He wasn’t a full-time starter until his final collegiate season. Nevertheless, Georgia offensive guard Ben Cleveland left a strong enough impression to be considered a legitimate 2021 NFL Draft prospect. What does Cleveland bring to the table? How might his unique traits project at the professional level?
Ben Cleveland NFL Draft Profile & Senior Bowl Measurements
- Position: Guard
- School: Georgia
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 6’6 3/8″
- Weight: 354 pounds
- Wingspan: 79 1/8″
- Arm: 33″
- Hand: 9 3/4″
Senior Bowl Performance
Unfortunately for Cleveland, his opportunity at the Senior Bowl was cut short. Before finishing his first practice, Cleveland suffered a sprained ankle and had to sit out the rest of the week. It’s not a major injury, but it prevented him from improving upon a Day 1 showing that was somewhat up-and-down. He had some good reps courtesy of his play strength, but he also got moved back more often than expected in pass protection. Either way, his on-field performance at the Senior Bowl shouldn’t affect his stock much.
Ben Cleveland’s background
Even on the offensive line, size can be fairly flexible. However, it’s generally accepted that bigger offensive linemen have more potential. There is a point of diminishing returns, but size mismatches can give a blocking unit an encoded advantage. Plenty of teams sought that out when recruiting Ben Cleveland out of Stephens County High School.
Standing at around 6-foot-6, 314 pounds, Cleveland was a massive high schooler. He also had a solid 40-yard dash time on record, running a 5.11 at that size. As a result, Cleveland was rated as a four-star prospect and was in ESPN’s Top 300. The highly-rated guard prospect had offers from Georgia, Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Michigan. However, Cleveland is from Toccoa, Georgia. Therefore, he decided to stay in-state and play for the Bulldogs and head coach Kirby Smart.
Ben Cleveland’s career as a Georgia offensive guard
Throughout his career, Ben Cleveland embodied the Georgia Bulldog. He redshirted his 2016 season, but came back in 2017 and played in all 15 games, starting five at right guard. Cleveland contributed wherever he was needed. Thus, as the years went on, his diligence earned him more snaps on the offensive side of the ball.
As a redshirt sophomore in 2018, Cleveland played in eight games, starting half of them. His season was cut in half by a minor injury, but Cleveland still managed to provide value as depth and security for the blocking unit. In 2019, Cleveland entered the season as a preseason third-team All-SEC honoree. The Georgia offensive guard proceeded to start seven of 13 games, again serving to solidify the line as a rotational starter.
Cleveland’s final season with the Georgia Bulldogs
In 2020, Cleveland became a full-time starter at right guard, and he held that position with pride. The Georgia guard started nine games for the Bulldogs, helping to direct an offense that went 7-2 heading into the team’s Peach Bowl contest against the Cincinnati Bearcats. Cleveland was recognized as a first-team All-SEC lineman for his play — the first such honor of his career.
Cleveland chose to opt out of the team’s Peach Bowl showing. He also accepted an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl in 2021. Cleveland officially declared for the 2021 NFL Draft in late December.
Analyzing Ben Cleveland’s NFL Draft profile
As you might’ve deduced from his measurements, Ben Cleveland is a massive human being. He’s over 6-foot-6, 354 pounds, and that’s not false advertisement. Cleveland has an extremely stout lower body and thick levers for arms. His length isn’t the greatest, but he has the natural power to compensate and regain leverage.
Cleveland’s power is an essential part of his game, and it shows up in both phases. As a pass blocker, Cleveland’s power enables him to make quick, impactful strikes on his opponents. In the running game, he has the grip strength and leg churn to escort defenders out of the play, so long as he establishes a clean anchor.
What’s more impressive with Cleveland is his hand speed and technique. He has brisk, heavy hands as a pass protector, and he has some awareness of how to disrupt a pass rusher’s plan. More than once on tape, Cleveland feigned keeping his hands out wide. This baited defensive linemen into flashing their hands inside, to try and bull rush Cleveland. The Georgia guard, however, anticipated this, and swiped their hands, then latched on and neutralized.
Cleveland is a smart, powerful blocker. Those are two qualities that always provide value on the offensive line.
What are the concerns with Ben Cleveland?
There aren’t too many glaring issues with Ben Cleveland. He’s strong, has a good base, active hands, and a physical mentality. Unfortunately, his athleticism does put a cap on his ceiling. I wouldn’t say Cleveland is a bad athlete, but the Georgia guard does have some limitations in both the passing and the running game.
As a pass protector, Cleveland doesn’t always have the lateral quickness needed to cut off surging rushers. Once he makes contact, Cleveland has enough mobility in his base to maintain leverage. But if he doesn’t win that contact, he doesn’t have the requisite balance and recovery athleticism to make amends.
As a run blocker, Cleveland can get to the second level, but his range as a blocker isn’t elite. There are times when his lack of lateral burst impacts his ability to seal off defensive linemen.
Furthermore, while Cleveland has decent initial burst and gets off the line with good quickness, his long speed leaves a lot to be desired. His motor carries him down the field, directing him to keep looking for work. However, his long speed prevents him from staying in the play consistently as the field lengthens. Among other things, Cleveland also plays too high at times. This can also impact his leverage.
Ben Cleveland’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Cleveland was quietly an extremely solid offensive lineman for the Georgia Bulldogs in 2020. He’s not always flashy with his movement, but he brings great power, awareness, and developing hand precision. Even with his middling athleticism, I think Cleveland has enough in his athletic tool chest to be a potential starter.
Cleveland may project better as depth in his early years, but especially in schemes that have a heightened power element, he has appeal as a rotational guard with starting upside. Opinions may vary on the range of Cleveland’s upside. However, in my opinion, he’s a good early-to-mid Day 3 pick. With a stellar offseason, he could rise a bit higher than that. That said, given that he sat out most of Senior Bowl week with an injury, he may need to compensate with an impressive offseason testing session.
Teams that mesh well with Cleveland’s skillset
Some teams with a need at guard are likely to use earlier picks on other positions. Thus, Cleveland carries a lot of value as a potential bargain addition on the inside. Teams like the Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Jacksonville Jaguars could be good fits. As a depth piece, he’ll be a potential candidate for other teams as well.
The interior line is one position where NFL teams often seek out potential starters in the middle rounds. This means that Cleveland might eventually retain his starting role in the NFL. He’ll have to alleviate concerns surrounding his athletic upside. Nevertheless, on the interior, traits like power, hand precision, and urgency hold just as much weight. Cleveland isn’t lacking in those departments.