View pictures of OT Tristan Wirfs, the 13th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a big need on their offensive line. They addressed that need in a big way on Thursday night. And they made one small move to make sure it happened.
With the 13th pick of the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers selected Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs. The 6-5, 320-pound Wirfs was the 2019 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the year and he displayed a stunning amount of athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. The Buccaneers made sure they wouldn't miss out on Wirfs by trading a fourth-round pick (#117) to San Francisco to move up one spot from the 14th pick, getting a seventh-round pick (#245) back in the process.
"People should be careful to think you can just stay put in one spot and he'll fall to you," said Buccaneers Director of Player Personnel John Spytek. "We felt that the Niners had been shopping that pick all day and probably were going to have some action. There was a really, really good tackle on the board and we just made the determination that it was worth a fourth-round pick – we got back a seventh – to make sure we got our guy. You've got a guy that high on your draft board and you've got a chance to get him at 13, we're going to make that move 10 out of 10 times. It's the right thing to do. It's right to be aggressive and we got a really good player."
Wirfs will have an opportunity to claim the Buccaneers' job opening at right tackle, a position mostly manned by Demar Dotson over the past decade. Dotson is an unrestricted free agent who has not been re-signed, though the team did add former Indianapolis Colt Joe Haeg in free agency. Wirfs and Haeg would appear to be the primary competitors to replace Dotson, and the Buccaneers would obviously like to add the rookie's power and potential to their offensive line. The other four starting positions are set with left tackle Donovan Smith, left guard Ali Marpet, center Ryan Jensen and right guard Alex Cappa.
Wirfs was a second-team All-America choice and first-team all-conference selection by the Associated Press last season. He started 43 games over his three seasons with the Hawkeyes, including 40 at right tackle and three at left tackle. His three left tackle starts came in 2019, though his final action was at right tackle in Iowa's Holiday Bowl win over USC. Wirfs helped the Iowa offense compile 366.5 yards of offense per game, including 137.6 on the ground. Wirfs also helped Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley record a passer rating of 131.2. Wirfs also started all 12 games at right tackle in 2018 and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. In 2017, he became just the second true freshman to start at either tackle position during Kirk Ferentz's 21 years as Iowa's head coach.
"He went to Iowa and played a lot of football for a program that does a really, really good job of developing offensive linemen," said Spytek. "Then you just put the tape on – he's athlete, he's graceful. His athletic ability stood out at the Combine but it was clear when we watched him back in September, the early tape this year, that he was going to be a high pick and it just kept trending that way.
"This is a guy that's been our radar for a long time. We did our homework. We visited with him at the Combine and we did video conferences with him after COVID kicked in and we had the COVID precautions. This has been a long process but we've liked Tristan for a long time."
Wirfs opened eyes at the NFL Scouting Combine when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds, the fastest among all linemen in attendance. He also set a combine record for his position in the vertical leap (36.5 inches) and tied the record for the broad jump (10-foot-1). His athletic prowess also helped him win two Iowa state championships in shot put and discus throw as well as a state championship in wrestling.
The Buccaneers were impressed with Wirfs' showing at the Combine but they also liked his makeup.
"I'd start with the person," said Spytek. "He's a great person, raised the right way. He had a great upbringing, and they did a great job with him at Iowa, the people and players that helped him. And if you look throughout his career, he's a high achiever in sports, a state champ in discus and shot put, one of the most decorated throwers in the history of Iowa. He was a state champion wrestler as a senior. He already had a scholarship at Iowa but it seemed important enough to him, he had enough competitive fire, to lose 30 to 35 pounds to get to the weight limit."
Wirfs is the first offensive tackle drafted by Tampa Bay in the first round in nearly two decades, since the team selected Florida tackle Kenyatta Walker with the 14th-overall pick in 2001. Wirfs is the first offensive lineman drafted by the Buccaneers in the first round since the 2006 selection of Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph. That said, the Buccaneers have allocated significant resources to their current offensive line. Smith was the 34th-overall pick in 2015 and he is in the second year of a new contract signed in 2018. Marpet was a second-round pick in 2015 who has also re-signed with the team and Cappa was a third-round pick in 2018. Jensen signed a lucrative deal as a free agent in Tampa in 2018.
The Buccaneers are seeking to further improve an offense that ranked third in the league in both total yards and scoring in 2018 but did feature an imbalance between the league's top-ranked passing attack and 24th-ranked running game. Wirfs' size and power should contribute to an improved rushing attack, as will his ability to move and make outside zone blocks. Of course, the Buccaneers will also be relying on Wirfs and his line-mates to protect their new quarterback, six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. Wirfs' nimble feet should allow him to develop into an excellent pass-blocker.
Wirfs is the second Iowa player drafted by the Buccaneers in the first round in team history, joining defensive end Adrian Clayborn, the 20th overall selection in 2011. This is also the second straight year that the Buccaneers have picked a Hawkeye, as they used a fourth-round pick on Iowa outside linebacker Anthony Nelson in 2019. Those three are the only Iowa players the Bucs have ever drafted.
Barring a trade, the Buccaneers' draft work for Thursday is done. The draft will resume on Friday night with the second and third rounds, in which Tampa Bay owns the 45th and 76th overall selections. Rounds 4-7 will be conducted on Saturday, with the Buccaneers picking once each in the fifth and sixth rounds and twice in the seventh.