Ravens C Tyler Linderbaum looks to answer this question in training camp

Ravens, Tyler Linderbaum (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
Ravens, Tyler Linderbaum (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images) /

Coming out of this year’s NFL Draft, all the excitement in Baltimore was about Kyle Hamilton, the all-world safety out of Notre Dame who some had pegged coming in as the best talent in the draft, surprisingly falling into the Ravens’ laps with the 14th pick.

But while Hamilton was an obvious pick, Baltimore’s other first-round pick, Tyler Linderbaum, was just as intriguing. And as rookies begin training camp this week, all eyes on the coaching staff will be heavily focused on Linderbaum as the Ravens attempt to integrate him into their offense.

Coming into the draft, many believed Linderbaum was a possibility to be picked by the Ravens with the 14th pick. But after selecting Hamilton at 14, Baltimore was then more than happy to see Linderbaum fall to the 25th pick after they traded Marquise Brown, and it is easy to understand why.

Linderbaum was not only the best center in the draft, he was a generational prospect at the position. He was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded center prospect they have ever charted, with his 2021 grade setting a single-season record for the site, and the numbers back it up.

In three years as Iowa’s starting center, Linderbaum only gave up two sacks and 19 pressures, but the most impressive stat might be that he only committed two penalties in his entire college career.

What’s more, his athleticism rated off the charts.

And yet, there are still questions about Linderbaum’s schematic fit with Baltimore.

Is Tyler Linderbaum a good scheme fit for the Ravens?

While every offensive coach has their own specific running scheme, there are two basic styles of run offenses that all systems fall under, zone and gap.

Zone runs, which accounted for over 75 percent of Linderbaum’s run-block snaps at Iowa, are predicated on running off-tackle, with the inside linemen assigned to block certain areas that they are expected to run to on the outside, allowing space for the running back to choose his hole in the open-field.

This type of system is ideal for Linderbaum, who was able to use his elite athleticism to get out on the edge and dominate in the run game in college.

Gap schemes, which the Ravens primarily run, are more straightforward. These types of runs are generally more downhill, with each interior offensive lineman being assigned to a man in order to create a hole between the center and each guard, with the running back picking which one to go through.

These systems generally require bigger offensive linemen because it is simply man-on-man, and that is where the questions come into play with Linderbaum.

At his pro-day Linderbaum measured in at 6-foot-2, 302 pounds with 31.125-inch arms, all under the 20th percentile among center prospects historically according to PFF, and is certainly a big downsize from the 6-foot-5, 325-pound Bradley Bozeman.

This could present potential challenges in the Ravens’ run system as he will often be facing bigger defensive linemen, and there are particular concerns about whether he will lack the reach necessary when coming off the ball.

But while these are real concerns, the Ravens still believe that Linderbaum can fit in their system, with Head Coach John Harbaugh affirming his belief in Linderbaum when talking to reporters after the draft.

“He’s not just an athletic center, he’s a physical center,” Harbaugh said. “When you get the gap scheme back blocks that you’re talking about, he holds up, and he’s moving people on those blocks. So, we’re confident he can do any kind of block we need.”

And it’s not as if smaller centers have never been able to thrive in Greg Roman’s run offense. Matt Skura thrived for the Ravens in 2019 despite his 6-foot-3, 305-pound frame, before being undone by snapping issues in 2020. The one thing he did have was arms around two inches longer than Linderbaum, but Linderbaum is certainly a far greater athlete.

And it’s also not as if Linderbaum’s skills have zero translation to what the Ravens do on offense- he is an elite pass-protector whose ability to avoid penalties could come in handy for an offense that has finished towards the bottom of the league in both false starts and offensive holding calls in each of the past two seasons.

What’s more, for an offense with as many dynamic players in the open field as the Ravens, his speed in getting to the second level of defenses can be particularly useful in helping generate explosives.

Linderbaum has also already earned the seal of approval from quarterback Lamar Jackson, who joined the chorus of those amazed with his abilities after seeing him in minicamp.

Ultimately, Linderbaum in many ways stands as the quintessential Ravens pick — look at talent first, worry about need and fit later. Similar questions were asked about Marlon Humphrey and Mark Andrews coming to Baltimore, and all they’ve done is become first-team All-Pros.

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Once the players are in the building, the Ravens then worry about adjusting what they do to make the players fit, something which they have been particularly adept at doing in the running game.

With Tyler Linderbaum, that process starts now.