Good luck to anyone who thinks Tyler Linderbaum's stature will be a problem in the NFL.
Linderbaum was the smallest offensive lineman in the 2022 NFL Draft. He measured in at 6-foot-2, 296 pounds with arms that are 31 1/8 inches long – more than an inch shorter than the average center.
But ask Linderbaum's college opponents whether that mattered much.
"I knew right when I declared for the NFL Draft, someone was going to find something bad about me, and that was the size," Linderbaum said Friday in his introductory press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center.
"But at the end of the day, it's how you go out on the field and how you play football, play to your strengths, and that's what I think I do well. So, everyone has opinions, and that's their opinions, but I know I can play football."
There was a lot of pre-draft talk about what kind of centers the Ravens like, and how much they are willing to invest in them. General Manager Eric DeCosta explicitly said "we want big guys" and pointed to the team's history of converting tackles or guards to center.
Was that a smokescreen or is Linderbaum just so talented and physical that he overcomes what the Ravens traditionally look for?
"You're talking about one of the best technicians – strong, physical, tough, quick-footed," DeCosta said Thursday night. "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."
Most draft analysts thought Linderbaum's best fit would be in a zone blocking scheme that would maximize his mobility. The Ravens primarily use a heavy gap scheme rushing attack, which generally calls for more physical drive blockers.
But that's not all Baltimore deploys with run-game guru Greg Roman at the helm, and Linderbaum could help open up more options for the Ravens' already dynamic rushing attack.
"He's not just an athletic center, he's a physical center," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "When you get the gap scheme back blocks that you're talking about, he holds up, and he's moving people on those blocks. So, we're confident he can do any kind of block we need."
Linderbaum's background as a high school wrestler helps with the body control, leverage and physicality. In the trenches, anything goes, and Linderbaum will turn his supposed disadvantages into advantages and maximize his strengths.
Linderbaum posted a 53-10 career record as a wrestler with 41 pins as a junior, finishing fifth in the state tournament in the 285-pound heavyweight division. In high school, he squared off with now Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, who stands in at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, and defeated his future Iowa teammate at the 2017 Class 2A regionals.
"I think wrestling is one of the toughest sports you can do. It's you against another guy," Linderbaum said. "It's not like any other sport where you have teammates [and] you can kind of rely on them. You go out there, it's either you win or you lose, and everyone knows if you get your butt kicked or if you don't get your butt kicked. So, that's what you've got to love about wrestling.
"The match with Wirfs – we were rival opponents. I faced him quite a bit, [and] I couldn't get the job done. I'm just happy I got that final match against him. But he's been a great teammate of mine over the years at Iowa, and he's a tremendous football player. But yes, just having the opportunity to beat him was special."