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The New York Jets First Pick in the 2020 NFL Draft is Tristan Wirfs OT Iowa

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a athletic mauler with great character

Rutgers v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Tristan Wirfs is a big kid (6’ 5” 322 lbs), big even for an offensive tackle. Yet size doesn’t define Wirfs as a person or a player. He has a big heart. He also is a great athlete who cares about those around him. He is just a big likeable teddy bear with a serious mean streak on the football field. He is a true junior who turns 21 on January 24th.

He is one of two children raised by a single parent, his mother Sarah. “Being a single mom was never the plan,” she said. “I always told my kids they would have everything they needed, but probably not everything they wanted.” Tristan seemed truly happy, always with a smile on his face, “It has been like that since day one, as the mom, you are always like ‘Smile’ when you’re taking pictures. ‘Smile for the camera, Tristan.’ He was always happy to do that. I did not have to coax him much, ever. That smile always came.”

Tristan was always a big kid. Recess at school is fun for kids. You get to run around and play but usually not Tristan. It wasn’t a punishment. It was a safety issue because of his size. “They’d always tell me that I didn’t know my own strength. You know, just typical stuff a teacher tells a big kid when he’s playing with littler kids. I was just trying to have fun with my buddies,” Tristan said.

Football came easy for Tristan. Most athletic things did. He was a three year starter as an offensive and defensive tackle and was first team all district every year. He also lettered in track and wrestling all four years in high school. He was state champion in discus and shot put as a junior and senior. He also won the state discus title as a sophomore. He was just the fourth Iowa male prep to win both shot put and discus titles in consecutive years and first to win three straight discus titles since the 1950’s.

In mid 2016 Tristan was invited to play in the US Army All American bowl in January 2017, a huge honor. Tristan weighed a little over 300 lbs at the time. He had also accepted an invitation to the University of Iowa for a visit. Iowa coach kirk Ferentz is a huge wrestling fan, the real stuff, not the Hulk Hogan variety. He has had legendary Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable as an honorary captain twice for football games.

Tristan had made a promise to his assistant wrestling coach Aaron Truitt as a freshman that he would wrestle for him. Truitt told him, “It’s not about your freshman year. It’s about February 2017. That’s when the final chapter gets written. And that’s when you look back and know whether or not this was worthwhile for you,”

Tristan went on his visit to Iowa and talked with coach Ferenz who told him to talk with some of the other offensive linemen at Iowa who also wrestled. Tristan said, “I talked with everybody and they all say I have to wrestle. I’m going to regret it if I don’t.”

Tristan didn’t know if he could play football and wrestle at the 285 lbs weight limit. His mother always told him if he needed to figure something out, “Write it down and read it, your answer will come.” A few weeks went by, and the wrestling season was nearing when he saw his coach at a chili cook off in early October. He asked Tristan whether he had made a decision. Tristan told him, “Hey, did you check your mail?”

The coach ran home to find a letter from Tristan. It said, “You told me four years ago February 2017 would be when the final chapter is written. That’s what we’re going to do. I’ll make it. I’m coming out. We’ll figure out the weight thing, I made that promise to you four years ago, I’m going to hold up my end.”

Tristan made the weight (barely) with a 2 pound allowance. He went 25-3 in matches that year and made the state finals. He used a vicious takedown of his competitor in the final to win the heavyweight state title by a 3-2 score. As a champion, he headed off to Iowa City to play for the University of Iowa football team.

Wirfs played as a freshman. He is the only true freshman to ever to start at an offensive tackle position for Kirk Ferentz in his 20+ years at Iowa. Wirfs combines power with great dexterity along with mobility and speed. He had a 35” vertical this past summer which would have been the 2nd best vert jump by any offensive lineman in the past 7 years at the scouting combine. This combination of skills just highlights his athletic prowess. Add to that tremendous character a desire to finish what he starts. He would be the face of the franchise if he were the QB.

Here he is at the Holiday Bowl on a 2nd and 19 play going up against Christian Rector who is a Draft eligible 6’4 270 lbs DE a redshirt senior. Rector had 1 solo and 2 assisted tackles in the game but none of them came against Wirfs.

Rector is playing a wide “7” position in a definite pass rush mode. Rector tries to play high on Wirfs right shoulder to get him off balance. Wirfs has a nice smooth slide step and is able to cut Rector off from the edge while maintaining great balance. Wirfs may need to speed up that slide step a little in the NFL, but he does a nice job of not over setting to the outside and allowing Rector easy access to an under move on the inside. In the end the QB has a nice clean pocket and is able to find a receiver on a long in cut in the open middle of the field for a first down.

Here is a play against a solid and strong Wisconsin team. The Hawkeyes are going to run straight off tackle to the left of Wirfs . The RB needed to cut back behind the block of the pulling guard but instead unwisely took the play wide allowing the backside pursuit. Players inside get off blocks to keep it to a 4 yard gain.

