Tyler Linderbaum is the "Aaron Donald of offensive line" in the 2022 NFL Draft
If the Seahawks draft the Iowa center with pick 9, you can wipe your tears with his future Hall of Fame resume
In the same way that we instantly talked about Aaron Donald and Quenton Nelson as “the best player in this year’s draft” early in their rookie seasons, we will be talking about Tyler Linderbaum in roughly six months. That’s how good Linderbaum is in comparison to everyone else in the 2022 NFL Draft.
His ONLY “weakness” is that he plays center.
I am scared for the teams that don’t draft Tyler Linderbaum. I can guarantee that at least a few of them will draft a player who will look foolish in comparison years later, like Sam Darnold over Nelson, Eli Apple and Vernon Hargreaves over Laremy Tunsil, and Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Dante Fowler over Brandon Scherff.
Many franchises will convince themselves that a thirty-percent shot at a franchise quarterback or a 60-percent shot at a premium edge rusher will outweigh the 90-percent odds that Linderbaum will very soon resemble the center who he is most often compared to, Jason Kelce, and there might not be anything wrong with that strategy.
If you want to know which team picking in the top-15 of this draft simply wants to come away with the best football player, regardless of position, it will be the one that selects Tyler Linderbaum.
From reports I’ve read, listened to, and watched, Linderbaum is the best pass blocker of any offensive lineman in the draft. He is also the best run blocker of any offensive lineman in the draft. He’s the “George Kittle” or “Aaron Donald” or “Michael Dickson” of centers. For the entire time that he was a center at Iowa, Linderbaum was the best center in college football by a wide margin. Like Donald wins in the trenches in part because of a decorated background as a high school wrestler, so too is Iowa’s Linderbaum (of course) a multi-sport star with a decorated background as a wrestler.
Linderbaum has the best hands of any offensive lineman in this draft.
If the Seahawks draft Linderbaum with the ninth overall pick, nobody will criticize it because there’s not an analyst alive who wants to look stupid by underselling how great of a football player that he has been throughout his career and giving Seattle a “C-” for the pick. But Linderbaum is not playing at one of the more coveted positions of quarterback, edge rusher, offensive tackle, cornerback, wide receiver, and arguably also inside linebacker, tight end, and guard.
Should Seahawks fans be satisfied if Seattle takes a guaranteed ground rule double over swinging for the fences? Or should Pete Carroll and John Schneider use this opportunity in the top-10 to take a shot at a potential home run pick at a different position?
C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
6’2, 296 lbs, 31” arms, 10” hands
2018-Freshman: Recruited as DT, appeared in two games
2019-Sophomore: Transitioned to C, named Honorable mention All-Big Ten, rated as PFF’s fifth-best center in country
2020-Junior: Second-team All-American by APP, FWAA, first-team All-American at PFF, rated as best center in country by PFF
2021-Senior: Unanimous first-team All-American by AP, Rimington Trophy (nation’s top center), Offensive Lineman of the Year, rated as best center in country by PFF
Think of Trevor Lawrence as a college quarterback or Adrian Peterson as a college running back or Cooper Kupp as an FCS receiver, some players are just built better at football than 99-percent of their opponents.
That’s Tyler Linderbaum as a college center.
And like Aaron Donald or Russell Wilson or Cooper Kupp, Linderbaum may be “built better” in large part because he’s not physically built like every other good player at his position. Donald, Wilson were too small to play defensive tackle or quarterback, respectively. Kupp was a slot receiver who was too slow to have a high ceiling in the NFL.
Linderbaum weighs under 300 lbs. That’s the same as Kelce, who was the only center in the NFL last season who weighed less than 300 lbs and also started more than three games. There are three centers who are listed at 300 lbs (Garrett Bradbury, David Andrews, Andre James) but the majority weigh over 305. In interviews, Linderbaum has noted that Kelce and Bradbury (a recent Vikings first round pick who has gotten the “bust” label from most and for that reason Minnesota may target Linderbaum) have been the centers he’s studied the most over the last three years.
It’s okay to note that Linderbaum’s size is a handicap compared to other center prospects, but it’s not fair to do so without also making it clear that weighing less than 300 lbs has done nothing to prevent him from dominating the majority of his significantly larger opponents.
