The phrase “Here’s a guy” made famous by NBC sports broadcaster Chris Collinsworth inspired me to write a series of articles where I detail what every Baltimore Ravens’ player that is expected or is in the hunt to be on the roster brings to the table from a skillset standpoint and their 2021 individual outlook.
In the fifth edition we pick back up with the big boys that will be tasked with opening lanes in the running game and providing clean pockets in pass protection . . . the offensive line:
OT Ronnie Stanley
Here’s a guy that is arguably the best blindside protector in the game when he’s healthy. He has been the Ravens’ franchise left tackle since they selected him with the sixth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame and reached elite status in 2019 when he was named First-Team All-Pro.
Stanley’s 2020 campaign was cut short by a season-ending ankle injury that was more freak accident than it was an indicator that supports the narrative that he can’t stay on the field consistently. He’s started all 64 of the games that he’s appeared in during his five-year career and is on track to be ready to go for the season opener.
In 2021, he will still be entrenched into the starting lineup as the unquestioned starter at left tackle as long as he is fully recovered from his injury or at least close enough for the team to feel comfortable letting him play.
OG Ben Cleveland
Here’s a guy who is a mountain of a man, a beast in pass protection, and has the size and tenacity to be a mauler of a run blocker. The Ravens selected Cleveland in the third round of this year’s draft No. 94 overall out of the University of Georgia. He’s been their polarizing rookie since he got drafted and is the only one currently being projected to be a starter from day one.
In 2021, Cleveland is viewed as the favorite to be the Ravens’ new starting left guard with Bradley Bozeman moving over to center. However, he will have to earn the job by beating out the likes of Ben Powers, Patrick Mekari and others who are considered longshots but shouldn’t be counted out until it’s all said and done.
C Bradley Bozeman
Here’s a guy that can play any position on the interior of the offensive line at a high level and is an excellent puller in the run game. The former sixth-round pick out of the University of Alabama in 2018 has been an integral part of the Ravens’ tremendous rushing success over the last two seasons. He made every start at left guard over that span and can be seen making a key block to spring several long jaunts by Lamar Jackson and the other ball carriers.
In 2021, Bozeman will be returning to his natural position at center — which he played in both college and high school before entering the league. He believes that he will thrive in his new role and has the full faith of his coaches to handle the responsibilities that come with it.
OG Kevin Zeitler
Here’s a guy who is stalwart in pass protection and a people mover in run blocking. The nine-year veteran is one of the most underrated players at his position in the NFL. Even though he has yet to make a Pro Bowl in his career, he continues to play at a high level year in and year out. He’s also extremely durable having just missed one game in the last six seasons.
In 2021, the former first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012 out of Wisconsin will be making his triumphant return to the AFC North. Zeitler will more effectively fill the starting right guard spot that was vacated by the retirement of Hall of Famer Marshal Yanda last offseason.
OT Alejandro Villaneuava
Here’s a guy that is a veteran in more ways than one, excels in pass protection, and is excited to get back to his run blocking roots after crossing enemy lines. For the first six years of his career, he was the starting left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 90 of his 96 career games. During his time playing for the Ravens’ arch division rival, he made two Pro Bowls and was a part of some elite offenses.
In 2021, Villanueva will not only be trading in his black and yellow for black and purple but he will also be flipping to the opposite side of the offensive line. He’ll be competing with second-year pro Tyre Phillips to be the Ravens’ new starting right tackle following the trade of Orlando Brown Jr. this offseason. Even if he doesn’t win the starting job, he’ll be an upgrade at swing tackle and provide an experienced insurance policy behind Stanley on the blindside.
OG Ben Powers
Here’s a guy that got his first taste and most extensive action as a starter in the second half of last season and performed admirably as both a run blocker and pass protector. While many have already projected Cleveland into the starting left guard spot, Powers will not go quietly into the night and just yield to the rookie.
He has appeared in 19 career games including the playoffs and has made 10 starts. His play has been solid but not dominant or spectacular. However, like most players, he improved with the more experience he gained.
In 2021, Powers will be competing to start yet again and his chief competition in addition to Cleveland will be Patrick Mekari, Ben Bredeson, recently signed Michael Schofield and the next player on the list. If he doesn’t win the job, he’d still provide good depth and could even be trade bait around cutdown time.
OT Tyre Phillips
Here’s a guy that took his fair share of bumps and bruises as a rookie last season but gained some valuable starting experience in the process. He emerged out of training camp as the winner of the right guard competition but replacing Yanda was proving to be a tough task for the 2020 third-round pick out of Mississippi State to handle before he suffered an injury that sidelined him for three games in the middle of the season.
After he returned to action, he was in a two-man rotation at right tackle with veteran D.J. Fluker and continued to have an up and down season. He was solid as a run blocker as a rookie but struggled in pass protection, where he looked overwhelmed and outmatched at times.
In 2021, Phillips will be competing with Villanueva for the starting right tackle job and could be in the running for the left guard spot as a well — but will likely serve as the primary swing tackle with the positional versatility to play guard if needed.
IOL Ben Bredeson
Here’s a guy who appeared in 10 games as a rookie last season but didn’t see a lot of action on offense outside of instances where he came on the field as an extra blocker in jumbo formations.
The fourth-round pick out of Michigan played guard in college but many believe he projects better at center in the pros and could provide depth at both spots in 2021. He’ll be among the many competing at left guard and will need an impressive showing in the preseason to secure a roster spot and emerge as a frontrunner.
OL Patrick Mekari
Here’s a guy who can play all five positions along the offensive line and has taken snaps in the regular season at all of them but left tackle. The former undrafted free agent out of the University of California in 2019 was a blindside protector in college. In the pros, though, he has played a half at right tackle, some offensive guard, and most extensively at center — where he has made 18 career starts over his first two seasons.
In 2021, Mekari will still try to push Bozeman to win back the starting center job after a rough finish to last season, particularly in the playoff loss to the Bills. He’ll likely be the primary backup at center and a dark horse in the starting left guard competition.
C Trystan Colon-Castillo
Here’s a guy that only appeared in two games as a rookie but both were starts and he performed admirably against stiff veteran competition. He originally didn’t make the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri but was signed to the practice squad and promoted to the 53-man roster in early October.
In 2021, Colon-Castillo will be battling for a roster spot in training camp and there’s no guarantee that he’ll make the team even if he does play well in the preseason. Mekari is his chief competition to backup Bozeman at center and would likely have the edge since he possesses more positional versatility. The practice squad will probably be where he starts the year again if he clears waivers.
OL Michael Schofield
Here’s a guy that can provide quality and experienced depth at both right guard behind Zeitler and right tackle behind Villanueva or whoever ends up winning the job. He has started 69 games in his seven-year career between the two positions for the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, and Carolina Panthers most recently.
In 2021, Schofield will be battling for a roster spot to be a depth player and his positional versatility will help his case.
OT Ja’Wuan James
Here’s a guy who is one of the better right tackles in the league when he’s healthy. The former first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in the 2014 NFL Draft out of Tennessee is a natural at the position and has started 65 career games that he’s appeared in.
He tore his Achilles last month and is expected to miss the entire or at least the majority of the 2021 season. If he recovers in time to be able to contribute, John Harbaugh didn’t rule out a possible return to action for him later in the season but that they also aren’t “counting on it”. James doesn’t really factor into the team’s plans this year barring a speedy recovery but will definitely be competing for a starting job in 2022 if he can return to form.