Ezra Cleveland Could Take on a Massive Role for Vikings in Week 12
For the second time in as many weeks, the Vikings lost their star left tackle Christian Darrisaw to a concussion. As a result, head coach Kevin O’Connell has already announced that they second-year offensive lineman will not play on Thanksgiving against the New England Patriots. Because of this development, Ezra Cleveland could take on a massive role for the Vikings.
On a day in which the Vikings offensive line could seemingly do no right against the Dallas pass-rush, it was Cleveland who actually played rather well. For his efforts, PFF gave him a grade of 85.2, including an 83.6 grade in pass blocking. He was the only player on the Vikings offensive line to give up fewer than two pressures as well.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, backup left tackle Blake Brandel struggled mightily in relief of Christian Darrisaw. This was not the case against Buffalo, which provided some sense of optimism when he came into the game. However, he was graded at 31.3 by PFF and gave up 4 pressures during the game.
This week, the Vikings get a matchup with an equally difficult pass rush against the New England Patriots. Matt Judon leads the NFL in sacks, and he already has 13 on the year. The Patriots are also second in the NFL in sacks behind only the Cowboys while being .1% behind them in terms of pressure rate. Essentially, the Vikings are going to see the Cowboys defense once again this week.
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Because of that, and Cleveland’s success, why not try him out at left tackle? Cleveland actually played tackle throughout his collegiate career at Boise State, starting 39 games from 2017-19 at left tackle. Because of this effort, the Vikings selected him with the 58th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Vikings bumped him inside to the left guard spot, and that’s where he’s been ever since. His third NFL season has seen tremendous growth over his first two years as well. With backup guards in Chris Reed, Austin Schlottmann, and Oli Udoh as well, there should be at least some optimism that the Vikings can get some competent guard play by bumping Cleveland out.
Another option could be bumping Udoh out to left tackle. He actually started against the Pittsburgh Steelers at left tackle last season; a game that the Vikings won.
Regardless, this short week provides the Vikings offensive line with another massive test. They will need to find solutions to stop Judon and the Patriots if they hope to end Thanksgiving night with a victory.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He also earned minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys marathon training, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his opinions, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.