The Baltimore Ravens made two selections in the NFL Draft on Friday night, picking Georgia guard Ben Cleveland with the 94th pick and SMU cornerback Brandon Stephens with the 104th pick. The first of these selections generated considerable conversations online, but he also helped John Harbaugh cap off a two-month journey.
Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta met with the media on Friday night to recap their third-round draft picks. The two men explained during this availability that Cleveland has been on their radar for a very long time. In fact, DeCosta said that Harbaugh has talked about drafting “Big Country” for a full two months.
“So Ben was a guy that we really, really wanted,” Harbaugh said on Friday night. “I know we all wanted Ben. I was being a little bit of a nervous Nellie there for a bit. I kind of wanted us to trade up. Eric, he staved off the temptation, he held tight, and we got our guy. It was definitely celebratory.”
“John’s been talking about Cleveland for like two months really,” DeCosta added. “So it was a relief for me to actually see him available when he picked. This was John’s pick, and this is the type of guy that we look for on the offensive line.”
The Ravens were ready to pick Cleveland before the second round even began
DeCosta, Harbaugh, and the Ravens approached the 2021 NFL Draft realizing that they would not get all of their top picks. They had two in the first round, none in the second, and then two more in the third. This format could have created frustration among the decision-makers, but Decosta explained that they took a relaxed approach until the start of the third round. Though they continued to keep their attention on one particular player.
“What I can tell you is: at the start of the day, if you would’ve told us we would’ve gotten Ben Cleveland, we would have turned it in right then and there,” DeCosta added. “This has happened in the past. It’s incredible to think that you could actually have a guy, or two guys, or three guys that you target at the beginning of the second-third round, and then you get those guys in the third round.”
The Ravens were able to land Cleveland without trading up and giving away any of their draft picks. They remained patient until it was time to turn in the draft card, and then they responded by sending Super Bowl XLVII champion Jacoby Jones up to the stage. He teased the hometown Cleveland Browns fans and then said the name that Harbaugh had been waiting to hear.
The former Georgia guard will now prepare for an important competition
“We got two players that check a lot of boxes for us.” pic.twitter.com/7qNv3kxr0d
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) May 1, 2021
NFL analysts responded to the Cleveland selection by proclaiming that he would slide into the left guard spot and push Bradley Bozeman to center, his college position. This move is not a certainty, but Harbaugh acknowledged that the rookie will have the opportunity to win the starting job once OTAs and training camp arrive.
“He will definitely have a chance to compete at left guard,” Harbaugh told reporters on Friday night. “All those guys will compete. We’ve got our veteran guys there, you talk about Ben [Powers], who played there last year on the offensive line as a starter toward the end of the year. He’ll be involved in that and, of course, Ben Bredeson will be involved in that.
“We will have to see how the rest of it shakes out, but all of those young guys will be fighting. And Cleveland will be right there in the middle of it. It gives us a chance, possibly, to move Bradley to center. Again, we’ll see how it goes.”
There are several months remaining until the 2021 season begins, but Harbaugh has made it clear that “Big Country” will be in the mix for a starting role. Whether he wins the job remains unknown, but the Ravens head coach can express satisfaction about landing the player he originally wanted.
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