As a heavyweight wrestler in high school, Linderbaum even defeated high school rival and future Iowa teammate Tristan Wirfs, now a 320 lb All-Pro right tackle for the Bucs:
In actuality, as noted in an All-22 film breakdown by Bobby Skinner at Talkin’ Football, the players who give Linderbaum the most trouble are a-gap blitzing linebackers who are rushing him with a head of speed:
I must give Skinner some credit for the above clip because unlike most evaluations of Linderbaum, he does express some concerns about whether or not he’s the “perfect center prospect” like most say he is; it doesn’t mean that Linderbaum won’t fit most offenses and be a first round draft pick, only that Linderbaum is human and that he may fit in more of a outside zone scheme than a power gap scheme:
“I think he’s going to be a complicated player in this draft class. I don’t think he’s the slam dunk prospect that PFF makes him out to be. There are some limitations with him, but I still think he’s a first round pick.
The things that pop out the most are his athleticism and IQ. I also think the athleticism works really well in a wide zone, outside zone scheme, but I don’t know that he has the pure strength to move nose tackles off the ball in a power gap scheme. That’s where I get worried about him when he’s talked about in the top-10. But this guy gets out and moves like most offensive linemen can’t.
He didn’t have a single blitz pickup miss in a single game I watched from him.
Might struggle against faster blitzing linebackers like a Nakobe Dean from Georgia. I just worry that if he gets on a team that wants to run the middle and doesn’t have the tackles to run an outside zone scheme, that he’s not going to be able to move guys off the ball.”
Is a zone blocking center of high aptitude something that Seattle needs to add to its offensive line? Especially after losing year after year after year to Aaron Donald? Yes.
But you could also argue, based on what Skinner mentions in Talkin’ Football, that the Seahawks most likely still need to find two starting offensive tackles. And any team sitting in the top-10 of this year’s draft should have the opportunity to draft a tackle prospect of note on either the left or right side; think “Charles Cross” for the left and “Evan Neal” for the right.
(Sneak preview: My top-ranked tackle prospect to fit Seattle’s pick at nine is Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann, based on availability, need, and fit. But we’ll get to him and Linderbaum is undoubtedly going to be an option for the Seahawks.)
I’ve written several times already that the Seahawks have no right to draft a quarterback when they lack quality starters at so many other key positions—left tackle, right tackle, center, receiving tight end, not to mention all the holes on defense—so why would it be okay for Seattle to pick somewhat of a luxury position at center when it would necessitate passing on a premium prospect at tackle, edge rusher, or cornerback?
A) You are more than welcome to argue that center is a luxury pick.
B) But if the Seahawks draft a QB and can’t help him, there’s a great chance he won’t provide any value to Seattle ever. If the Seahawks draft Tyler Linderbaum before getting help at other positions, it probably just means that they have a bad offense and a great center.
With the type of character and competitive edge that teams look for in all football prospects.
Just a small town small center
Everybody has that friend who is from a tiny town out in the middle of nowhere. For me, it’s a good buddy of mine who is from Paullina, Iowa, a town of less than 1,000 people. He moved out to Los Angeles to be a comedian, like I did, and that alone makes him quite the rarity coming from a town of that size. But even being the “Hollywood version” of an Iowan, he is no less one of the most humble, kind, and generous people that I’ve ever met.
He’s also the funniest person that I know and that hasn’t done anything to change him from being the nicest. He gets the most laughs when he performs of anyone else I watch, and yet after the shows, he would never go around bragging about how he “crushed it.” And definitely not near as much as those who say that… and objectively did not.
Linderbaum is from Solon, Iowa, a town of less than 3,000 people and named after the ancient Greek poet who once said, “He who has learned how to obey will know how to command.”
As a junior at Solon High School in 2016, Linderbaum was more lauded for his play at nose tackle than at center and projected to play defense at the next level because of moments like this:
The play of Solon’s 2016 season probably happened in Week 4, during the Spartans’ 36-15 win at Washington.
Here’s how it went down…
A Solon defender anticipated a screen, jumped the route and intercepted the pass on Solon’s 30-yard line. Right after he caught it, the defender employed a full-on "Madden NFL" spin move to avoid a would-be tackler. Then, with no one between him and the end zone, the defender turned on his jets and outran everybody 70 yards for a touchdown.
That defender wasn’t a cornerback or a safety. It wasn’t a linebacker. Wasn’t even a defensive end.
It was a nose tackle — nose tackle — Tyler Linderbaum.
