Throughout the process leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft there have been two constants. The first is the focus upon the offensive tackle position for the Giants in the first round, and the second is that Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs has been one of the tackles under heavy consideration.
Wirfs was considered a likely target for the Giants based on his tape at Iowa, but he faded somewhat as other tackles declared for the draft. Interest in Wirfs, however, came roaring back on the strength of an incredible workout at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. Will Wirfs be the pick for the Giants at No. 4 overall? Should he be?
Prospect: Tristan Wirfs (OT, Iowa)
Games watched: vs. Mississippi State (2019 Outback Bowl), vs. Michigan (2019), vs. Wisconsin (2019), vs. Minnesota (2019)
Red flags: Suspended for 2018 season opener after being charged with OWI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated)
Games: 33 (13 in 2019)
Best: Size, length, athleticism, field awareness, competitive toughness
Worst: Punch strength, hand placement, balance
Projection: A starting right tackle with scheme versatility.
Wirfs has a good combination of height, weight, length, and athleticism for an offensive tackle prospect at the NFL level. Wirfs has good height and length with good thickness throughout his upper and lower body. He plays with consistently good knee bend and a wide base, giving him good leverage in both pass protection and run blocking.
Wirfs is a smooth mover along the line of scrimmage, easily able to gain width and depth in his kick-slide and mirror athletic EDGE players in pass protection. He keeps his hands in a “ready” position and doesn’t hesitate to throw his punch. He generally times his punches well with his feet, making sure he has a solid foundation to deliver or absorb contact. In addition to being able to mirror athletic rushers, Wirfs also has the play strength to anchor, or re-anchor, against bullrushes. Wirfs is a reliable pass protector against games on the line of scrimmage, easily picking up and passing off rushers running stunts or twists.
He also shows impressive field awareness and was able to pick up or deflect late pressure at the last instant to protect his quarterback.
Wirfs can play in both man and zone blocking schemes. His athleticism allows him to move laterally with ease, helping to create movement along the line of scrimmage on zone plays without giving up penetration into the backfield. He also has the strength and explosiveness to create movement downfield in man-gap schemes. Wirfs has upside as a pulling tackle as well, easily able to get in front of plays and make blocks in space.
Wirfs needs to improve his hand usage to unlock his athletic upside at the NFL level. He has ready and active hands, but his punches could be heavier given his size and power. He should also work on being more accurate with his punch to consistently gain opponents’ chest plates and take inside leverage. Wirfs could also stand to improve his balance, as he tended to wind up on the ground more than he should. Likewise, he needs to improve his technique and aim as a cut blocker. Those blocks were simply ineffective against collegiate rushers.
Overall Grade: 6.9 - Has above average or rare traits in almost all areas. He should be a starter immediately as a rookie and has the potential to be one of his team’s best players. [Grading Scale]
Wirfs projects as a starting right tackle in any offensive scheme at the NFL level.
It would be just as true to say that he projects as an “offensive tackle,” however right tackles are increasingly important, and leaving him at the position at which he has the most experience should shorten his learning curve.
Wirfs does have experience at left tackle, starting several games there over his career. That being said, whichever team drafts him should pick a side and let him develop. Wirfs started three games at left tackle early in 2019 while Alaric Jackson recovered from an ankle injury. Upon returning to right tackle he had a noticeable tendency to lunge at rushers as he re-adjusted to that side — though it did go away in subsequent games.
Wirfs has rare athleticism for any tackle, particularly for a player of his size. He should be able to step in and start for a team that runs a zone-blocking scheme, a man-gap blocking scheme, or one that uses both concepts. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Wirfs’ game is the mental side of things. His awareness and processing speed were legitimately impressive and stunts, twists, and blitzes rarely fooled him. There were several instances on tape in which Wirfs noticed a late rusher come free and he was able to react in time to pick up the rush or deflect the rusher at the last instant to prevent a sack or potential injury to the quarterback.
Wirfs still has areas in which he can improve. It would be good to see greater violence in his punches, given his athleticism and explosiveness. Likewise, he needs to show better and more consistent aim with his hands to gain inside leverage. That will make it easier for him to control rushers and sustain his blocks.
These are fairly small complaints and Wirfs has all the makings of a good starting tackle in the NFL, and a potentially great one if a team can fully unlock his athletic potential.