Center Tyler Linderbaum Presents Intriguing Debate for Ravens

Iowa offensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum (65) looks to make a block during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kent State, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa.

The debate about whether the Ravens should draft center Tyler Linderbaum will continue after the NFL Scouting Combine.

Linderbaum won't participate in offensive line workouts in Indianapolis because he recently resumed training after spraining his foot in January during Iowa's bowl game. He isn't ready to put his best foot forward in Indianapolis. But the bigger question for Baltimore is whether Linderbaum is the right choice to replace Bradley Bozeman at center should he leave during free agency.

Linderbaum is generally considered the top center in this year's draft, smart and athletic from a program renowned for producing top NFL offensive linemen. Iowa product Marshal Yanda was one of the best linemen in Ravens history, a potential future Hall of Famer. Former Iowa left tackle Tristan Wirfs was first-team All-Pro in 2021 and helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win a Super Bowl protecting Tom Brady's blindside.

However, Linderbaum is an undersized center by NFL standards. He's listed at 6-foot-3, 291 pounds. Some NFL draft analysts don't believe he's powerful enough to execute all of the physical blocking required in Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's scheme in Baltimore.

Should the Ravens pass on Linderbaum with the 14th pick, at a position where size can definitely matter? Linderbaum knows that the question surrounding him, but he's not afraid to answer it.

"I think I can compete in any system," Linderbaum said. "Whatever system I get in, I think I can help a team out. I don't think I'm limited to what I can do. I'm confident in my performance and what I can do for teams."

That's what the Ravens will bank on if they take Linderbaum at No. 14. They've never drafted a center in the first round, but NFL Network's Bucky Brooks believes the Ravens should make an exception and take Linderbaum.

"Linderbaum is a terrific center," Brooks said. "He has great instincts and awareness. Terrific when it comes to IQ and the ability to be a traffic cop at the middle of the line. He also has the ability to move people off the ball. When you think about those who have come from Iowa, how they've been technically sound. Just think about Marshal Yanda. If you're the Ravens, you want a Day 1 starter, a guy that you draft, you put him in the lineup, you don't have to worry about the position for the next 10 years. That's how I view Tyler Linderbaum."

Linderbaum has a relationship with Yanda, who went back to Iowa to train every offseason when he played.

Watching Yanda gave Linderbaum a first-hand view of what it takes to be a high quality NFL lineman, and he seems cut from the same intense cloth.

"The things he was able to do in the NFL were awesome," Linderbaum said. "Marshal is always a guy who came back and worked out at Iowa. Kind of 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.

"Particularly being an undersized center, you've got to rely on technique even more. Ever since that transition from defensive line to offensive line, that's something that has been a focal point for me. It certainly wasn't easy but it's something that I enjoyed. I worked my butt off."

Linderbaum's playing style has been compared to Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce of the Eagles, an athletic center who's had tremendous success. Being mentioned in the same sentence as Kelce doesn't bother Linderbaum.

"He's an All-Pro and I'm not quite to his level yet," Linderbaum said. "It's pretty cool to have comparisons like that. I have a lot of work to do to get to his level. Obviously he's a great player. Some of the things he's capable of doing is something I'd like to resemble my game after."

General Manager Eric DeCosta has said upgrading the offensive line is a priority and the Ravens have history with Iowa, whose head coach Kirk Ferentz is a former offensive line coach with Baltimore (1996-98). DeCosta said he is more interested in how his offensive line plays, no matter their physical attributes.

"I just really want guys that can kick ass," DeCosta said. "If the guy's just a dominant player, he can move people off the ball, he can bend his knees, he can pass protect, he can do all those different things, and he's durable, then we'll probably take the guy."

Linderbaum said the team that picks him won't regret it.

"I'll let all the coaches and GM's and those guys decide if they think I'm a top-10 player in the draft," Linderbaum said. "I tell teams I'm going to work my butt off wherever I go. I don't care if I'm first, last pick, free agent. I'm going to go to a team and perform."

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