The Iowa Hawkeyes are scheduled for a clash of Big Ten contenders on Saturday afternoon, as the No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions come to town to play at Kinnick. And while the defensive side of the football is expected to hold most of the cards for the 2022 NFL Draft, perhaps the best overall football player on either squad is Hawkeyes center Tyler Linderbaum.
The development from Linderbaum has been a treat to watch over the past several years. He first arrived in Iowa as a defensive tackle and redshirted in 2018 to help aid this transition to play center. 2019 showed his potential, 2020 showed his progress, and 2021 is showing the polish. Linderbaum looks ready for the big leagues and offers some surreal athleticism for the center position.
However, Linderbaum isn’t a “one size fits all” kind of prospect right now, largely because of his size in general. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that Linderbaum checks in slightly below those numbers. Fortunately for Linderbaum, he’s got an extensive prep wrestling background, so manipulating the point of attack and finding ways to get under bigger bodies and anchor up front is something Linderbaum has little issue with at the collegiate level. But his stature does introduce some questions about how well he’ll fare in the same situations at the pro level and, by extension, how many offenses across the league are going to covet him highly as an interior offensive lineman who is very likely going to be pegged as a “scheme-specific” target on account of his size.
At the end of the day, Linderbaum should embrace his skill set, though. His best qualities are his athleticism and his ability to be an asset in the run game and in the screen game, so don’t risk compromising those facets of the game in order to become more appealing by hitting some kind of mythical weight threshold.
So where does that leave Linderbaum? Historical context of the position and what a “first-round” center looks like does not leave a lot of room for Linderbaum in his current mold—assuming he hasn’t already bulked up as a part of his tremendous 2021 campaign.
- Travis Frederick (2013): 6-foot-4, 312 lbs
- Cameron Erving (2015): 6-foot-5, 313 lbs
- Ryan Kelly (2016): 6-foot-4, 311 lbs
- Frank Ragnow (2018): 6-foot-5, 312 lbs
- Billy Price (2018): 6-foot-4, 305 lbs
- Garrett Bradbury (2019): 6-foot-3, 306 lbs
- Cesar Ruiz (2020): 6-foot-3, 307 lbs
And even amid the trio of smaller centers to most recently get the call in Price, Bradbury, and Ruiz, Price (312 lbs) and Ruiz (319 lbs) both were listed on their college rosters as a significantly higher weight than Linderbaum. Only Bradbury serves as a true model of hope for Linderbaum’s ceiling as a potential mid-first-round draft choice. He was drafted at No. 18 overall by Minnesota in 2019. That’s the good news. The bad news? The player who serves as Linderbaum’s template for a high-ceiling in draft stock hasn’t found life as easy in the NFL, which will further fuel the surface-level narrative around Linderbaum rooted in his weight. Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce is a better template for NFL success, but Kelce, who passed through the NFL Scouting Combine in 2011 with a weight of 280 pounds, was drafted in the sixth round.
This discussion isn’t a question of whether or not Linderbaum is good. Instead, it’s about how highly his services will be coveted when the 2022 NFL Draft rolls around.
The good news for Linderbaum is that it only takes one team to fall in love and secure that lofty draft status. And the even better news is that there’s a recent example of a team willing to do that early on in the draft, thanks to Minnesota and Bradbury. And with a successful resume already built for Linderbaum at the University of Iowa, the best news of all is that he can simply focus on continuing to shine on the national stage this season with a highly competitive Hawkeyes team; which will only further affirm that no matter what he’s tipping the scales at, he’s got the goods to be an asset up front at the next level for teams that implement a lot of zone concepts into their rushing attack.
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