Wirfs’ job on this play is to control the man at the end of the line which turns out to be the left OLB. The two pulling guards are supposed to take care of the defensive tackle and inside linebacker. Wirfs takes his man aggressively and forcibly off the line. He pushes him to the sideline then puts him on his backside. For a right tackle a little hostility is a good thing. It lets the players on his side know they are in for a rough afternoon if they want to venture into his area.

I mentioned speed along with great mobility in describing Wirfs earlier. This play is a flanker reverse that was designed to have the right tackle feign a slanting block to the left only to have him retrace his steps then become the lead blocker ahead of the speedy receiver.

First off it is an amazing testament to the athletic ability of a 6’ 5” 322 lbs tackle to have an offensive coordinator draw up a play like this with these blocking assignments. You can see the reason why as Wirfs looks so smooth running without laboring. He is under control as he lines up his target (the left CB) as his kick out assignment. For a man this size to hit a fleet footed and quick corner is near shocking. Yet Wirfs takes a perfect angle which leaves the corner to do nothing but duck as Wirfs rolls over him like a bowling ball.

From another angle you can see the play design and the effectiveness it has.

Wirfs is so locked in on this play that as he comes out of his roll he points to the sky knowing his flanker is going to score on a 23 yard run without getting touched. In reality no one gets within a few yards of the runner the entire play. I can’t remember ever seeing another play like this that is designed to make a offensive tackle run 5 yards one way then back another 15 yards or so as a lead blocker downfield on a running play, amazing.

This next play is not as spectacular but still interesting. First of all it is a pass play with Iowa having Wirfs use a three point stance rather than a two point stance. Wirfs has the DE Rector on his outside flank so you would expect Wirfs to come out of his stance abruptly as he tries to maintain good outside leverage on the big defensive end. Such a stance could leave Wirfs vulnerable to an inside move that leads right to his QB.

Instead Wirfs comes out controlled with a solid foundation. It’s a good thing too as there is a T/E stunt that thrusts the defensive tackle in Wirfs’ face immediately. A T/E stunt is just a rush where the DE and the DT switch rush lanes. It means that the DE will go behind the DT allowing the DT to get the first rush lane. If the DE were to go first it would be called a E/T stunt.

In any event Wirfs handles this stunt as he picks up the 6’ 3” 305 lbs defensive tackle easily as he protects the edge. You can see that even out of a three point stance Wirfs get into solid position, with his hands out in front of him and low. He also has good knee bend to keep him in solid technical stance.

In this next GIF Wirfs does a good job but exposes a small flaw in his technique. It is not a game changer as you can tell the defender was trying to get Wirfs off balance and out of good blocking form.

Rector is the defensive end again here. He has good length with a powerful upper body but lacks explosion in his legs. Wirfs is much too powerful for him so he tries to use his upper strength to get Wirfs off balance by standing him. This negates his great power. Wirfs will tend to lose leverage when players attack his shoulder pads. He needs to stay low and come up through his blocks to avoid this problem. I am sure a good offensive line coach will show him this and work drill to avoid this tendency.

Here is another example of what I am talking about. The same player (Rector) was obviously was coached to try and get Wirfs off balance by attacking him high. Now Wirfs does a great job of staying square to his target with great control but he ends up bouncing straight back to his QB.

Wirfs still stays strong, and no harm no foul in this case. It is still a technical flaw in his technique. He needs to stay lower or someone in the NFL with a lot more power is going to work his butt back into his QB’s lap on a crucial play. Superior pros like Von Miller love to find little flaws like this on film. They will wait until the right time to unleash a firestorm against a tackle to cause a turnover. Big tackles always have that problem because of the massive upper body they possess. They need to bend their knees better to create better leverage by coming up into the defender.

This next GIF shows the tenacity and the dominating persona of Tristan Wirfs. This is a play that is run to the opposite side of Wirfs. It doesn’t make a difference, but Wirfs looks to dominate his opponent in every instance.

Wirfs knocks him off his feet then pounces on him in an intimidating fashion. This is what an offensive lineman is supposed to do, dominate at the point of attack even when the play is half a field away. An offensive lineman should never miss an opportunity to dominate his opponent when he can. He is usually bigger and stronger so he needs to intimidate when he can. This wears down the the defensive lineman which over time makes him almost useless.

Sometimes when scouting an offensive tackle you can get a better sense of their temperment on plays away from them rather than to their side. An average player will just go through the motions if the play is not near them. This is a bad habit, a character flaw that has to be ironed out. There will be no need with Wirfs.

