NFL draft: Meet the D-III prospect (with exposed belly and broken hand) stealing the Senior Bowl show

If you didn’t know the name Quinn Meinerz entering Senior Bowl week, you’re more than forgiven. By now, the word is very much out on one of the most surprising performers at the most important pre-NFL draft event.

One reason you might not have heard of Meinerz is that he played his college football at Wisconsin-Whitewater. Another is that he didn’t play last season.

With the cancellation of sub-FBS football in 2020, the UWW offensive lineman named D-III All-American and his team’s MVP in 2019 was robbed of a senior season. He was forced to do whatever he could without a season to earn attention and improve as an NFL prospect — while social distancing, naturally, and, for a while anyway, do so without a gym.

This is a man who is used to taking it to an extreme, spending most past summers working out alone in a remote part of Canada, where he had only one hour per day of internet access. It was there the 6-foot-3 1/4, 320-pound Meinerz underwent his annual “Rocky IV”-like regimen of clearing brush, rolling 400-pound fuel tanks and clearing trees.

After that eight-hour daily routine, helping his uncle run a popular fly-fishing spot up there, only then Meinerz got around to his football workout. There were no weights. So he improvised, pushing giant rocks. And some of those trees? If they were small enough, he’d just do it with his bare hands.

“Hitting wood wasn’t the most fun thing I had to do up there, but it was what I had,” he told NFL Network on Thursday.

National Team offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz (71), center, of Wisconsin–Whitewater is making a name for himself at the 2021 Senior Bowl. (AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)
Offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz (71) of Wisconsin–Whitewater is making a name for himself at the 2021 Senior Bowl. (AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)

This summer, Meinerz was focused on adding versatility to his game. Given the circumstances, though, how? He taught himself to play center.

Meinerz started shotgun snapping into garbage cans. He set up a GoPro in the backyard of the house he stayed in and analyzed his technique. When it’s a pandemic, you adjust to the surroundings.

All of his years of spartan training have helped prepare Meinerz for this week, his biggest opportunity to date. When Alabama center Landon Dickerson suffered a torn ACL in the Sugar Bowl, it opened a spot on the Senior Bowl roster.

Shortly after, Meinerz got the call from Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy, asking him if he wanted to attend the premier pre-draft evaluation event. Scouts hadn’t seen Meinerz play since the D-III title game on Dec. 20, 2019. And with the NFL scouting combine canceled, along with most of the other pre-draft all-star events, it was a no-brainer.

“I’ve been working really hard to do what I do,” he said. “It was super exciting to get that call from Jim Nagy, saying, ‘Hey, you want to put on the Warhawks helmet one more time?”

Putting on a show in practices

Meinerz might have arrived in Mobile, Alabama a relative unknown to many, but he’s on his way to leaving Senior Bowl week something of a folk hero.

Like previous small-school offensive linemen such as 2015 second-rounder Ali Marpet from Hobart (New York), 2019 first-rounder Tytus Howard of Alabama State and 2020 fourth-rounder Ben Bartch from St. John’s (Minnesota), Meinerz is making a big name for himself in just a few days’ worth of practices.

A big chunk of that has been from his performance during the National Team practices, coached by the Miami Dolphins. Meinerz was highlighted as one of the big winners from Wednesday’s session, defeating rushers from the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC, sometimes with ease despite it having been more than a year since his last true live action.

Meinerz knocked a few of them down like those birches up in Ontario.

“I’ve put in the work, to be able to be this dominant,” Meinerz said. “It’s been fun.”

And get this: Meinerz suffered a broken hand on the first snap of Thursday’s session — and kept practicing for nearly two hours.

His reaction to the injury? “How did this happen? I’ve drank whole milk my whole life!”

Alas, Meinerz plans to get his hand clubbed up and play in Saturday’s Senior Bowl game. Meanwhile, one of the other injured prospects who sat out Thursday’s practice, Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, was hurt Wednesday when Meinerz dominated the possible top-50 pick in a one-on-one rep.

