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SB Nation Community Mock Draft: Why Tyler Linderbaum makes sense for Bengals at No. 31

The best center prospect in recent memory.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 Big Ten Championship Game - Michigan v Iowa Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The city of Cincinnati will have to wait until nearly midnight on April 28th to see the Cincinnati Bengals make their latest first-round pick in franchise history. But at least the wait is over in this year’s SB Nation Community Mock Draft.

Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin said it himself during his pre-draft presser: This team isn’t necessarily drafting for starters this year. The roster that represented the AFC in the Super Bowl is largely the same with an enhanced offensive line.

The rest of the offense simply swapped out C.J. Uzomah for former first-round pick Hayden Hurst at tight end. Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon continue to make up an elite supporting cast around franchise quarterback Joe Burrow.

On defense, the entire starting lineup is back, with the exception of B.J. Hill ascending from backup/role player to starting 3-technique on the defensive line.

What this squad really needs to ignite another postseason run is quality depth and a few more impact players. Next week’s draft can supply just that.

Cincinnati’s quick turnaround from worst team in the league to AFC Champions was fueled by not only their aggression in free agency, but knocking the last two drafts out of the park has helped as well. It’s nice when you pick high enough to select Burrow and Chase in back-to-back years.

There isn’t going to be a prospect that highly touted available at the very end of the first round, but that didn’t stop up us from selecting arguably the best player available.

The Cincinnati Bengals select Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum at 31st overall in the SB Nation Community Mock Draft

Prospect fatigue is a real thing. For months, a player can be talked about ad nauseam to the point where it just gets boring. We know he’s good, but what about these other guys who are newer to the conversation? Let’s shoot them up in the mock drafts as we forget all the things that make the original player great.

That feels like it’s happened to Tyler Linderbaum.

For months, the Solon, Iowa native has been praised as college football’s top center, with an impressive wrestling background and Hawkeye pedigree to boot. The linemen that play in Iowa City tend to become pretty solid NFL players. Combine that with Pro Football Focus grades that have inched closer and closer to the high 90s for three straight years, and you’ve got as close to a sure thing you can find in a world where sure things don’t exist.

So why in the world is he here at 31? Overthinking might be the culprit.

Linderbaum only played center at Iowa after he transitioned from defensive tackle. His physical stature (6’1, 296 pounds) is that of an undersized blocker in terms of NFL standards, and his arms (31.875”) literally fall short of the average at any o-line position. He’s a fun run-blocker when he’s asked to move laterally, but can he generate movement going vertically against the menacing interior defenders at the next level? More importantly, can he keep his quarterback away from that internal pressure?

These questions have populated the Linderbaum conversation so prevalently because they are the only pitfalls anyone can conjure when discussing him. They’re all projections because when you simply watch him perform, regardless of how big the competition is, he gets the job done with ease.

Size be damned, Linderbaum has the traits you look for in an elite center. His athleticism is nearly off the charts, he’s a leverage king, and he fits the Bengals’ wide zone scheme to a tee. At just 22 years of age, he has a long and productive career ahead of him, and the more experience he accrues, the easier he’ll be able to compensate for his perceived shortcomings.

This wouldn’t be the only pick that makes sense at this juncture. A cornerback or pass-rusher would absolutely help this defense going forward, but the value of one of this year’s best offensive linemen—and arguably the best center prospect in recent memory—being available is simply too good to pass up.

As the Bengals’ first-round pick, Linderbaum can start Day 1 at center, which would officially place free agent signee Ted Karras at left guard. You could not ask for a better centerpiece to a completely rebuilt offensive line. Linderbaum would make it one of the best in the NFL without a shadow of a doubt.


Grade Cincy Jungle’s selection of Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum in the SB Nation Community Mock Draft

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