INDIANAPOLIS — Tyler Linderbaum’s formal meeting with the Eagles at the NFL combine didn’t get off to a great start.
Linderbaum is an impressive athlete and soon-to-be first-round pick who played multiple sports in high school. But basketball wasn’t one them.
That became obvious when he sank just 1 of 5 free throws on the Eagles’ mini basket.
“C’mon, I’m a wrestler,” Linderbaum said.
OK, fair enough.
But from there, the Eagles’ meeting with Linderbaum went really well. Veteran offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland led it as the Eagles got to know the 21-year-old Iowa center.
Over a decade ago, the Eagles took a chance in the sixth-round on an undersized but athletic center from Cincinnati named Jason Kelce. That worked out fairly well. But Kelce is 34 now and even if he returns for the 2022 season (which seems likely) the Eagles have three first-round picks in April and could use one of them to draft his eventual replacement. Linderbaum is an obvious candidate.
Because there are an awful lot of similarities between them and the comparisons between Kelce and Linderbaum are unavoidable.
“Obviously, he’s an All-Pro and I’m not quite to his level yet,” Linderbaum said. “But it’s pretty cool to have comparisons like that. But I have a lot of work to do to get to his level. I’m going to keep working. Obviously, he’s a great player but I got a lot of work to do.”
Kelce is one of the main guys who has served as a template for smaller centers in the NFL. It’s very possible that without Kelce’s success Linderbaum might not be considered a first-round pick.
And it should come as no great surprise that Linderbaum has modeled his game after the Eagles great.
Back in 2011, Kelce put up incredible numbers at the combine, showing off the athleticism that would one day make him a perennial All-Pro. He was in the 90+ percentiles in his 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, short shuttle and broad jump.
Linderbaum would probably wow in those tests too but a foot sprain he suffered in Iowa’s bowl game is preventing him from working out this week. It’s the same injury that kept him out of the Senior Bowl. But he’s hopeful he’ll be healed up in time to test at Iowa’s pro day on March 22.
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As an undersized center like Kelce, Linderbaum really leans into his technique and his athleticism. What’s amazing about his advanced technique is that Linderbaum actually played defensive line his freshman year in 2018.
“I think to be in the middle, you have to have good technique,” Linderbaum said. “Especially being an undersized center, you gotta rely on that technique even more. I’ve had great coaches helping me along the way ever since that transition from defensive line to offensive line. It’s something that has been a focal point for me, just improving that technique. I think I’m just scratching the surface of what I’m able to do.”
There’s an ongoing debate about how early teams should take centers in the draft. There have been just seven centers drafted in the first round in the last 10 years and the last time a center went in the top 15 was in 1993.
But Linderbaum is a special player. He came in at No. 22 on Daniel Jeremiah’s latest top 2022 prospects list. And NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote this about Linderbaum: “Teams with certain size standards might pass on him but his tenacity and talent make him a can't-miss prospect if matched in the right scheme.”
Zierlein also listed Linderbaum’s NFL comparison: Jason Kelce.