The Baltimore Ravens are so deep at several positions on both sides of the ball that they don’t necessarily need many of their rookies to emerge as starters in 2021. Nevertheless, they are still expecting most of them to contribute regularly, at least in rotational roles at their respective positions.
Here is the third in a seven-part series breaking down bold predictions for each member of the Ravens’ 2021 rookie class that made the final 53-man roster.
OG Ben Cleveland
Bold prediction: Starts at least 10 games at left guard
The Ravens drafted the former Georgia Bulldog with the first of their two third-round picks. Selected at No. 94 overall, the gargantuan blocker was expected to seize the starting left guard position. He was viewed as the front runner in the competition prior to training camp but a concussion sidelined him for weeks and limited him to just one preseason game.
He didn’t receive the start and didn’t take any snaps on offense until the second half. However, in his one-half of action, Cleveland played well albeit against the reserves of the Washington Football Team. The rookie showed why the excitement level and overall expectations for him were so high by looking solid is pass protection, getting good push in the run game and assisting on double teams/combo blocks on both running and passing plays.
Ben Cleveland’s snaps at LG vs the WFT. He played 41 snaps; I excluded kneel downs. But that’s still enough that I had to split them into 2 videos. Here’s part 1. pic.twitter.com/P10UPL7xYr— michael crawford (@abukari) August 31, 2021
While he was out of commission, third-year pro Ben Powers took advantage of the additional reps with the first-team unit. Even though Tyre Phillips is currently slotted in the top spot on the team’s official depth chart complied by the PR staff, Powers will likely open the season as the starter at left guard.
I predict that Cleveland will follow an identical path to full-time starter status to the one former Raven Orlando Brown Jr. took as a rookie in 2018 before he blossomed into a two-time Pro Bowler. They both were third-round picks from Power-5 programs who started their entire collegiate careers and are two enormous human beings that were expected to be plug-and-play starters from day one.
Brown Jr. didn’t deal with any injuries his rookie year, participating fully in training camp and the preseason. Despite playing well in multiple exhibition games, he didn’t open the season as the starter as the team opted to go with veteran James Hurst.
After sitting the first six games of the season, Brown Jr. had his chance to prove himself as a starter when Hurst had to miss time with an injury. He seized the golden opportunity and never looked back.
Injuries are inevitable. If the Ravens need to reshuffle the starting offensive line, Cleveland could leapfrog either Powers or Phillips in the pecking order if he performs well in practice. There’s also the avenue of just beating out his competition because the Ravens are firm believers in starting their best five blockers.
Just because a player opens the season as the starter, there’s no guarantee he’ll keep that top spot if he underperforms, or his backup looks better and the coaches believe they’d provide an upgrade at the position.
Whether his opportunity comes via injury to someone ahead of him, reshuffling, or as a reward for performing well in practice/late in games, I believe Cleveland will start more than half his rookie season with 10 games being the minimum. He just needs to stay healthy and stack good practices.
Final stat prediction: Is active for all 17 games and makes 11 starts. Produces quite a few highlight and pancake blocks.