But as a defensive tackle recruit, being district defensive MVP for both his junior and senior seasons, earning first-team all-state during both of those seasons, and being a U.S. Army All-American as a senior was not enough to even get him in the top-400 prospects nationally. Linderbaum was rated as a three-star recruit and the number 28 defensive tackle in the nation; 409th overall.
Perhaps like Justin Herbert, a player who I profiled two years ago before the draft and found that his low star rating was partly attributed to his close proximity to Eugene, Oregon, therefore reducing the number of colleges around the country who felt the need to scout him, Linderbaum’s non-elite star rating could be related to the fact that he grew up 15 minutes away from the University of Iowa.
Once everybody knew that Linderbaum was good enough to play at Iowa, he was going to play at Iowa.
Iowa’s scouts did have his best-suited position wrong initially, but head coach Kirk Ferentz, maybe the greatest offensive line whiz in all of football, only needed a half-year before realizing that he had a special player on the wrong side of the trenches. Ferentz noted in Linderbaum’s Iowa profile piece above that the reason he moved Linderbaum was because the team didn’t have an heir apparent center ready to step in for the 2019 season.
Ferentz, who has had 10 offensive linemen drafted since 2010, including Wirfs, Brandon Scherff, Riley Reiff, and Bryan Bulaga in the first round, worked with Linderbaum to flip to the other side. The news was like a snort of cocaine for Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek, a guy who says he dreams of recruits like Linderbaum:
"I always felt a sense of, 'I like being around this guy. Man, I wish all of the recruits were like this guy,'" Polsaek recalled Friday at the Hawkeyes' media day. “I always sensed that — not necessarily that I would coach him — but hey, maybe I can impact this kid’s life.
“I knew he was going to impact mine.”
Called “the most coachable guy” by his high school coach, Linderbaum got similar praise from Wirfs after Iowa moved him from defensive line to center:
“Having him over on our side is pretty fun,” said right tackle Tristan Wirfs, the Mount Vernon product who’s plenty familiar with Linderbaum, going back to their prep days. “Tyler’s like a little pitbull — he just goes and goes. He’s picked it up so fast, how our offense works and everything. Especially at center, too — that’s probably the hardest position (on the offensive line) to come to.”
But being adaptable is nothing new to Linderbaum, who has said that his favorite sport is whichever one he is playing at the moment. In high school, he played basketball as a freshman, before deciding that he was better suited to spend that season as a wrestler from sophomore year on; he was a star track athlete in the shotput; he played quarterback in junior high; and he was a four-year letterman on the baseball team.
“If there’s something that he really exudes it’s that fierce competitiveness,” said his high school coach Kevin Miller. “Just a refusal to lose.”
“Being competitive and doing all those things have definitely helped me along the way,” Linderbaum said. “Anything that’s competitive, I’m always trying to win.”
Transitioning to center in 2019 wasn’t necessarily “easy” for Linderbaum, and that’s also what makes it all the more impressive that he’s the best player at his position in the country. If not the best center to enter the draft in the last 10 years. Polasek didn’t praise Linderbaum for being naturally gifted—even though his athleticism should be off the charts (Linderbaum didn’t participate in any combine drills because he suffered a foot injury in Iowa’s bowl game; he chose not skip it, like most prospects of his stature, because he wanted to be with his teammates)—it was how he fought through his limitations and struggles that earned him another unusual comparison:
“I gave him some things to do on his own — he banged them out. The last guy who responded with a self project like that was Carson Wentz,” said Polasek, who coached the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback during his time as North Dakota State’s offensive coordinator.
“I think that speaks to Tyler Linderbaum. Not comparing him to Carson, but character wise, holy smokes, he just went and knocked out assignments. This guy wants information. This is going to be fine.”
Wirfs also compared him to Kawhi Leonard for being much more affable in private quarters than he is with the media. Keep in mind, these quotes are from before Linderbaum’s first-ever game as a college center.
A few months later, Linderbaum was almost certainly the best center in the Big Ten, even though he “only” earned honorable mention that season. He was a top-three finalist for the Rimington Trophy in 2020, then won it outright in 2021.
