Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 10: Iowa OT-OG Tristan Wirfs

Yahoo Sports


Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

10. Iowa OT-OG Tristan Wirfs

6-foot-5, 315 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.25 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Rare athletic traits with finesse and power to project inside or out in the NFL, if he can fix a few technical flaws.

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit (and the No. 2 recruit in Iowa in 2017), Wirfs chose the Hawkeyes over Iowa State, several Big Ten programs and Notre Dame. He had played all of 10 snaps as a reserve late in two games before injuries to right tackle Ike Boettger and left guard Boone Myers vaulted Wirfs into the starting lineup as a true freshman.

Wirfs became the first true freshman to start on the offensive line under head coach Kirk Ferentz in 2017, starting the remainder of the season — at both right tackle (seven games) and left tackle (one game in the bowl against Boston College in place of a suspended Alaric Jackson).

In the 2018 offseason, the Iowa staff decided Jackson would stay at left tackle and Wirfs at right — the move was made more because Jackson wasn’t nearly as good on the right side, whereas Wirfs could play either. Wirfs started every game on the right side that season, except for the opener against Northern Illinois, serving a one-game suspension for OWI arrest that July. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten that season.

As a junior in 2019, Wirfs started every game — 10 at right tackle, three at left tackle (for an injured Jackson) — and was named second-team AP All-America and Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year.

Wirfs, who turned 21 years old in January, declared early for the 2020 NFL draft. He attended the NFL scouting combine and competed in all the drills.

Upside: One of the best OL athletes to come around in multiple years. Ideal proportions and rare gifts. Zero bad weight on his frame. Has large hands (10 1/4 inches) that act as vise-grips. Raw, refined power. Outstanding explosiveness and quickness. Extremely quick and light feet. A rare specimen physically.

Monster in the weight room — set program records in the hang clean (four reps of 450 pounds) that previously were thought to be unbreakable. Set NFL combine records for offensive linemen with his vertical jump (36 1/2 inches) and broad jump (10-foot-1), which were 1 1/2 and eight inches, respectively, than his personal bests from one year earlier. 

Also turned in absurd combine times in the 40-yard dash (4.85 seconds), 10-yard split (1.69 seconds) and very respectable times in the 3-cone drill (7.65 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.68 seconds).

Excellent well-rounded athlete with high school backgrounds in two sports NFL scouts love to see on prospects’ resumés — track and wrestling. Able to easily generate explosive energy from his shot put and discus days, and channels his wrestling for an edge in leverage battles.

Outstanding positional work in Indy — looked like a butterfly going through drills. Smooth and easy approach. Great flexibility and bend. Wins leverage battle with his natural athleticism. Terrific balance and recovery ability — makes late adjustments and saves his QB’s bacon. Can reset on the fly and reload his power in a flash.

Matches DL technicians with nice fundamentals and handwork. Patient hands — waits for the right moment to strike. Sound and quiet hands most of the time. Feet always beneath him, stays squared up and back is usually flat in pass protection.

Works to the second level beautifully — that’s where his athleticism shines brightest. Has his head on a swivel and is looking for work. Understands his landmarks and often takes good angles on blocks. Outstanding puller and mover on screens — locates his man and goes full steam. Can reach block well and lead the way on outside zone.

Watch as Wirfs starts to down block then reverses field and leads the way on a handoff going the other way, paving a lane for an easy TD run:

Wirfs out in space is a thing of beauty.
Wirfs out in space is a thing of beauty.

Four-position prospect — could play either OT or OG spot. Highly competitive performer. Still very young with his best football seemingly ahead of him. 

Doesn’t take his athletic gifts lightly and matches them with his drive. Durable and reliable. Comes from program that produces NFL-ready players early on.

Downside: Not a huge hindrance, but he lacks ideal arm length (34) inches for tackle. Has been projected by some teams as a better fit inside at guard, which would lower his positional value. Some scouts feel his upside would be higher on the interior. 

Spent far more time at right tackle — just over 200 snaps at left tackle in games. Easier to evaluate to the right side based on experience. Often played with a tight end aligned on his right hip. Started first four games at left tackle in 2019 and looked a little rusty the first few games after switching back to right tackle (see Michigan, Penn State games).

