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Brandon Scherff Is Draft's Best O-Lineman but May Need to Move to Guard for NFL

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIFebruary 20, 2015

A left tackle at Iowa, Brandon Scherff is a projected first-round draft pick who could be moved inside in the NFL.
A left tackle at Iowa, Brandon Scherff is a projected first-round draft pick who could be moved inside in the NFL.USA TODAY Sports

Typically, the first offensive lineman selected in each year’s NFL draft is one who is chosen to play left tackle. That might not be the case—or at least it ideally should not be the case—for the 2015 draft if Iowa’s Brandon Scherff is the first big ugly off the board.

Collegiately, Scherff has had success as a left tackle. While playing that position, he won this past season's Outland Trophy as the best lineman in college football.

Prior to the NFL Scouting Combine, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller spoke to four college scouting directors for NFL teams, and all of them ranked Scherff as the top offensive lineman in the draft. Scherff’s award-winning senior season is a big reason why.

That doesn’t necessarily indicate, however, that NFL scouts and personnel executives foresee Scherff continuing to protect the blind side at the next level.

As B/R’s Brent Sobleski explained earlier this week, there are no premier left-tackle prospects in this year’s draft. There are some longer, more athletic players at the position who have higher upside to play outside than Scherff does. A team simply looking to add the best player it can to its front line, however, would be best suited by drafting the Outland Trophy winner and moving him inside.

What Makes Scherff a Top Prospect?

When blocking in the run game, Scherff can be downright beastly. A 6’5”, 319-pound leviathan who accelerates well off the line of scrimmage and packs a powerful punch, Scherff consistently cleared defenders out of rushing lanes throughout his career at Iowa.

Scherff is at his best when he is able to attack the second level, which he would have more opportunities to do as a guard. He is able to reach his target quickly then control his opponent with his strength and body positioning.

The following clip from Iowa’s game against Maryland this past season is a prime example of Scherff (No. 68) sticking a block off the line of scrimmage before controlling his man to spring a running back to a big gain.

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While Scherff is at his best when working between the numbers, he can also get outside and make impactful lead blocks on the perimeter. The following block against Tennessee, in which Scherff went 10 yards downfield to take a defender out of a play, led Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri to a 28-yard gain.

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Scherff is also able to open running lanes by moving defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage, but he is not as successful in that regard. To be regularly effective as a drive-blocker in the NFL, Scherff will need to refine his leverage technique and get caught in upright positions less often.

When the offensive linemen hit the weight room for the bench press at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, Scherff gave a surprisingly disappointing performance, posting just 23 repetitions of 225 pounds. That number is not indicative, however, of how strong and powerful Scherff truly is.

Any doubts about Scherff’s strength can be ameliorated by the following video, in which the offensive lineman completed three hang cleans at 443 pounds:

Scherff told reporters on Thursday that he can reach a whopping maximum of 480 pounds in the exercise, according to Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples.

It is clear to see that Scherff, who should also put up one of the better times among offensive linemen in Friday’s 40-yard dash, brings athleticism and muscle to the field that could make him an immediate-impact run-blocker in the NFL. That should be true for Scherff, regardless of which position he plays for his new team.

The question for Scherff as he projects forward to the NFL is whether he has the tools to be an effective pass protector at left tackle.

When Scherff gets his hands solidly on an opponent, he typically takes full control of that battle. Once he is able to lock out his arms on a defender, he is able to exert his strength and keep a rusher at bay and off the quarterback.

That said, Scherff had some recurring issues against rushers on the edge, even in his All-American senior season, during which he did not face many top-flight edge defenders. Limitations in lateral quickness and length, along with some technical inconsistencies, might make it better for Scherff to play inside than potentially be in over his head on the outside.

 

Why Teams Should Have Concerns About Playing Scherff at Left Tackle

One of the most important parts of this week’s combine for Scherff was the weigh-in, which happened for offensive linemen on Wednesday. Specifically, scouts were anxious to see what Scherff’s arm-length measurement would be, as he was expected to be on the lower end of the spectrum for potential tackles.

