“Tyler Linderbaum is one of the better center prospects in recent memory,” notes Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report, a player with “All-Pro potential in the right setup.” But “his game is a square peg in a round hole of the Ravens’ scheme,” he adds, which explains why Ballentine included Linderbaum and the Ravens in his recent feature on the “Worst Potential Landing Spots for Some of 2022 NFL Draft’s Top Prospects.”
Linderbaum Best-Suited for a Zone Blocking Scheme?
In a nutshell, Ballentine believes that Linderbaum — a 6-foot-2, 302-pound center — would only be able to maximize his potential in a zone-based blocking scheme, as opposed to a gap-heavy system.
“According to Sports Info Solutions, Baltimore’s run game had the second-highest percentage of gap concepts in the league at 51% last year,” offers Ballentine. Hence “the Ravens would be better off targeting another position in the first round, and Linderbaum can go to a more zone-centric system that will allow him to dominate.”
No doubt, the Ravens have more pressing draft needs than center, where Patrick Mekari and Trystan Colon figure to compete for the starting job in the wake of Bradley Bozeman leaving for Carolina in free agency.
But that doesn’t mean the Ravens will bypass the 2021 Rimington Trophy winner in the first round, Linderbaum having played his college football at Iowa, a program led by Kirk Ferentz, who was Baltimore’s offensive line coach in 2006.
Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta has publicly praised Linderbaum, likening him to former Ravens offensive guard Marshal Yanda, an eight-time Pro Bowler who also played for the Iowa Hawkeyes. At the NFL Scouting Combine in early March, Linderbaum revealed that he has gotten to know Yanda, “who works out at the school and is still around the program,” says Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic.
Linderbaum Named 1 of 7 ‘Can’t Miss’ Prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft
Moreover, Linderbaum was recently labeled a “can’t miss” prospect by Mike Band of Next Gen Stats Research & Analytics, who used the Next Gen Stats Model — which “combines size, athleticism and college production to predict a prospect’s odds of pro success” — to give him the highest possible score, 99, one of only two players to receive that distinction, the other being Iowa State running back Breece Hall.
Yet Linderbaum is very likely to be available when the Ravens pick No. 14 overall, despite being viewed “as one of the cleanest and safest prospects in the class,” according to Oliver Hodgkinson of Pro Football Network (PFN).
“Tyler Linderbaum is a guy who a lot of people thought could go in the top 10,” adds PFN draft analyst Tony Pauline, but now believes that he could fall out of the first round entirely.
“Linderbaum is slowly falling for a couple of reasons,” says Pauline “No. 1: I’ve said time and time again, he’s not a power lineman. He’s not someone who just drives opponents off the ball. He’s more of a zone blocker.”
There are also questions about his relative lack of size and short arms, which measured 31.13 inches at the NFL Combine, shorter than those of Kendrick Green (32.35 inches), who was drafted in the third-round of the 2021 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Linderbaum might be a much better prospect than Green, but both are approximately the same height and weight and did almost the same number of bench press reps at the Combine (24 for Linderbaum, 25 for Green).
And while Green started 15 games at center for the Steelers in 2021, the Ravens no doubt noticed how Green was frequently pushed back into quarterback Ben Roethlisberger by NFL defensive tackles, leading the Steelers to sign a center in free agency and to consider moving Green to guard, where his lack of size could conceivably be just as much of a problem.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore how draft analyst after draft analyst has been gushing over Linderbaum’s potential, with Pro Football Focus calling him “the best center prospect PFF has ever graded.”
“In the mid-to-late first round, there might not be a prospect with a higher floor than the Iowa pivot,” says the aforementioned Band.
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