Footwork requires some calibration. Occasionally tips off defenders to outside zone runs, putting too much weight on back foot in pre-snap stance. Fans too wide in his pass sets — gets leaning outside and opens the door for inside counter rushes. Gives up his chest — invites rushers with a friendly target to attack. Fails to redirect on inside moves. 

Almost too passive and patient with his hands and can lose with quick-strike rushers. Needs to carry those hands higher in his pass sets — loses punch power when his hands start too low in the holster.

Michigan freshman Aidan Hutchinson stunned Wirfs on this quick jab-and-go pass rush after Wirfs stopped his feet and failed to reset his hands quickly enough, which led to a pressure and rushed pass:

Wirfs can't get his hands on this Michigan rusher.
Wirfs can't get his hands on this Michigan rusher.

Didn’t face a ton of elite pass rushers this season. Struggled some with the quickness, pop and length of Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat (Washington Redskins 2019 first-rounder) in bowl game at the end of the 2018 season. Needs to be a better finisher. Could use a little more vinegar in his diet. Effort is high but mean streak is hard to find. 

Gets up to the second level with ease but can come in out of control and leave his feet while trying to run interference on smaller, quicker defenders. Not the most angular of OT prospects in this class. Also can struggle as a cut blocker at times, not getting into defenders’ legs enough.

Forget for a moment that the running back makes a man miss in the backfield and watch Wirfs fail to connect and take his man out, which easily could have resulted in a tackle for loss:

Wirfs couldn't block his man, who got backfield penetration.
Wirfs couldn't block his man, who got backfield penetration.

Combine bench-press number (24 reps) was slightly underwhelming. Penalty-prone as a freshman — five flags in eight starts in 2017. Eight false starts in three seasons — multiple false starts each season.

Had a few immature moments and admitted to teams that he felt “invincible” early in his career — arrested for DUI in July 2018, which got him suspended for that season’s opener, and was cited for being in a bar while underage after 10 p.m. in June 2019.

Best-suited destination: Given his positional flexibility and athletic traits, there are not too many teams on which Wirfs would not be a good fit. Ideally, he’d be best featured in a zone-block-heavy offensive system and one that will take advantage of his rare movement skills.

Among the teams we feel could be most interested in his services include the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers.

Did you know: After Wirfs committed to Iowa, he still wanted to compete in wrestling at Mount Vernon (Iowa) High School.

The problem? The max weight for the heavyweight class was 285 pounds, and Wirfs got up to 322 during the football season. Ferentz joked that Wirfs might need to undergo amputation to drop the nearly 40 pounds needed to do so.

Not only did Wirfs make weight, but he also went out and won the state title.

Then that spring in track and field, Wirfs won titles at the Drake Relays in both the shot put and discus. He logged the second-best shot put throw in state history (66 feet, 3 1/4 inches) and the fifth-best discus throw (195 feet, 2 inches) in state annals. 

Oh, and Wirfs also was a star pitcher and power hitter for the baseball team and was named first-team all-state in football, as well as the Des Moines Register’s All-Iowa Boys’ High School Athlete of the Year.

They said it: “I don’t know if she would just stop working. But growing up, I’d see her on the phone with her sister, and she’d be crying about stuff — bills, she’d have to buy me a new baseball bat, buy me a new baseball glove, cleats — and as a kid you don’t notice that. 

“But as I got older, I figured it out. Why would I make (her sacrifices) go to waste? It motivated me. I was going to do my best in every sport to make it worth it. That’s definitely been a big part of the motivation for me, because I love her more than she knows, and getting to hopefully pay that back to her some day would mean a lot.” 

— Wirfs at the combine, explaining how rewarding helping his mother out financially will be

Player comp: Finding a comp for Wirfs is admittedly tricky. Players who match his play style don’t stack up athletically to him. And for the handful of prospects who have come close to his athletic testing numbers, they’re either a poor match size-wise or style-wise.

The closest I can come up with is Dallas Cowboys OT Tyron Smith, a college right tackle who has handled the transition to the left side beautifully when healthy and who — minus his longer arms and Wirfs’ more natural mass — has the closest match of Wirfs’ overall profile. 

Expected draft range: Top-15 pick

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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