Earlier this week, Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski outlined one player who profiles as an X-factor for all 32 NFL teams. For the Ravens, Sobleski named rookie third-round pick Ben Cleveland as Baltimore’s biggest X-factor for the 2021 season.
Cleveland recently suffered a concussion that forced him to miss multiple practices and the preseason opener against the Saints last weekend. He just recently returned to practice on Wednesday but was limited in action.
Ravens rookie guard Ben Cleveland is back practicing after suffering a concussion on Aug. 11.— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) August 18, 2021
This could mark the first time this summer that all five projected starting offensive linemen are on the field at the same time. https://t.co/Ea4orqSzpj
“This year’s 94th overall draft pick impressed throughout the entire offseason, though he had yet to officially secure a starting spot,” Sobleski wrote. “Cleveland is a massive and physical blocker who should fit right into Baltimore’s offense, but he needs to show he’s prepared for a starting role.”
Almost immediately after the Ravens drafted him, Cleveland was billed by many as the favorite to start at left guard. While he fits the profile of a starting-caliber guard given his size, especially in the Ravens’ scheme, Cleveland has to earn a starting job — it won’t be handed to him.
It’s difficult to do this without practice and in-game reps, which is why ramping Cleveland’s workload up quickly and getting him live-action reps will be critical. Fortunately for his hopes of becoming a starter, the other candidates have not taken advantage of his absence.
In that preseason opener, Cleveland’s absence opened the door for the likes of Ben Powers, Tyre Phillips, Patrick Mekari and Ben Bredeson to see extended reps at left guard. The Ravens plugged and played all of these guys and shuffled players around to create different offensive line combinations. Unfortunately, nobody stepped up and performed well.
Powers and Phillips, likely the two most viable candidates to start aside from Cleveland, struggled especially. By standing on the sidelines, Cleveland’s chances of starting may actually have improved by virtue of the rest of the group struggling.
As the Ravens hope to get healthy along the offensive line, the next few weeks will be key to developing a five-man starting unit for Week 1 of the regular season. Whether or not Cleveland ends up in this group remains to be seen, but he certainly has a decent chance and remains a big factor in the discussion.
Who else would you consider an X-factor for the Ravens heading into the season? Chime in below and share your thoughts!