The incredibly high odds that Linderbaum won’t disappoint the team that drafts him
He’s the best center in college football for at least two years running, if not the best all-around offensive lineman; in the way that you heard about how Penei Sewell was the “best offensive lineman in the country” in 2019, so too should you think about Linderbaum over the previous two seasons
If he’s got a single character concern, he’s doing a tremendous job of hiding it. Linderbaum, who has that same air of humility that my friend from a different small Iowa town exhibits, wants to be a high school teacher and football coach when his NFL career is over
Like Solon’s quote about learning when to obey and when to command, he is extremely coachable and malleable to whatever a staff member or mentor asks him to do. Linderbaum has been working out with Marshal Yanda, the eight-time Pro Bowl guard who spent 13 years on the Ravens, to prepare for the draft. “When we were in there in the winter and the spring, he was the guy that would always come back,” Linderbaum said. “Seeing his work ethic and how he operated, there’s a reason why he was in the league for so long and why he was an All-Pro.”
Speaking of Baltimore, any team attempting to trade down to select Linderbaum in the second half of the first round has to be wary that there’s not a chance he’ll get past the Ravens at pick 14; said GM Eric DeCosta: “When we look at a guy like Tyler Linderbaum, we see a lot of the same qualities (as Yanda),” DeCosta said Wednesday. “Tough. Gritty. Very, very athletic. Very, very intelligent. Smart.”
For the team that drafts Linderbaum, they will be upgrading their run blocking and pass blocking from the interior on day one. They could also be getting a future offensive line leader, the type of player who like former Colts center Jeff Saturday, is calling out assignments and reading the defense just as well as the Hall of Fame quarterback behind him; or like former Jets center Kevin Mawae, a Hall of Famer whose official weight listed was under 290 lbs!
He’s an absolutely GOOFY athlete. It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t able to run combine drills, but when Linderbaum performs at Iowa’s pro day on March 22, he’s got the potential to run the fastest 40-yard dash of any center of the last 20 years; Chris Chester ran a 4.83 in 2006, Richie Incognito (listed at center then) ran a 4.84 in 2005, and Kelce (at 280 lbs) ran a 4.89 in 2011.
But Linderbaum’s athleticism transcends doing great at drills. It’s like he’s a point guard in the body of…an NFL center. "Where those (other defensive tackles) were kind of bulls in a china shop," Scout.com's Allen Trieu told HawkCentral in May, "(Linderbaum) is a little bit more on the athletic side. ... (He does) a lot of things you don’t often see on a defensive tackle’s highlight film."
Now onto the weaknesses:
Do you want the Seahawks to use their first top-10 pick in over 10 years to upgrade the center position?
This is not something to take lightly. Honestly. And that’s not a pun.
The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Creed Humphrey last year and went from having one of the worst starting centers in the NFL to a center who finished THIRD in Rookie of the Year voting. A CENTER! Now ask yourself, “How much did that monumental upgrade at center help Patrick Mahomes and company?”
The Chiefs scored fewer points per game than the previous season, and didn’t make it as deep in the postseason. You’re saying, “But that’s not the centers fault.” Exactly. The center will get no blame, just as the center will get no credit. A fantastic center can only move the needle to a certain degree.
For the Seahawks, a team whose current roster includes Drew Lock at QB, Stone Forsythe at LT, Jake Curhan at RT, Dee Eskridge at WR3, Noah Fant at TE1, Kerry Hyder as a DE1, John Rattigan as ILB, and Sidney Jones & Ugo Amadi starting at CB, is it defensible for Seattle to spend their top pick on a center?
Even if the Seahawks manage to successfully trade down 10 spots with Linderbaum somehow making it past that many more teams (including the Ravens and plenty of center-needy rosters), is it still in their best interest to take an interior offensive lineman over another position, including if he turned into the mirror image of Aaron Donald—across from Aaron Donald?
That’s not a question for me to have to answer and I don’t envy Pete and John for having to make that difficult decision when their clock starts next month. And yet if they don’t pick Linderbaum, I will almost certainly envy the team that does.
Two more items you’re going to want to check out:
My top-3 QBs for the Seahawks to target this week, including 2 trade scenarios that give Seattle MORE draft capital (not less). There’s going to be a lot more Seaside Premium content similar to this in the coming weeks, leading to the draft.
I NEED mailbag questions, so send me your Seahawks Free Agency/Draft Q&A responses right here. It’s anonymous, I’ll send answers out soon!
And do not forget to subscribe and share if you like what I’m doing at Seaside Joe:
Can't imagine he's going to be available, but if so, he'd be a great pickup. Of course it wouldn't be the first time Seattle blew the chance at a game changing Center...
Dude sounds awesome and drafting him won't make me mad! But, I'm still casting my vote for a 60+% chance at a great Tackle over the 90+% chance at a great center. Will you be sending John and Pete our votes directly, or is there a dropbox somewhere...?