As we covered on Tuesday, the Jacksonville Jaguars have traded for offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland from the Minnesota Vikings. The 2020 Minnesota second-round pick now heads to Duval County, where he is reunited with offensive line coach Phil Rauscher, who was with Cleveland in Minnesota from 2020-21.
With the trade now completed, we take a look at what the former Viking could bring to the Jacksonville offense.
Ezra Cleveland this season:— PFF JAX Jaguars (@PFF_Jaguars) October 31, 2023
248 pass blocking snaps
10 pressures allowed
1 sack allowed
His 73.8 PFF grade ranks 8th/84 eligible guards pic.twitter.com/mWlxqz78k1
- PFF Pass Blocking Grade 72.8
- PFF Run Blocking Grade 72.3
Cleveland started the first six games of 2023 for Minnesota. In addition to his pass protection accomplishments listed above, in just over 400 total snaps he has just 2 penalties this year. His raw PFF grade is higher than both Brandon Scherff (67.6) and Tyler Shatley (46.5). Note: Walker Little's 76.0 PFF grade is limited for comparisons' sake, as it is mostly made up of his play at tackle, with only one game at guard.
With an offensive line where the center, Luke Fortner may be the lingering spot that may have struggles with matched up against power rushers, it’s always good to add a nasty guard who can clean up defensive tackles. Cleveland has made a name for doing this over the years.
Ezra Cleveland went for a 6th pic.twitter.com/mHVSiQTYUK— Mace The Flip Flopper (@realmaceblack) October 31, 2023
Ezra Cleveland getting a full slab of ribs finding work here on the DE. My goodness. pic.twitter.com/VXHB2q1NTp— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 12, 2022
Ezra Cleveland at LG looking for work pic.twitter.com/vcmhb7bp9T— Nick Olson (@NickOlsonNFL) August 22, 2021
Take a look at Darrisaw (71/LT) and Cleveland (72/LG) on the double team up to the LB pic.twitter.com/wWlEOeCFKV— Shawn (@SyedSchemes) October 31, 2022
Where he can be more consistent:
At the time of his mid-foot sprain injury, Cleveland was surrounded by multiple dominant linemen - Christian Darrisaw (86.2 PFF grade), Brian O'Neill (81.6), and Garrett Bradbury (80.7). As of Week 6, the Minnesota starters had combined to allow just 7 sacks through the first six games but allowed 49 pressures (the fifth-worst pressure rate in the league at the time at 34.1%). Cleveland gave up 10 of those pressures, which, overall may be considered below average but may also need some context.
New #Jags OG Ezra Cleveland, solid.— • Colton Edwards • (@cedwardsNFL) November 2, 2023
Lacks consistency and has an issue putting all his weight forward causing him to slip or fall down on his block. BUT overall, he was a young bright spot for the Vikings. A steal of a pickup with only giving up a 6th rounder. pic.twitter.com/s3wYxLCK4G
To give Cleveland's pressure numbers a little context, Jaguars backup offensive guard/center Tyler Shatley has been credited with 5 pressures allowed through four starts in 2023. Cleveland, in six starts, has given up 1.7 pressures per game. Shatley, in his four starts, has given up 1.25 pressures.
However, Cleveland was playing with Kirk Cousins quarterbacking, who boasts the NFL's 24th longest time to throw at 2.86 seconds per Next Gen Stats. Meanwhile, Shatley has been blocking for Trevor Lawrence, who has the league’s 2nd lowest time to throw at 2.41 seconds. It's truly an unequal comparison of what each is asked to do.
For example, the following play would be counted as a sack/pressure against the offensive line, however, the blame for the pressure/sack would lie on the quarterback in reality. In this play, there was ample time to go through all progressions, make a throw, or throw it away within the structure of how the play is designed. Overall, anything more than three seconds is normally no longer on the line.
Micah Parsons strip-sacked Kirk Cousins first drive. Total: 2 sacks, 5 QBH, FF, 4 tackles. "Extremely productive," per McCarthy.— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) November 21, 2022
"His urgency was at a different level," McCarthy said. "He has the ability to be elite & this is another standard to play to."pic.twitter.com/i3rsywFDbz
In a corresponding move with the trade, offensive guard Ben Bartch was also released from the team. Bartch started the first three games of this season at left guard before being benched for Tyler Shatley. This move improves the team's overall depth, which is critical with swing tackle and backup guard Walker Little not yet 100% back from his week five knee injury.
Why Traded by Minnesota:
So, the question of the hour. Why did the Vikings choose to trade a young, ascending guard away for only a sixth-round draft pick? Per multiple reports over the past few months, Cleveland believes he can still play tackle too, as he did at an all-conference level for three years at Boise State. With free agency approaching this offseason, he may have wanted to be viewed (and paid) with this in mind. This may have played a role in the Vikings' signing of free agent guard Dalton Risner weeks ago, who replaced Cleveland during his two-game absence due to injury.
Just talked with @jzulgad regarding the Ezra Cleveland Trade… interesting tidbit here from somebody that’s covered him, his ultimate goal is to play left tackle… And he is a free agent after the season… Not sure what that means, but it’s interesting— Hacker (@RyanGreen1010XL) October 31, 2023
explains why Vikings were willing to ship him off and could mean this is a short-term rental for Jaguars. But now it'll be Jacksonville that gets comp pick in 2025 if he leaves (assuming there's a strong market)— Adam Stites (@AdamStites_) October 31, 2023
The Jaguars currently allow 2.4 sacks per game, which is 14th in the NFL. Cleveland showed significant growth in his second year in the league, but he has been inconsistent at times in the run game, despite quality play from those around him. This has led to a few tackles-for-losses at critical times. As a whole, he's still an above-average, starting-caliber, solid swing guard, that may allow Lawrence additional time to attempt a more vertical passing game. The Vikings likely wouldn’t have resigned Cleveland with their recent signing of Dalton Risner and the season-ending injury to Kirk Cousins, which made him even more expendable.
In Lawrence's first 34 career regular-season starts, there were just 9 games where he was sacked more than twice.— John Shipley (@_John_Shipley) November 1, 2023
There have already been 4 such games this year. It was a good trade and a good process, imo.
At worst, with NFL experience at right guard, left guard, and college tackle experience, Cleveland would be a short-term, 2023 rental swing guard and tackle that improves the Jaguars' overall depth up front for a playoff push. At best, he's that and much more, a starting left guard with the potential to play tackle. I'm personally of the belief that he will be the starting left guard over the next few weeks, after the bye week and getting acclimated to a new offense.
I would categorize this as one of those great low-risk, high-reward trades that we all know and love. I think we all agree, we must protect Trevor Lawrence at all costs. But, what say you Big Cat County? What are your thoughts on Jacksonville's trade for Ezra Cleveland?