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Bucs’ Tristan Wirfs is athletic as hell — and not just for an offensive tackle

Retired defensive end Stephen White breaks down why Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs was worth trading up for in the draft.

An illustration of NFL OT prospect Tristan Wirfs in a stance at Iowa, superimposed on a black and white background with “SCOUTING” and “X”s and “O”s in gray lettering
Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs is a likely top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded up one spot to select Tristan Wirfs with the 13th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about Wirfs ahead of the draft.

Sometimes I’m as guilty as anybody when it comes to putting qualifiers on a prospect’s athletic ability. I might say this guy is fast “for a defensive tackle” or that guy is strong “for a wide receiver,” just to try to be clear about how good they are without overselling it.

Well, Tristan Wirfs doesn’t need any qualifiers — that dude is an athlete period!

Sure, he’s an offensive lineman and every bit of 6’5 and 320 pounds, but he looks like a small forward running around on the field. His tape at Iowa tells you everything you need to know about Wirfs’ speed, quickness, explosion, and agility. But if you had any lingering doubts, his combine performance should’ve smashed them all to smithereens.

I bet a lot of fans have heard about him blazing a 4.85-second 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, but did you also hear about his 36.5-inch vertical? What about the 121-inch broad jump?

If that isn’t impressive to you, try to best any of his marks. Go ahead and post it on your lil TikTok so we can all laugh at you pulling every muscle in your body.

You won’t catch me trying, though. I know better.

What Wirfs does well: Pancake blocks

As I noted last year in Cody Ford’s breakdown, it’s becoming apparent to me that right tackles are no longer stereotypical road graders. Instead, I’m starting to see a lot of “dancing bear” types who I would normally expect to see at left tackle lining up and playing well on the right side. Wirfs is just another example of that shift.

Which isn’t to say Wirfs can’t knock people off the ball, because he did a damn good job of that in the four games of his I watched. But with a guy his size, it’s not exactly earth-shattering to see Wirfs moving people. It is, however, at least a little shocking when you first watch him pull outside and lead a running back 10 yards down the field looking more like a fullback than an offensive tackle.

At least to me it was.

Wirfs definitely has some road grader to him, though. I was super impressed with his ability to stick with defenders after contact. Once he locked on, it was almost certain he was going to take the defender on a joy ride.

It didn’t hurt that whenever he got the opportunity, Wirfs was always finishing dudes off. If a cat let his guard down before the whistle blew, he could easily find himself staring up at the sky contemplating life and wondering where it all went wrong.

Never waste an opportunity to pancake your opposition, I always say, and it appears Wirfs agrees with that sentiment.

I know for as great as his combine was overall, he didn’t exactly have an eye-popping number on bench press. But for someone with 34-inch-long arms, getting 24 reps is pretty good. Additionally, Wirfs tends to generate most of his power from his lower body, anyway. So don’t worry about the bench press numbers, because it’s clear from the tape that Wirfs’ power will transfer well to the next level.

What Wirfs does well: Plays under control

Of course, the main attraction for offensive tackle prospects is their ability as pass protectors these days. All those pancakes are nice, but if you are getting the quarterback killed on passing plays, you’re going to end up getting everybody fired. That’s why it’s of utmost importance in this golden age of passing that offensive linemen, and particularly offensive tackles, are able to keep that heat off the QB.

When Wirfs was in a racehorse stance (upright instead of with his hand in the dirt) with his outside foot staggered well back, I thought he was as outstanding of a pass blocker as I’ve seen. His feet were so quick that he never had to bail out too hard, no matter how wide, or how fast, the edge rusher was. If a guy took a chance at trying to get the edge on Wirfs, more than likely he was going to end up either getting driven 5+ yards deeper than the quarterback, or buried on the way there.

At some point during their attempted pass rush, some cats would figure out they weren’t going to make it around the outside of Wirfs, but things didn’t get any easier when they tried to stick their foot in the ground and make a counter move inside. Wirfs would simply stick his foot in the ground at the same time and smother the rushers on the spot. Because he never had to panic and turn and run with a speed rusher, Wirfs hardly ever got so out of control that he couldn’t react to their change of direction.

That’s not something you always see, even from offensive tackles who test well athletically. The way Wirfs almost always plays under control, while still being able to explode into defenders, was one of my favorite things about watching his tape.

One of my other favorite things was how aware he was on the field. I don’t think I saw Wirfs get caught slipping even once on a pass-rush game or a blitz, and that’s damn near impossible to do for most offensive linemen. A couple of those teams were throwing the kitchen sink at him. Yet, he always seemed to be able to split his focus on the edge rusher, and keeping an eye out for any funny business coming his way from inside.

