks up the defender coming off of the edge, leveling him on contact for the pancake block to spring his runner free.
While Cleveland is pretty impressive pulling for his size, he can be spotty when asked to work in space on screens or climbing to the second level. He doesn’t possess great lateral quickness and the ability to change direction quickly given his size, thus making it easy for linebackers and safeties to evade him in the open field. Here we see Cleveland get up to the second level of the defense, but he misses his block on #33 K.J. Britt, allowing Britt to continue his pursuit and tackle the ball carrier.
For having great length and size, Cleveland also tends to fall off of his blocks a lot sooner than you would like to see. He can get caught leaning forward at times when he gets tired, causing him to overextend and allow defenders to get off of his grasp relatively easily. We see that here against Alabama where he gets good initial contact, but he overextends, making it easy for the defensive lineman to stack and shed him.
Cleveland will also allow his feet to get too narrow, thus not generating a lot of forward momentum on his run blocks. Combine that with overextending at the waist, and his power diminishes quickly. Here is a clear example of this where on the goal line, Cleveland generates no push off the snap and actually has his man push him back slightly, fighting him with his legs dug in and his shoulder in Cleveland’s chest in a half-man stance. Cleveland clearly overextends and runs his feet too close together on this play, taking away his assets of size and power and fails to push the pile.
Overall, I came away a fan of Cleveland’s game. Sure, he has some athletic limitations and can stand to sustain his blocks more consistently than he currently does, but he has that rare size and strength that can’t be replicated. He may struggle working laterally and picking up blocks against more elusive defenders in open space, but he has shown to be an effective pulling guard that can also combo block to pick up defenders at the second level. For a pro comparison, I came away thinking of Richie Incognito of the Las Vegas Raiders, but a road grader in his own right that boasts a large frame and has the same traits as a blocker, as well as similar athletic limitations.
While Pittsburgh may not have a dire need at guard given the team already has Kevin Dotson and David DeCastro in line to start in 2021, I would say that Cleveland would be a good fit in what Pittsburgh has traditionally done in a power-based scheme, where he can duo block on the interior as well as be effective as a puller. Cleveland would definitely be an investment to the offensive line becoming more physical, especially in the run game.
Colbert and Tomlin were also on-hand for the Georgia Pro Day, giving them the chance to see Cleveland up close. Again, the need doesn’t really match up at this juncture, but I wouldn’t at all be disappointed to see Cleveland in black and gold, as he should he be a reserve initially for whatever team takes him before working his way into a starting role relatively soon in his NFL career.
Projection: Late Day 2/Early Day 3
Games Watched: vs. Auburn (2020), at Alabama (2020), at Missouri (2020)