There is a slowly growing optimism surrounding TCO Performance Center in Eagan. The off-season was good to the Minnesota Vikings. It may have been very good.
While Mike Zimmer was busy adding a cruise ship full of defensive veterans, national media members spent their time praising the Vikings offensive weapons and making Minnesota a possible sleeper to make some noise this year.
As always with this football team if feels like things will come down to the O-line. Fans finally got what they wanted as Minnesota put significant equity into Christian Darisaw and Wyatt Davis. But the truth is it’s not easy to be a rookie offensive lineman in this league. There’s no guarantee that those guys can step in and be immediate upgrades. Davis certainly has a better shot given the low level of play at guard last season, but nothing is a certainty. Minnesota needs their returning lineman to make a jump forward. And ESPN thinks one player in particular has a chance to do just that.
In a recent article Seth Galina listed 15 second-year players he thinks have the best chance to take a giant leap forward to stardom. Number three on their list was none other than Ezra Cleveland.
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.
Consistency alone would be a huge step up at the guard position for the Minnesota, but if Cleveland were able to make a big leap to the Brian O’Neill level that could be enormous. Having one purple lineman jump to a high-level play could make a difference in contending. But again, the truth is the guard play was so horrific last season if Davis and Cleveland even approach league average play the Vikings will make a strong run.
Here’s to hoping Cleveland can fulfill the promise of this list and help take the Vikings to the promised land.