2021 NFL Draft: Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum is a sleeper first-round prospect

Last year, it was Tristian Wirfs as the big Iowa offensive line prospect, and in 2021 that tradition may continue with standout Hawkeyes center Tyler Linderbaum.

Switching from one side of the ball to the other is never an easy task. Sometimes, wide receivers switch to cornerback, or safeties become running backs. Football players can decide to make any number of changes throughout their careers. For Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, that change was from defensive tackle to center.

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A former wrestler, Linderbaum’s physical tools and playing style seemed tailor-made to be a bully on the offensive side of the football. Linderbaum even beat first-round pick and former teammate Tristian Wirfs in 2017 to send his wrestling team to states. In other words, this is not a guy to mess with, especially when he gets dirty in the trenches.

The high upside play of center Tyler Linderbaum

When a player makes a position switch like Linderbaum and then starts in his redshirt freshman season, there has to be something that stuck out to the coaching staff. For Linderbaum’s case, that was almost certainly his tenacity and pure physicality upfront. When coaches ask guys to “set the tone” along the offensive line, Linderbaum would be the guy they would point to doing that. That aggressiveness he plays with makes him not just a fun watch, but a people mover on top of it.

Linderbaum’s inherent struggle with inexperience

2021 NFL Draft: Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum is a sleeper first-round prospect

Other than his mentality and natural athleticism on tape, the inconsistency was hard to ignore. When you look at what his struggles are, a lot of them boil down to his inexperience. This play against Penn State just about sums up those struggles. It is all about framing blocks while moving in space.

Now, I know this is a short area, but it is an outside zone call, and getting that tackle is enormous for this play to work. Linderbaum works through the inside shoulder of the tackle instead of the outside shoulder. What that does on a play like is pushes the tackle towards the running back and does not allow the center to seal him off.

Essentially, Linderbaum is chasing this block all the way. When you do not frame correctly, that opens the door for defenders to work back across your face every single time. Also, he never gets the inside leverage on his hands here. As such, the tackle, who comes in low, can attack Linderbaum’s outside shoulder and shed this block.

2021 NFL Draft: Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum is a sleeper first-round prospect

On this rep, Linderbaum overpursues on it. While he works through the outside shoulder, Linderbaum lets his pad level swell and fails to get adequate hand leverage on the inside of the defensive tackle’s pads. That is primarily due to poor framing, which causes him to overextend and lose significant grip strength on the defensive tackle.

Linderbaum thus leaves the door open for the tackle to stack and shed this block with ease since the defensive lineman controls the point of attack. Combine that with losing the leverage battle, and it is a recipe for disaster.

Linderbaum’s exciting flashes on film

2021 NFL Draft: Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum is a sleeper first-round prospect

The background as a wrestler starts to show itself here. Not a lot of centers or offensive lineman, in general, understand how to move bodies accordingly to create space in tight areas. Linderbaum, because of his wrestling background, plays with consistently good pad level and understands how to get that movement to push guys right out of gaps.

This is why I called him a people mover earlier. You can see the mentality that he wants to go out and push a guy into the ground. He does that great here. Attacking that inside shoulder and moving the tackle to seal off the gap allows this run to be successful. These are the plays where you can see the potential he has.

2021 NFL Draft: Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum is a sleeper first-round prospect

There may not be a better play to show what a finisher Linderbaum is on every play. This is a simple quarterback sneak, but he continues to drive through until he drives his guy right into the turf. The movement he gets when everything goes well is significant. He comes off flat-backed here and wins the leverage battle with ease.

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Linderbaum plays with phenomenal knee bend and has fantastic lower body strength. He converts that to power and just moves guys off their spot. Linderbaum will not need to get into an NFL weight room when he does take the jump. From lower body strength to upper body strength, the guy has it.

2021 NFL Draft: Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum is a sleeper first-round prospect

When you ask Linderbaum just to anchor down and not give up penetration in pass protection, he is ironclad. The wrestling background taught him leverage and also knee bend. Linderbaum can keep his balance and rarely gives up ground on power because of great core strength that stabilizes his anchor.

You can see the quick, efficient footwork that highlights Linderbaum’s effectiveness in pass protection. He is so nimble on his feet. It all comes together with proper hand usage. His mitts are right inside the chest plate. With Linderbaum’s grip strength, this pass-rushing attempt was over once he got those hands inside.

Linderbaum’s future outlook 

The best way to sum Linderbaum up is a ball of clay that has yet to be molded. Listen, this is a guy who just switched to center barely over a year ago at this point, so there are going to be technical issues. From framing blocks to punch timing issues, there are expected issues that plague Linderbaum’s game. Some of those will be fixed with more experience and coaching at the center position.

What can not be taught is the physical tools he possesses. Athletically, he has quick feet, above-average flexibility, and delightful mobility in open space. Linderbaum moves well in space and will consistently reach the second level.

His background as a wrestler is immensely helpful for someone so green to the offensive line. Linderbaum already understands leverage and how to maneuver defenders out of their gaps. In addition, he is as strong as an ox and displays terrific anchor ability and balance.

Overall, the upside for Linderbaum is undeniable. He does not just have the upside to be a day two pick; he could be a first-round pick with this upside. If he pans out, this is a guy who has a chance to be one of the best centers in the NFL for a long time. Hop on the train while you can, because Linderbaum is quite the talent.

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