Entering the 2021 offseason, the Seahawks will have two vacant starting spots to fill along their offensive line at left guard and center. Quarterback Russell Wilson has made his frustrations about pass protection public and the front office will be tasked with upgrading both of those positions this spring.
Over the past three years, Seattle has typically sought after massive, mauling blockers at both guard spots. With backup Jamarco Jones serving as the only exception, line coach Mike Solari has desired 330-plus pound people movers in the interior such as Mike Iupati, D.J. Fluker, and Jordan Simmons.
Now that Shane Waldron has been hired as the Seahawks new offensive coordinator, it remains unclear whether they will target similar style players or shift towards lighter, more athletic guards moving forward. But if size and power are still top priorities at the position, Georgia standout Ben Cleveland should be on the team's short list.
Resembling "The Mountain" off of the popular TV series Game of Thrones, Cleveland is every bit of 6-foot-6, 340 pounds. He reportedly had to be stopped by Georgia's strength staff after he repped out 225 pounds 45 times on the bench press during a workout and if there was a combine this year, he may have threatened to become the first prospect ever to hit 50 reps in the event.
Cleveland's impressive power isn't confined to the weight room, however. He exhibits outstanding functional strength between the lines, consistently bullying opponents of all shapes and sizes off the line of scrimmage in the run game. He's a relentless finisher to the whistle whose sole purpose seems to be overpowering defenders several yards downfield and ultimately driving them into the turf. Along the way, he's liable to occasionally bring a second defender along for the ride too.
Strength also proves highly beneficial for Cleveland in pass protection, as he's close to an immovable object once he sets anchor and gets his hands locked onto a defender's frame. During his time with the Bulldogs, you could count on one hand how many times he was successfully bull rushed by an opponent.
Over the course of his collegiate career, Cleveland showed much improved awareness in pass protection picking up twists, stunts, and blitzes. He keeps his head on a swivel, passes off his initial assignment, and smoothly picks up oncoming defenders to help keep the quarterback clean.
Given his hulking size, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Cleveland lacks even average mobility and quickness at the guard position. His lateral movement can be a hinderance in the zone blocking game at times and these athletic limitations also show up when he is asked to block at the second level or on screen plays. He doesn't take great angles and has a tough time reaching defenders in open field.
Cleveland seems to be at his best when he can fire out of his stance and engage in immediate body blows on downhill run schemes. When asked to pull on traps, sweeps, or power, however, he again displays his lack of athletic fluidity and overall mobility opening his hips up to execute his assignment.
In pass protection, while Cleveland isn't going to be exposed by power rushers very often, his suspect foot quickness leaves him vulnerable against more athletic interior defenders who have developed counter moves at their disposal. He can get caught flat-footed, allowing rushers to shoot past him.
Fit in Seattle
If Cleveland would have left Georgia early and entered the draft in 2020, he may have been in contention with Damien Lewis for SEC-proven guard coveted by general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. His attributes align well with what the Seahawks have been looking for at both guard spots for several seasons.
But with Waldron's arrival, there may be a changing of the guard - both literally and figuratively. Depending how much the run scheme is overhauled, Seattle may be on the lookout for lighter, more mobile guards who can execute wide zone runs, which may become the team's staple run concept.
If that's the case, Cleveland likely won't be atop the Seahawks' wish list as they seek a replacement for the now-retired Mike Iupati. But if they still want a big-bodied road grader who plays with a nasty streak, there may not be a better fit available late on day two into early day three in this year's draft.