It's not too often analysts can confidently claim a player has a shot at being the best prospect at his position in over a decade. That's how good Brandon Scherff of Iowa is. Playing left tackle during his college career, Scherff is most likely looking at a transition to guard at the next level where most project he'll be a top-10 selection.
The biggest issue for Scherff hanging at left tackle, where he thrived against Big Ten pass-rushers, is his arm length. A preventative position, tackles on the edges need to make up for when they inevitably lose to defensive ends or pass-rushing linebackers who are typically better athletes. Outside of the dancing bears, the tackles—like Dallas' Tyron Smith—who have amazing foot quickness, bookends recover with length.
Scherff's arms measured in at the combine at just a little over 33", which, according to Mock Draftable, ranks him in the bottom fifth for offensive tackles since 1999 at the event. If you switch Scherff's position from tackle to guard, though, that number changes. Instead, he ranks in the 42nd percentile in arm length at the position, and his combine comparisons include Kyle Long and Mike Iupati.
Iupati just signed the largest signing bonus for a guard in the league when he joined the Arizona Cardinals this offseason, and Long has been a Pro Bowl player in both his years as a professional. That's not bad company to be around.
On top of that, we've seen two rookie left tackles switch to guard from the 2014 class make an early impact. The first was Zack Martin from Notre Dame, who was first-team All-Pro in his initial season with Dallas, something which hadn't been done on the offensive line since 1947. He assisted in building what was considered the best offensive line in football, and the Cowboys' running back, DeMarco Murray, led the NFL in rushing yardage.
The second player on the aforementioned list is Joel Bitonio, who was a left tackle at the University of Nevada but was slotted in as a guard for the Cleveland Browns, who, too, were considered to have one of the premier units up front offensively in the league. For reference, Martin and Bitonio were measured with scores of +21.6 and +22.4 receptively per Pro Football Focus, good for the sixth- and fifth-best guards in their 2014 rankings.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock compared Scherff to both prospects as early as November, and Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller also has linked the two on occasion. So, if Martin, Iupati and Long were all worth top-20 selections, and the majority of scouts believe Scherff is a lock to be that level of a player, how much worth does the interior offensive lineman have?
In recent history, the top guard selection has been Jonathan Cooper, who was an All-American left guard for North Carolina in 2012, leading a rushing attack backed by Giovani Bernard. After being drafted seventh overall by the Arizona Cardinals, though, he sustained a broken fibula, which ended his rookie season before it really started. In two years, he's started two games for the team.
Without a healthy sample of a high selection at the position, it's hard to tell how teams value elite interior prospects. Players like Levi Brown, who was drafted seventh overall in 2007, and Robert Gallery, who was drafted second overall in 2004, were selected as tackles but couldn't hang outside, forcing their careers to guards where they were mid-level players.
You have to stretch back to 1986 for the last true guard picked head of Cooper's slot, when Jim Dombrowski, another All-American guard from the ACC, was drafted sixth overall out of the University of Virginia. In his career, Dombrowski started 137 games at the professional level. "What would we give up for a 10-year starter at guard?" is a question teams need to ask themselves when discussing Scherff.
If they do have those conversations, it wouldn't surprise me if he were drafted in either the slot Dombrowski was selected in, sixth overall, or a slot before, fifth overall.
The Washington Redskins are picking fifth in the draft, finally recovering from spilling value into the Robert Griffin III trade. What they need most is consistency on offensive line outside of left tackle. Investing in a right tackle last season with the selection of Morgan Moses, Scherff can come in on Day 1 and start for Washington as either the left or right guard, giving Griffin an asset for what seems to be his make-or-break season.
The same can be said about the New York Jets in the sixth slot, who recently re-signed Willie Colon to a one-year deal. Colon's started the last 32 games for the Jets but is 31 years old and is going to have to compete with Brian Winters, a third-year guard from Kent State, to see the field.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Breno Giacomini and newly acquired James Carpenter fill out the rest of the offensive line nicely, but New York is still missing a game-changer in the guard spot currently filled by a rookie contract mid-rounder and a stop-gap aging veteran.
If Scherff were added to the squad, the Jets could run and throw behind their offensive line like the Cowboys did last season or the San Francisco 49ers did during the majority of the Jim Harbaugh Era. One player won't make an offensive line, but that player can push it to the next level.
According to Prediction Machine's Matt Richner, who uses an analytical approach to grading players, Scherff is the best run-blocking tackle in this class. That translates on film, as it's hard to miss his nasty side, even in pass protection. He's one of the few offensive linemen who can rack up pancakes in the passing game as easily as he does in the ground game.
Why'd Scherff do the DB like this? https://t.co/KXMGHNdlEM— Kyle Posey (@The_KP_Show) March 10, 2015
He's not just a power guard, either. He does well enough on his feet to see him projecting into a zone-blocking scheme as well. Scherff didn't run all the drills at the combine, mostly because his high profile didn't dictate he needed to, but his 3-cone score measured at his pro day was off-the-charts impressive. Measuring change of direction and short area burst, Scherff's time, according to Josh Norris of Rotoworld and NBC Sports, would have been the second-best at the combine for an offensive lineman since 2006.
Nick Schwalbach of Titletown Sound Off also noted Scherff's time was better than some of the receivers at the combine, which seems impossible since Scherff weighed around 100 pounds heavier than them.
Brandon Scherff's 7.07 3 cone at his pro day was faster than 7 WR's at the combine, including Jamison Crowder.— Nick Schwalbach (@Draft_Packers) March 24, 2015
Purely as a technical lineman, he's also gifted. Lance Zierlein, who has done draft work with NFL Network and whose father has worked in the league for years as an offensive line guru, recently went on a Google Hangout with Matt Waldman of The Rookie Scouting Portfolio to discuss the the lineman. In it, Zierlein noted Scherff's developed understanding of the game, including his one-arm technique to face longer pass rushers.
When discussing Scherff as an overall player via tape, analytics or measurables, he appears to be a high-floor and high-ceiling type of prospect. At worst, he projects to be a quality starter for years, and at best he projects to be a perennial Pro Bowler from the start. In a class which has been tabbed as "weak" at the top, there are multiple spots for the Iowa Hawkeye to be selected in the first six picks in Chicago this spring.