Will rookie left tackle Ezra Cleveland start for the Minnesota Vikings in 2020?
The Minnesota Vikings are in a crucial window as a franchise right now.
Kirk Cousins was signed to a massive free agent contract in 2018 not simply to keep the Vikings in playoff contention, but get them to the point that they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders perennially.
They have had to compromise some areas of their roster in the time since signing Cousins, but he’s signed on for another two years and $66 million to avoid a distraction in 2020.
One area of the Vikings’ mostly loaded roster that hasn’t performed how it needs to for this team to compete for a Super Bowl? The offensive line.
The Vikings have slowly added talent to the offensive line through the NFL Draft, and even with some misses along the way, they have a starting center in Garrett Bradbury who should be a longtime player for them and now a right tackle in Brian O’Neill who has turned into something as a one-time ‘developmental’ prospect.
Rookie left tackle Ezra Cleveland now in the picture
The Vikings had one of the best draft classes of any team in the NFL in 2020, which isn’t a surprise considering they had about a million picks.
One of their best value picks was Boise State left tackle Ezra Cleveland, who was predicted by many to be a late-first round pick.
His tape at Boise State was solid, but he really put himself on the first-round map with his athletic showing at the Scouting Combine.
Simply put, Cleveland is a rare athlete at the offensive tackle position, and despite his need to develop in some areas, he has the talent to contribute as a rookie.
The big question is, will he be able to unseat Riley Reiff as the team’s starting left tackle?
The Vikings have to consider the option that moving Reiff inside to guard is potentially the best move for the team if it gives them their best ‘starting five’ up front on the line.
With Cleveland in at left tackle and Reiff in at left guard, the Vikings’ offensive line would look like this:
- LT: Ezra Cleveland
- LG: Riley Reiff
- C: Garrett Bradbury
- RG: Dakota Dozier
- RT: Brian O’Neill
There are some young players on that line, but Reiff could present an upgrade at left guard and Cleveland’s upside at tackle at least makes you wonder what the Vikings will do at that position this season.
The success of the offensive line is critical for the Vikings in 2020. They need the line to be on point to keep Cousins from getting sacked 30 or more times.
They improved in that area last year (down to 28 sacks from 40) but there are still improvements to be made.
Although Ezra Cleveland is perceived as the heir apparent to Riley Reiff, perhaps they could work together on the left side of the line to give the Vikings their best combination of five guys in 2020.