This is the cumulative effect of a huge offensive lineman against his defensive counterpart. The constant mauling with forceful blocks make a defender near useless. Add in a powerful back like a Le’veon Bell, and by the second half the running lanes are wide open. This is the effect you see in Tennessee on occasion with Tyler Lewan, Jack Conklin and Derrick Henry. That cumulative mauling will wear down a defense, then Henry scampers 50+ yard late in a game to seal the deal.

Here again is some quality movement skills by Wirfs. This is a pull by Wirfs on a student body right sweep that was popularized by USC in the 1970’s. This used to be run numerous times a game 50 years ago but has been used less now because of the speed of defenses.

Watch the fluid movement of Wirfs as he ambles around the corner wiping one player out on the way and another who is launched out of bounds at the end. A poor lead block by the h-back on the play allowed the safety #9 to stay in the play and make the tackle.

So far you have seen great movement skills along with great balance with the ability to pick up stunts but how about straight power. Wirfs broke Brandon Scherff’s school record at the power clean with 4 reps at 450 lbs. That is a testament to not only Wirfs’ power but also his perseverance to use hard work to set a new standard of power at Iowa.

Here he is against USC in the Holiday Bowl on a quarterback sneak against Brandon Pili a monsterous 6’ 4” 325 lbs defensive tackle. This is a QB sneak with all the linemen just plowing straight ahead. It is nothing fancy, just straight power. Wirfs mauls his man so badly that he ends up in the end zone on a play that started on the 11 yard line.

Pili is so overwhelmed that he is turned around with back to the play after 5 yards. Wirfs just disgustedly throws him into the end zone while the QB makes it to the 3. An 8 yard QB sneak near the end zone with the defense lined up in every gap is incredible for this line while the defensive effort was woeful.

This last GIF is what happens when as a defensive lineman you come out of your stance too high. It gives the leverage to the offensive tackle. This is an off tackle play where the right guard misses his cut off block on the inside linebacker.

This game is against Iowa’s arch rival Iowa State. You can see the upper body strength on Wirfs as he is able to control the defensive tackle, turn him away from the hole, and plant him with a pancake block on his backside. This is a near textbook way to control a big man who comes up high in his attack; you torque him to the ground with authority.

Additionally

I would just like to add that University of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is one of my top three coaches (who teach football) in the country. It is a joy to watch his teams compete. He is a disciple of Bill Belichick who knows how to coach football as well as anyone.

His players are well-coached on fundamentals, and he always develops great athletes.

Iowa is not an easy place to recruit kids. Players want to go to California, the SEC, Ohio State, or Michigan. Yet every year Kirk Ferentz develops both fundamentally and physically some of the best recruits in the Draft. Many are undervalued because the style of football is not flashy, and there is bias because Iowa is not considered a huge program. Yet players like Noah Fant, T. J. Hockenson and George Kittle (a 5th round pick) with enormous physical skill come from Iowa City. At the start of the 2019 NFL season there were 29 former Hawkeyes on NFL rosters.

In 2019 The Titans (who have a great GM in Jon Robinson) had in my opinion a draft day steal in safety Amani Hooker with the (#116) 14th pick in the 4th round. He would be starting today if not for Kevin Byard, an All Pro Safety that Robinson drafted in the 3rd round in the 2016 draft from Middle Tennessee State.

Desmond King was another 5th round pick in 2017 who was a 2018 All Pro. Anthony Hitchens (4th round), Christian Kirksey (3rd round) Brandon Scherff (1st round), and Austin Blythe (a 7th round choice who starts at center for the Colts) are just some of the players who come from the Iowa City school whose undergraduate enrollment is under 23,000 students. Yet they compete against the Ohio States of the world.

Every year as I do my scouting for the NFL Draft I always take a second look at all the Iowa draft eligible kids. You almost always find a severely undervalued kid.

Now I will step off my soapbox.

In conclusion

Tristan Wirfs has all the criteria set forth by GM Joe Douglas of the Jets to be a great pick if he is still available. He needs some fine tuning in a technical sense, but he is still young (He turns 21 on January 24, 2020.) so he still has a way to go in his development.

In drafting you have to surmise the possible growth a prospect can achieve. Wirfs is starting with a excellent skill set. Plus he is an exceptional athlete and coacable. The sky’s the limit for this kid. I want this kid almost as much as I wanted Jack Conklin (another Titan drafted by Robinson) who was First Team All Pro as a rookie.

Wirfs has that type of talent, so much so that Bruce Feldman of the Athletic named him his #1 player on his 2020 50 draftable players freak list.

With his wrestling background along with his impressive physical talents I predict that Wirfs will be one of if not the top SPARQ athlete among offensive linemen. The best part of that is the kid can play.

Sadly if he does well at the NFL Combine he may never make it to the 11th overall pick.

I am at the start of my big board for the 2020 NFL Draft, and Wirfs is in the top 10.

What do you think?