There was this play of his against USC that perfectly captures what I’m trying to say here. It isn’t a flashy play, and if you aren’t paying attention you might even miss it. A USC linebacker came on a delayed blitz to the B gap inside of Wirfs, well after Wirfs was already engaged with the edge rusher to his side and Iowa didn’t have enough blockers to pick him up. The linebacker was coming in hard as a free runner at the quarterback.

The edge rusher came off with a power move, so Wirfs had to deal with him first. After he had that guy locked down, at the very last — and I mean very last — second, and right after his quarterback had thrown the ball, Wirfs quickly turned from the edge rusher and banged that blitzer inside of him hard enough to knock the dude off course, and prevent him from blowing up Iowa’s quarterback.

You don’t know how many times I watched that play, slowed down, with my eyes bugged out. I have no idea a) how Wirfs even saw that blitzer coming nor b) how he was able to turn that fast and make enough solid contact to keep his quarterback clean.

I’m not sure you can even coach that.

Where Wirfs can improve: His kick step

It should be obvious that I’m very high on this Wirfs kid. However, I did have one moderate concern about his play. I mentioned before that when Wirfs has that good stagger with his outside leg, he is almost unbeatable as a pass blocker. My issue comes in when he doesn’t have that stagger to his stance.

When Wirfs is in a “regular” stance with his hand in the dirt, he tends to not actually kick step, or if he does kick step, a lot of times he will end up stepping wide without also stepping back. He is so athletic that usually he is able to get away with it and you won’t even notice his footwork, but he also wasn’t facing NFL talent every play at Iowa.

The very few times he did get beat — and on the only sack he gave up in those four games — was when it was a lot more obvious that his footwork was off because he stepped wide and the edge rusher made a relatively quick inside move.

Since he was going laterally, rather than laterally and backward, Wirfs also wasn’t able to generate much power on contact on several plays where the edge rusher came off hard and ended up running down the middle of him. That forced Wirfs to end up being the nail and not the hammer, absorbing the blow rather than delivering it.

Having said that, the way Wirfs was able to recover on several of those rushes where it looked like he was in trouble initially, was absolutely cuss-worthy. One time I was sure he was at least going to get driven back into the quarterback’s lap after he gave up so much ground on contact. Next thing I know, I look up, and not only had Wirfs anchored down to stop the edge rusher’s momentum, he turned around and pancaked the dude.

Let me repeated, he turned around and pancaked the dude!

Bruh ...

Wirfs’ NFL future: Potential All-Pro

I’m going to let everybody in on a little secret; there is no such thing as a “perfect” prospect. No matter how good they were in college, every one of those players is going to have to improve on something to be the best they can be on the next level. What is important is that their flaws are fixable, and few.

With Wirfs, I don’t think he will have much trouble getting his kick step sharpened up when he’s in a three-point stance, and that’s really my only concern about how well his game will translate to the next level. If I were to compare him to the other offensive tackles I’ve broken down so far, Wirfs is the most ready today to go out and start an NFL game at offensive tackle.

And notice I didn’t say on which side, because with the way he moves on the field, I could definitely see Wirfs doing a great job lined up the left side in the NFL, too.

I think the sky's the limit for Mekhi Becton, but he will more than likely have to play guard initially because of issues with his pass protection. I like Jedrick Wills Jr. a lot too, but his lapses in effort every now and then also gives me pause. Wirfs, however, can do everything you could possible want to call on an offensive tackle to do, and he’s only going to get better as he sharpens up his technique.

For my money, Wirfs should be the first offensive tackle taken off the board of the three, and considering Becton will likely be selected as a guard, I ultimately think Wirfs will be the first true tackle taken.

Of course, we will all find out who is right when the draft rolls around. It will take a little longer to see who is right about the evaluation, though. No matter where he goes, I see Wirfs being a Pro Bowler within his first three years in the league, and he will likely be an All-Pro before it’s all said and done.

If a team in need of a tackle near the top of the draft passes on him, it will probably live to regret it.

Be sure to check out my other scouting reports on Chase Young, Jerry Jeudy, Derrick Brown, Jedrick Wills Jr., A.J. Epenesa, CeeDee Lamb, Javon Kinlaw, Mekhi Becton, Terrell Lewis, Henry Ruggs III, and Neville Gallimore.

For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched Wirfs play against Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and USC (Holiday Bowl).