When he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2003, wide receiver Ben Cleveland was billed as one of the Ravens’ biggest talents. He was a solid contributor during his rookie year, but was often overshadowed by other players and fell down the depth chart. What followed was a seven-year stretch in which he recorded no more than five catches, but showed a surprising propensity to become one of the NFL’s biggest and baddest players.

Ben Cleveland of the Baltimore Ravens has come a long way from being just another 17-year-old kid from a small town in Ohio. Ben started playing football shortly after he was born, and he continues to play the game he loves for a living.

Anyone who doubts that rookie Ben Cleveland can make an immediate impact on the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive line should stop by his family’s kitchen in Toccoa, Georgia.

There are marks on the wall where Cleveland stood and his mother took a pencil and ruler to draw a line on his head. It says: Ben is 0 – he was 13 years old.

You’ll soon learn that nothing was ever too big for Cleveland, the Paul Bunyan of the Deep South whose wide-spreading beard is as big as his stories.

Growing up, it was easy to remember her shoe size because it matched her age for most of her teenage years. His cowboy boots are now a size 17, very wide.

Once at the table, he ate half a dozen double cheeseburgers in one sitting. As a teenager, he would eat as many as two pizzas in a few hours after football practice and before going to bed.

When Cleveland went fishing at age 11, he caught an 85-pound striper in Myrtle Beach. He didn’t want anyone to get hurt on the pier, so he cut the line and let it float away.

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When Cleveland was a freshman in high school, his coach took him aside and told him Florida had offered him a scholarship. Cleveland has never watched a college football game because it’s fall hunting season.

Now that Cleveland has completed its first NFL minicamp, the idea of being considered the favorite for the left wing opposite Lamar Jackson can be overwhelming. But he has a philosophy that is not surprising for a man nicknamed Big Country.

I’m a firm believer that if you sit here and try to control every little aspect of everything that can happen, that creates stress and everything accumulates, Cleveland said in a southern accent. I’ll just come and do what I can to make sure it’s done right. That’s all I can control, so that’s really all I can focus on and worry about.

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But above all, he loved to defend. As a junior, he turned an interception into a 25-yard punt return for a touchdown. Cleveland got the ball back and ran at the quarterback before getting into the end zone and scoring late in the game.

I was going to lie on the sidelines, Cleveland said. I told the coach: I’m ready. I sat on the sidelines and watched the rest of the game from there.

At the University of Georgia, Cleveland not only fended off ball defenders in the run game, but was also a great pass protector. Over the past two seasons (22 games), he has allowed just four pressures on 473 blocks, which is the best success rate (99.2 percent) for a right guard in the SEC, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Few linebackers are as disciplined as Cleveland, which did not commit a single penalty in 520 episodes last season.

At 5-foot-7 and 357 pounds, Cleveland has the power to match his size. He can lift 700 pounds in the gym, and his personal record in bench pressing is 545 pounds. A Georgia strength coach posted a video on Twitter showing Cleveland performing six reps of a 160-pound barbell with one hand.

What really caught the scouts’ attention was his speed. The Cleveland Shirt ran the 40-yard dash in 4.97 seconds, exactly the kind of motion Baltimore needs when its defenders are running into zones shooting and blocks.

I think we have a clear idea of what our offense should look like. He’s just the right guy, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. He’s a big, strong, powerful guy who likes to knock people over, and that’s how we want to play.

Waiting time exceeded

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh was determined to select Ben Cleveland in the 2021 draft – so much so that he sought a promotion to make sure he got his man. AP Photo/Gail Burton

The Ravens did not have a second round pick in the NFL Draft this year. So Baltimore had to wait 62 picks on day two, 4 hours and 11 minutes, before Cleveland was selected.

The reality is that the Ravens waited much longer to get him.

John has been talking about Cleveland for two months, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said after picking Cleveland with No. 94. So it was a relief to me when we saw him in stock at the markup. It was John’s decision.

Harbaugh joined the conversation and said: I’ll leave you alone now.

Harbaugh admitted he wanted to trade DeCosta at a higher level so the team could make it to Cleveland.

Ben was a guy we really wanted, Harbaugh said. I know I was a little nervous, as was Nellie, [but] we persevered and got our man.

The Cleveland fan club has grown. When the Ravens released a video of Cleveland at rookie minicamp, former WWE champion Braun Strowman tweeted: Are you hungry?

Cleveland replied: We broke up somewhere around birth, I’m pretty sure.

Cleveland is currently competing with Tyre Phillips and Ben Powers for the starting left guard job in Baltimore. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman praised Cleveland’s physical presence on the inside and how it will help the Ravens play the big ball forward.

He was the best run blocker in the draft this year, Roman said. We were able to pull it when we needed it, which is great. We really want to make Ben a great offensive defender.

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