Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 48: Boise State OT Ezra Cleveland

Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

48. Boise State OT Ezra Cleveland

6-foot-6, 311 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.90 — starter potential

TL;DR scouting report: Highly athletic, smooth-moving tackle whose stock has soared following injury-affected final season.

The skinny: Cleveland was a standout high school wrestler and 2-star Rivals recruit from the Bethel School in Spanaway, Washington, who received two Pac-12 offers (Oregon State and Washington State) but was also being recruited by the likes of Air Force, Hawaii and Nevada before choosing the Broncos. He redshirted his freshman season and converted from his high school position of defensive tackle to the offensive line.

Cleveland earned the starting left tackle spot (pushing an incumbent to right tackle) as a redshirt freshman in 2017, and he started 40 career games over three seasons. After earning honorable mention All-Mountain West honors his first year, Cleveland was named first-team all-conference as both a sophomore and a junior, missing his only career game (against Portland State) in 2019 following a toe injury.

Cleveland, who turns 22 years old in May, declared early for the 2020 NFL draft with one season of eligibility remaining. He performed every drill at the NFL scouting combine and was one of the clear standouts at his position for his work in Indianapolis.

Upside: Tough, smart and dependable — one missed start in three seasons. Returned to action 14 days after suffering painful injury against Marshall and would play games without being able to practice during the week prior to the bowl game.

Battled through 112-snap effort against Florida State in 90-plus degrees and high humidity, allowing one pressure on 62 pass-block snaps. Not known as a great short-yardage blocker but blasted a giant hole on a short-yardage, go-ahead TD run, which was the Broncos’ 100th offensive snap of the game. Cleveland also made a great hustle play early in that game — watch him tackle FSU’s Hamsah Nasirildeen, a possible 2021 first-round safety, from behind and save a touchdown:

Cleveland chases down the Florida State safety after a fumble.
Cleveland chases down the Florida State safety after a fumble.

Highly athletic — tested in the 86th percentile or higher among combine offensive tackles over the past 20-plus years in the 40-yard dash (4.93 seconds), vertical jump (30 inches), 3-cone drill (7.26 seconds — faster than eight combine wide receivers!), 20-yard shuttle (4.46 seconds) and the bench press (30 reps). Also turned in a very good broad jump (111 inches) and performed well in OL positional drills in Indy.

Ideal for wide-zone and screen-heavy offense. Reaches second level with ease and doesn’t overshoot landmarks. Keeps hips squared and ready to strike when moving laterally. Sinks hips and maintains good pad level for taller tackle.

Nice footwork and balance in run blocking and pass sets. Can be used as extra tackle in heavy formations — took snaps as a blocking tight end. Gives good, consistent effort. Disciplined — flagged for only seven penalties over nearly career 3,000 snaps, and only one penalty in 915 snaps in 2019. Pretty refined technique overall. Known for likable and humble personality and should fit seamlessly in any locker room.

Downside: Not a mauler. Lacks lower-body drive and power. More of a get-in-the-way blocker than a raw finisher. Power ends and stunting tackles can knock him back and get him to lose leverage. Doesn’t match strength for strength in ground game.

Not especially long for his height — below-average arm length for tackles and very small hands. Less room for error. Lean frame that likely requires some strength development and added bulk.

Opens up and presents a big target — gives up his chest and will let defenders long-arm him. Can stall his feet on contact and “catch” too many blocks. Watch here as Cleveland, who received chip-block help, lets the Hawaii rusher come to him and doesn’t finish off the block, allowing his quarterback to be hit:

Cleveland still shows he can finish better on some plays.
Cleveland still shows he can finish better on some plays.

Quick punch but can misfire. Hands need to be heavier — gets them slapped down by stronger, more aggressive defenders. Won’t anchor a run game. Efficient but hardly dominant. Has been pegged as a possible guard by some teams (even though most we’ve spoken with would try him at tackle first).

Most of 2019 tape is hard to judge while playing hurt. Faced below-average pass-rush competition and not many NFL-caliber rushers in Mountain West — best matchups likely were in practice vs. teammate Curtis Weaver. The Broncos’ line struggled as a unit in 2019, and Cleveland lined up next to another NFL prospect, John Molchon, for two seasons.

Best-suited destination: Cleveland fits best with a zone-heavy run scheme as a left tackle candidate for a team that won’t throw him to the wolves against top pass rushers right out of the gate. Among the teams that could be interested in his services include the Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants, Washington Redskins and New York Jets.

Did you know: Cleveland was born three-plus weeks premature but still weighed 11 pounds (!) at birth. His mother being 6-feet tall might have had something to do with it. But he entered high school as a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder and didn’t pass her height until the summer before his junior year, when he had a massive growth spurt that made him one of the tallest kids in his class.

They said it: “Quirky kid. Smart. I like him. [Coaches praised him for] working through the foot injury and just doing his job. He moves well, is coachable and has some upside. He was a pretty easy write-up for me. Just needs to get stronger and [play with] a better base.” — NFC area scout

Player comp: Cleveland compares favorably to Philadelphia Eagles 2019 first-rounder Andre Dillard, who appeared to be a bit overwhelmed by the physical demands of playing left tackle in the NFL in Year 1 but who projects to be an ascending player the more time he receives.

Expected draft range: Following an excellent combine, Cleveland’s name has received a lot of buzz. He could land late in Round 1 and likely won’t slip past the early portion of Round 2.

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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