Four offensive tackles went in the first 15 picks of the 2020 NFL Draft. It's just the third time selections have fallen that way since 2000 and the first time since 2013. The rarity of such an occurrence has less to do with the position and more to do with the transition players must make from the college to pro levels. The offensive line as a unit is critical to any teams' offensive success but it's also one of the most affected by the disparity between college and pro schemes. Some offensive linemen come out of their collegiate careers without ever having even been in a huddle.
That is not the case for former Iowa Hawkeye Tristan Wirfs.
"Coming from Iowa, we run a pretty pro-style offense and I know when I was at the Combine, hearing all the [terminology] that teams were using for fronts and play calls – it was pretty similar to what I was taught and what I heard at Iowa," Wirfs said. "I just felt like wherever I went I was going to come ready to work. That's kind of the mentality that was instilled in me at Iowa and I'm going to be coming from a great coaching staff who knows a pro-style offense. I was just excited to see where I end up and I'm ready to go."
"We like the fact that he comes out of a program where they're known for developing offensive linemen," added Bucs General Manager Jason Licht. "[Iowa Head Coach] Kirk Ferentz and his son [Iowa Offensive Coordinator] Brian [Ferentz], who I've worked with, and the entire staff there are very good coaches, so it's a big plus when you can get a guy out of a great program like that. They know how to work. There will be a seamless transition into B.A.'s (Bruce Arians') offense and B.A.'s style, so those were a lot of the things that we liked."
Licht, who was initially a two-way walk-on that played guard at Nebraska before transferring in college, worked with the younger Ferentz during his time on the New England Patriots' staff from 2009-2011. The relationship gave Licht some crucial context into the Hawkeye program and what these last three seasons have been like for Wirfs.
The fact that Wirfs is used to the way things work at the next level will hopefully shorten the learning curve. The Bucs have plans for Wirfs that currently include holding down the right side of the line where Tampa Bay has the biggest need. Though, they'll be careful to not throw too much at him right away.
"I think one thing is not to force it," Arians said. "Let him come along at his pace. I think he's coming from a place that is similar to what we do – set-wise and pass protections, run-wise. He's extremely well-coached, so I think he's ahead of the curve that way. And should allow us to put him in the lineup when we think he's ready. We're not going to throw him out there until he's ready."
And both Licht and Arians have confidence in Wirfs' abilities once he is, in fact, ready. The one word that keeps popping up about the former Hawkeye is 'athletic' and it's not hard to see why. At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Wirfs put on a show during testing. He set a modern-Combine record for offensive linemen with a 36.5-inch vertical jump, while tying the offensive line Combine record with a 10'6" broad jump. He also had the fastest 40-yard dash time in his position group, clocking in at 4.85 seconds. Insert mind-blown emoji.
Then, in his free time, he does stuff like this.
His athleticism undoubtedly contributes to his versatility, another reason the Bucs were so high on the Big Ten big man. Throughout his collegiate career, Wirfs played both right and left tackle. In 2019, he split the season making 10 starts on the right side and three on the left. And his power from either side is evident, as is his ability to climb to the second level. That's enough for Arians and Licht.
"I can honestly say I don't think I've seen one do the things that he does athletically as far as numbers," Arians said. "On the tape he's a powerful, powerful run-blocker – extremely light-footed. You see everything you're looking for, it's just when is he going to be ready. We did spend a lot of time talking to him. We did virtual interviews. Did everything to get to know him. He's a very, very humble, quiet guy. I really like the guy. I think it's going to be a really good fit."
Wherever that fit may be.
"We think he's a versatile guy," Licht said. "He's started at both right and left tackle and he's done a good job at both positions. I'm sure Bruce can tell you more on this, but the plan right now is to put him at right tackle. He's an incredible athlete and I think he still has a huge ceiling. He also has a high floor. He's a very good player, but I think he's got a tremendous amount of upside in front of him, as well."
As far as the upside of playing in Tampa Bay (other than of course blocking for the greatest quarterback of all time who was drafted a year before Wirfs was born, oh by the way)?
"Playing at Raymond James, it's a pretty awesome stadium," said Wirfs, who played inside the Bucs' stadium against Mississippi State in the 2019 Outback Bowl. "I love the ship they've got [in the North] endzone or something like that, with the big boat."
Wait until he hears the cannonfire.