Scott Thompson, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Jets GM Joe Douglas has a plethora of options to work with at No. 11 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, and that's mainly because there are holes left and right on his current roster. But one of, if not the, biggest hole to fill is on the offensive line.
It was a rough 2019 season for that Jets unit, which had Sam Darnold running for his life, and Le'Veon Bell left without many holes to run through. The Jets tried a bunch of different variations with the players they had, but nothing they did had positive results.
More help is definitely needed, and it could be coming in the form of Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs.
Mock drafts have been surfacing for months now, and Wirfs has found his way to Gang Green in some of them. The tackle position -- currently manned by Kelvin Beachum on the left side and Brandon Shell on the right -- could use a huge upgrade to help set the edge and keep Darnold's blindside protected in the future.
If Douglas is locked in on Wirfs, Iowa's offensive line coach Tim Polasek thinks the Jets would be getting a "superior athlete" at the position.
"He's such a superior athlete and I don't think we should take that word lightly," Polasek, who has been coaching the Hawkeyes' O-line since 2017, told SNY. "This kid is athletic. He's got world-class power and snap. Explosiveness. I'm not sure what an Olympic lifter looks like, but I gotta believe it looks like Tristan Wirfs."
Standing at 6-foot-5, 322 pounds, Polasek has seen Wirfs' tremendous power up-close and personal, especially in the weight room.
Iowa has bred solid offensive linemen for the NFL in recent years, including Bryan Bulaga, James Daniels, and someone Wirfs is connected to in Brandon Scherff.
The No. 5 overall pick by the Redskins in 2015, Scherff was the only Hawkeye to win Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year back in 2014. That is until Wirfs was given that exact same award this past season, while also being an Outland Trophy (college football's best interior lineman) semifinalist.
And Wirfs has taken Scherff's name off weight room records that have been there for years.
"He's a kid that's still, weight room-wise, in running and speed and conditioning continues to [hit personal bests]," Polasek said. "He's a fairly young player with a really bright future. I think his confidence level -- it should be -- is at an all-time high."
As Polasek pointed out, Wirfs had a very strong finish to his second season with Iowa, something that his coach believes has put him in great position to have a solid NFL Combine that could solidify him as a top first-round selection.
Wirfs' natural athleticism and power can be seen on tape, with quick and nimble feet that scouts love to see anchoring him in the trenches as well. Jordan Reid, a senior NFL Draft analyst for The Draft Network, believes teams will see all of that athleticism from his bench press to his 40-yard dash at the Combine.
But there is one thing that could hurt him: arm length.
"He's going to measure off the charts," Reid, who had Wirfs as his top offensive tackle heading into the 2019 season, told SNY. "Every year you talk about arm length, it's just a prerequisite. 33 inches is the baseline for what teams look for, and it might keep him from maybe being a tackle."
Reid is hearing that some teams believe he might be a guard, but he personally believes Wirfs can play anywhere on the line as "the biggest thing he showed was his versatility" last season.
Polasek has seen exactly what he can do on the outside against some top talent in the Big Ten. For one, he goes up against Iowa DE A.J. Espensa in practice from time to time, and he's said to be the next-best option at that position after Ohio State's Chase Young. He also had to deal with another potential first-rounder in Yetur Gross-Matos from Penn State -- a matchup Polasek said he did well with.
"In pass-protection, he's so efficient and his feet are so good it almost looks effortless," Polasek explained. "I'm really excited to see him go against a skilled pass rusher where a guy has got the combination of speed and power.
"My inclination is we're going to like the results."
Wirfs has predominately played right tackle in his college career, but Polasek doesn't think teams looking for a left tackle should steer clear. Wirfs made a smooth transition to the left side when LT Alaric Jackson got hurt this season.
"He did it this year. Our left tackle was out four or five games, so he was going back and forth within a game," Polasek said.
Checking off the boxes on the field is great, but what truly sets prospects apart when teams begin to create their draft boards is the interview process. It's an area Polasek knows any team talking to Wirfs will see how much he is invested in learning about the technical aspects of the game.
"His conceptual understanding of football and being able to present that or answer questions or diagram and getting into drawing things on the board, he'll do just fine," he said. "And I still think there's room for growth, but he's a capable learner. He's into football, he's really into the detail of technique and the individual warfare or battle with a rusher. He really enjoys that."
Wirfs is also an outstanding teammate. He was raised in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and though he may be a brute on the field, he's still that small-town kid at heart.
"He's an unbelievable teammate. He's kind of a chameleon," Polasek said. "He's a small-town Iowa kid. So that doesn't always match up with how he looks. He's very respectful with his teammates and he's very caring as far as helpful with the guys. If they have issues or need something, he's always open to being a good teammate."
Reid added: "[He's] been a model citizen, a guy everybody looks up to in the locker room."
Will he be able to handle the New York media monster, though?
"He'll do great. Just as coaches, we peak at our own players from time to time on that stuff, and he's been exposed here with our media and he'll be very likable and he'll get better with that stuff as it goes," Polasek said.
And through all this praise, there is still more upside with Wirfs' game. Reid consistently talked about his "demeanor," and how he never stops trying to get better. That explains breaking the weight room records, for example.
So, after hearing about his power, athleticism, teammate skills and everything in between, I asked Polasek to describe Wirfs in a single sentence.
"Very efficient and quietly dominates," he replied.
Sounds like someone Douglas and the Jets could hope falls to them at No. 11.