Tyler Linderbaum has already made Ravens history before ever playing a snap.
The Ravens had never selected a center in the first round before taking Linderbaum with the 25th-overall pick Thursday night. It was an indication of how good the Ravens think Linderbaum will be, a talented rookie from Iowa who they expect to be their starting center for years to come.
Measuring 6-foot-2, 296 pounds at the Combine, Linderbaum is an undersized center by NFL standards, which was the biggest concern surrounding him heading into the draft. However, Linderbaum was widely considered to be the best center in the draft, and Ravens Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz is convinced Baltimore's newest offensive lineman won't be overpowered facing the league's elite defensive linemen.
"He can play, really, in any scheme," Hortiz said. "I mean, he's not the biggest guy. Big guys don't affect him. He can leverage guys – you saw the wresting. He's just really a tremendous athlete. [He] knows how to play the position. [He] knows how to get his body in the right spot, and then he just consistently works at maintaining his blocks. You'll see it when they show highlights – he'll block three guys in one play. He's a lot of fun to watch."
The expectation is for Linderbaum to be the starting center as a rookie, allowing Patrick Mekari to be a versatile backup or a starter elsewhere if needed. The Ravens lost last year's starting center, Bradley Bozeman, during free agency when he signed with Carolina. However, the Ravens hope All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley returns healthy from his latest ankle surgery, and the right side of the offensive line features right guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Morgan Moses, along with veteran right tackle Ja'Wuan James, who is expected to return healthy after missing last season with an Achilles injury.
There will likely be a training camp competition at left guard, but Head Coach John Harbaugh likes the way the offensive line is shaping up with the addition of Linderbaum.
"When you add a really good player, a top player into the top of the depth chart – the whole depth chart just kind of filters out in a great way," Harbaugh said. "Pat Mekari still could find his way into the starting lineup. There's no doubt about it. He's a really good player.
"I'm assuming Tyler is going to come in and start at center – for sure, obviously. We'll see how Ronnie comes back, but all signs point in the right direction. We've got a heck of a right tackle, we think, maybe two. We've got two veteran tackles we brought in here. There's some depth already, and I think we may add another offensive lineman into the mix. So, to me, there's going to be a lot of competition for the starting spots, a certain one spot in particular, but then there's going to be competition for those backup spots, big time. The thing we're trying to do is be a physical, punishing offensive line. We want that kind of a mindset in our group, and that's what Tyler Linderbaum brings to us."
General Manager Eric DeCosta echoed Hortiz's belief that Linderbaum has the size and strength to be an outstanding NFL center.
"You're talking about one of the best technicians – strong, physical, tough, quick-footed," DeCosta said. "Somebody said it on TV, I think; if he was an inch taller and his arms were a half-inch longer, he would've been a top-5 pick, and I believe that. He's probably one of the better centers we've seen come out in a long time. It filled a huge need for us."