Meinerz isn’t at that level of appreciation among scouts yet. So he’s just going to keep trying to play through his injury.

“It’s 100 percent cliché,” Meinerz’s agent, Ron Slavin, said, “but it’s completely true: He’s all about football. He’s been training and practicing for this moment, and he’s absolutely making the most of it. He’s not letting [the broken hand] slow him down at all.”

The gut in all its glory

Part of Meinerz’s sudden emergence has been for his on-field look. With his Senior Bowl jersey tucked up underneath his shoulder pads, exposing his glorious gut, Meinerz has taken social media by storm the past few days.

It’s one thing when DK Metcalf — with his Adonis-like frame — disrobed at a pre-draft meeting with Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll (who also took off his shirt) during a viral moment a few years ago. It’s quite another when a 320-pound lineman takes the skin-to-win approach.

“I’m working on it,” he joked. “I don’t have the abs. Right now, I’ve got the keg.”

The look is not novel to this week. Former UWW teammate Nate Trewyn said Meinerz adopted the belly-out approach a few years back in practices, keeping it exposed even when the Wisconsin winter reared its ugly head.

“He always liked to ... let the belly breathe,” Trewyn said.

Why Quinn Meinerz can jump from D-III to the NFL

Trewyn certainly can appreciate Meinerz’s rise from the D-III level to the NFL, having spent time the past few years on the rosters of the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and having paid close attention — to Meinerz’s belly and his performance — this week.

When they played together with the Warhawks, Trewyn was the center and Meinerz the left guard. The Warhawks averaged nearly 6 rushing yards per attempt, rolled up nearly 42 points per game and finished 13-1, losing only in the national title game to Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas).

Trewyn isn’t surprised at Meinerz’s rise since then. Meinerz emerged as an NFL prospect during his junior season in 2019 after which scouts gave him mostly later-round draft grades. Now after a strong start at the Senior Bowl, Meinerz is one of the best stories from this year’s game.

“Everyone who knows him knows about his work ethic, and having worked alongside him, I can tell you it’s real,” Trewyn said. “But what’s impressive to me is how well he’s doing at center. It’s hard to go from guard to never playing center and taking your first center reps at the Senior Bowl, going up against the top guys in your class.

“I can’t tell you how hard that is for most people to make that adjustment. He’s just been phenomenal so far. But then again, knowing him, I am not surprised either.”

UW-Whitewater Warhawks offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz (77) is one of the best small-school prospects at the Senior Bowl. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
UW-Whitewater Warhawks offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz (77) is one of the best small-school prospects at the Senior Bowl. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This week in Mobile, he’s taken reps at center and guard, and that versatility has paid off.

“Centers try to help get everybody together, being on the same page with all five [offensive linemen],” Meinerz said. “It’s a lot of new things, and very quickly I had to learn it. I put in the time that I had to [prepare for the Senior Bowl], and I wanted to show [the Dolphins’ coaching staff] I could learn things quickly.”

With the combine canceled and many schools preventing outside athletes work out at their pro days because of COVID-related precautions, Meinerz might not receive the same pro-day stage that other 2021 draft prospects will be counting on. It’s possible that he’ll head back to the EXOS training center in Dallas, where he has been prepping for the Senior Bowl, to be tested for combine workouts. And though he won’t put predictions on his testing numbers, Meinerz is expected to post times that are better than those of Marpet, who worked his way into being the 61st pick in the draft — the highest-drafted pick in D-III history.

Can Meinerz beat that? That would be tough considering he didn’t play this past season. But given the work Meinerz has put in, it can’t be ruled out.

It has been a wild few months for the 22-year-old, having left the Whitewater program in October, spending a few months training at the Watt brothers’ (J.J. T.J. and Derek) facility in Milwaukee, working with OL guru Duke Manyweather in Texas in December before landing at the Senior Bowl, which has been his unofficial coming-out party this month.

“I’m just playing football again, doing what I do,” he said.

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