At 33 3/8”, Scherff came in at a below-average mark for offensive tackles but not one that would disqualify him from playing the position. As Matt Miller noted, Scherff’s arms are actually longer than those of some highly successful NFL offensive tackles.

Matt Miller @nfldraftscout

If you love arm length, worth noting Scherff (33 3/8") bests Joe Thomas (32 1/2") and Jake Long (32 7/8")

Scherff’s arm-length measurement is also identical to that of Jake Matthews, who was selected No. 6 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in last year’s draft to play left tackle.

As Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton noted, however, Scherff’s arm length measurement is not concerning simply because of the number but because it combines with other flaws in his game.

Ian Wharton @NFLFilmStudy

Scherff's issue isn't that he lacks length, it's that he doesn't use it properly in pass protection. He lunges & struggles with quickness

While Scherff is proven to be explosive in a straight line, as demonstrated above, he does not exhibit great lateral quickness on film. Combining his subpar agility with his limited length, Scherff is unable to recover if he fails to come out of his stance cleanly.

While both of those traits are alarming for a tackle prospect, neither would affect him to nearly the same extent if he plays on the interior line.

One area in which Scherff simply must be better, regardless of which spot he plays on the line, is in consistently finishing plays. As devastating as Scherff can be with his hands, he has lapses at times in which he fails to get a clean block off the line and does not make enough effort or react quickly enough to recover.

The following play against Maryland this past season was one in which Scherff failed to lock out his arms against his opponents and instead allowed his man to work inside him too easily and get to Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock for pressure that led the quarterback into a sack.

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Some of Scherff’s lapses could be chalked up to him being less than 100 percent healthy. Despite undergoing knee surgery in September, Scherff did not miss a single start this past season, which says a lot about his toughness and dedication but might have led to some less than stellar tape.

Still, Scherff played well enough to win the Outland Trophy and was voted as a consensus All-American. Although there are some reasons for concern, there is enough to love about Scherff that he won’t be on the board long on draft day.

 

Where Will Scherff Be Drafted?

Even though Scherff might be moving to guard—or possibly to right tackle—that doesn’t mean he won’t be an early first-round pick in this year’s draft.

Guards have been first-round picks with more frequency in recent years than they had been in the past. In a draft class that severely lacks elite talent, Scherff still stands as a top-five overall prospect.

If a team drafts Scherff to be its franchise left tackle, it could come away disappointed. On the other hand, Scherff has the tools to make an immediate impact similar to those made by Zack Martin and Joel Bitonio, who were both among the NFL’s top-five rookies this past season despite making their own transitions to guard after playing left tackle in college.

Skeptics of this theory will suggest that the transition to guard from tackle is easier said than done. It is true that while it is now commonplace for tackles with limited length or quickness to be projected as guards, many do not actually have the tools to succeed in that transition.

Scherff, however, does have many of the same tools that enabled Martin and Bitonio to excel right away as interior lineman. While Scherff is not quite as technically sound as Martin or as agile as Bitonio, he might be even better at getting downfield and overpowering his opponents than both.

It’s possible Scherff could go as high as the No. 5 overall pick, when the Washington Redskins could select him to work with new offensive-line coach Bill Callahan, who was with the Cowboys during Martin’s transition to guard in 2014. Other possible landing spots for Scherff include the New York Giants (who have the No. 9 overall pick), St. Louis Rams (No. 10), Minnesota Vikings (No. 11) and Cleveland Browns (No. 12 and No. 19).

It cannot yet be known where Scherff will play his football next season, both in regards to his team and his position. Each could be in part determined by how well Scherff performs during Friday’s on-field drills at the combine.

Regardless, there is much reason to believe the team that picks Scherff—a four-year starter who played three years of left tackle and one year of left guard at Iowa—will end up with a quality, versatile player who can quickly succeed if expected to change positions.

All GIFs were made at Gfycat using videos from Draft Breakdown. Screenshots were illustrated by the author.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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