Iowa's Scherff grew up a Vikings fan Rick Brown/The Des Moines Register
CHICAGO – Iowa's football program has earned a reputation for producing NFL-ready offensive linemen.
"History speaks for itself," said Greg Gabriel, former college scouting director for the Chicago Bears and an NFL scout for three decades.
Brandon Scherff is expected to join that pro pipeline when he is selected, as expected, in the first round Thursday of the NFL Draft, which concludes Saturday. If drafted as an offensive tackle, the consensus all-American and Outland Trophy winner would become Iowa's fourth first-round pick at that position since 2004. No school can match that. Scherff would follow Robert Gallery (2004), Bryan Bulaga (2010) and Reilly Reiff (2012) as Iowa linemen drafted as tackles in the first round.
The Hawkeyes would also catch Alabama, Oklahoma and Wisconsin for the most first-round offensive linemen selected in that time frame. And that doesn't include Baltimore's Marshal Yanda, a third-round pick out of Iowa in 2007 and now considered by many as one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL. It's possible that Scherff is drafted as a guard and not tackle, too.
"When you draft a kid from Iowa, especially an offensive lineman, you're essentially getting a second-year pro," said Matt Bowen, a former Hawkeye who played seven NFL seasons and is now a columnist for Bleacher Report. "I've heard this from scouts as well as front office executives. They understand what they're getting. Someone who works hard, will prepare like a professional and produce."
Iowa's blueprint for developing offensive linemen starts in the recruiting process.
"They have a formula for recruiting," said Gabriel, who writes for the National Football Post. "They recruit the same type of guys as far as height, speed, athleticism, body shape. They get smart guys, tough guys, guys that are usually easy to coach. And then they do a great job of developing them."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose pedigree includes time as an offensive line coach at Iowa and the NFL, said it starts with keeping an open mind.
"They've come from all different backgrounds," Ferentz said. "Typically — and Brandon is an exception to this — they're undersized by some people's standards. We've never worried about that, as long as we can realistically project them to get big enough to get their jobs done."
Ferentz doesn't feel you need 300-pounders across the front to be successful. A guy is not pigeon-holed by position, either.
"Because usually, the real obvious guys, they're not coming here," Ferentz said. "So we have to be a little more creative."
Bulaga was a four-star recruit. Scherff and Reiff were three-stars. Gallery was a two-star.
"Iowa has got to develop guys and teach them," Bowen said. "But if they buy into the program, and the culture that's developed there, it's a hard-working culture that turns out tremendous professional football players."
Ferentz said he looks for specific things when searching for future offensive linemen.
"Athleticism, quickness, balance, competitiveness," Ferentz said. "Just a guy's enthusiasm for the game, the way he competes, the way he approaches it, what kind of teammate he is, all that stuff. Things you sometimes see on film. And things you sometimes see in other sports."
Reese Morgan, in his 16th season on the Iowa staff, has mastered the ability to get a read on prospects while watching them play another sport. He first saw Scherff competing in the shot put at the Iowa state track meet. He watched Scherff's heir apparent, Boone Myers, playing basketball.
"Being a high school educator and coach for several years and coaching multiple sports, you can see athleticism in different arenas — the basketball court, the wrestling mat, in track," Morgan said. "The intangibles are very important."
The next step in the process happens when they get to campus, starting in strength coach Chris Doyle's weight room.
"He develops athletes," Bowen said. "He develops you from a strength perspective, a power perspective, a nutrition perspective. More importantly, they become a functional athlete. You're not just big and strong. You're big, and strong, and can move. That's the key to the game of football."
From there it moves to the field, and the watchful eyes of Ferentz and offensive line coach Brian Ferentz.
"If you do things right, and you're talented enough, you're going to get a look from the NFL," Bowen said.
Scherff could become Iowa's first Top 10 selection since 2004, when Gallery went to Oakland with the second pick. Gallery, who retired in 2014 after eight seasons, might have had an even better career had fate not sent him to the dysfunctional Raiders. Reiff (Detroit) and Bulaga (Green Bay) are both NFL starters.
Iowa's success at developing NFL linemen goes back much further than 2004. From 1982 to 2003, Eric Steinbach, Mike Goff, Ross Verba, Mike Devlin, Bob Kratch, Jay Hilgenberg, Joel Hilgenberg, Mark Bortz, John Alt, Mark Bortz, Brett Miller and Ron Hallstrom all came out of Iowa and played at least seven NFL seasons. Ferentz coached nine of those guys, including first-round picks Hallstrom and Alt.
"They might not be the best athletes, compared to some of the other guys in the draft," Gabriel said of the Iowa-produced line talent. "But they're always very well coached. They understand the position. They've got good instincts. They don't make mistakes. We had a word for them — 'rank-and-file guys.' They might not be stars when they get to the next level. But they're going to play. And they're going to play for a while."
If Iowa's Brandon Scherff is drafted in the first round Thursday, it would tie Iowa for the most offensive linemen drafted in the first round since 2004.
No. of first-rounders