The Ravens selected Georgia guard Ben Cleveland with the No. 94 overall pick in the NFL draft Friday night, adding another competitor to an unsettled interior offensive line.
The 6-foot-6, 343-pound Cleveland, nicknamed “Big Country,” started seven games at right guard for the Bulldogs in 2019 and all nine in 2020, when Southeastern Conference coaches named him first-team all-conference.
Powerfully built and well schooled, Cleveland bullied defenders at times as a run blocker and held up well in pass protection, not allowing a sack over his last three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said Cleveland “really fits our identity” as a power-running team.
“I think we have a pretty well-defined and clear understanding of what we want to be on offense, so you look for players that fit what you’re looking for and what you want to be,” DeCosta said early Saturday morning. “It’s certainly the gap [running] schemes. It’s the zone [running] schemes as well, the combination blocks. He’s a pretty good puller, too, for a man that big. That’s a big, strong, powerful guy that likes to rough people up, and that’s how we want to play.”
That made him a favorite of coach John Harbaugh’s, who DeCosta joked afterward had been talking up Cleveland “for, like, two months.” As lineman after lineman came off the board in the second and third round Friday, Harbaugh said he “kind of wanted us to trade up” and take Cleveland. With his second-round pick gone, traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in last week’s deal for right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., DeCosta preached patience.
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When the Ravens were finally back on the clock, “it was a relief for me to actually see him available when we picked,” DeCosta said. Harbaugh couldn’t help but celebrate. “This was John’s pick, and this is the type of guy that we look for on the offensive line, and we’re all very happy that we got him,” DeCosta added. “We think the competition at the guard spots is going to be fierce.”
At right guard, free-agent signing Kevin Zeitler’s starting job is all but secured. There’s uncertainty elsewhere along the interior, though. Without a top center added in free agency or the draft, incumbent left guard Bradley Bozeman will likely move over to the middle, where he starred at Alabama. That would create a new hole at left guard, where Cleveland, Ben Powers, Ben Bredeson, Tyre Phillips and Patrick Mekari could all compete for the job.
“We have our veteran guys there,” Harbaugh said. “You talk about Ben [Powers], who played there last year in the offensive line as a starter toward the end of the year. He’ll be involved in that. Of course, Ben Bredeson will be involved in that. We’ll have to see how the rest of it shakes out, but all those young guys will be fighting, and Cleveland will be right there in the middle of it. Sure, it gives us the chance possibly to move Bradley to center. Again, we’ll see how that goes.”
Cleveland came by his nickname honestly. He has a pronounced Southern accent, an affinity for the great outdoors and helped prepare for his pro day by adding squirrel to his offseason diet. It seemed to work. He ran an unofficial 4.85-second 40-yard dash, did 30 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press and had a solid 102-inch broad jump.
Asked to describe his playing style, Cleveland called himself “overly physical,” someone who “just never quits and is always going to compete to the highest level and just do everything that’s asked of me. I’ve always taken that as a very high sense of pride, is to be very coachable. [I’m always going to do] what’s asked of me to do. Just somebody who shows up to work every day and is going to go out there and give it all I’ve got.”
Cleveland missed six games in 2018 after breaking his left leg and dealt with neck and ankle injuries throughout his college career. He’s not an especially graceful mover, and he could struggle in space against defenders who can outleverage him or dart past him.
In Baltimore, Cleveland will join Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman and Penn State edge rusher Odafe Oweh, whom the Ravens took in Thursday’s first round, and fellow third-round pick Brandon Stephens, a Southern Methodist cornerback.