NFL Draft: Buccanneers GM likes Tristan Wirfs' Iowa offensive-line pedigree
When Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht saw one of the most athletic offensive tackles to ever enter the NFL Draft available at No. 13, he couldn’t pass up a chance to wait until No. 14.
Licht, who once worked with Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz while they were on staff with the New England Patriots from 2009 to 2011, traded up one spot Thursday night to land Hawkeyes right tackle Tristan Wirfs.
“He can run, which is a great asset for an offensive tackle to have, but it’s not the No. 1 thing,” Licht said, a nod to the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Wirfs’ blazing 4.85-second run in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We like the fact that he comes out of a program where they’re known for developing offensive linemen. Kirk Ferentz and … the entire staff there are very good coaches, so it’s a big plus when you can get a guy out of a great program like that. They know how to work.”
And with that selection, Wirfs became one of the stars of the NFL Draft’s virtual night. He earlier was part of a viral video that showed the giant 21-year-old holding flowers and waiting at the end of a red carpet that was rolled out in the front yard of his Mount Vernon, Iowa, home. Wirfs hugged his mom, Sarah, who raised him and his younger sister.
A few hours later, the phone call came from the Bucs, letting him know that they were trading up to get him.
“It was a pretty special moment. When your phone starts vibrating, you kind of get this wave of excitement and fear and all of these emotions,” Wirfs said in a video conference with Buccaneers reporters. “Then the red carpet, that was a pretty special deal. We were trying to give her a night kind of like Las Vegas — obviously it’s not near as fancy and we’re not dressed up or (anything), but we just rolled the red carpet out on our front lawn. Still, I was trying to make it special for her.”
Licht and Bucs coach Bruce Arians see Wirfs as starting his career at right tackle, where Wirfs started 29 of 33 games during his three-year Hawkeye career with the possibility of eventually moving to the left side. The need is pressing in Tampa to protect newly acquired quarterback Tom Brady, who has won six Super Bowls and began playing in the NFL in 2000.
Wirfs was born in 1999.
Even though he slipped further into the first round than many thought he would, Wirfs couldn’t have gotten a much better immediate fit — to keep Brady, 42, safe in the pocket and to line up next to newly acquired tight end Rob Gronkowski. Wirfs will be expected to play immediately.
“When I was at the combine, hearing all the (terminology) that teams were using for fronts and play calls — it was pretty similar to what I was taught and what I heard at Iowa,” Wirfs said. “I just felt like wherever I went I was going to come ready to work. That’s kind of the mentality that was instilled in me at Iowa.”
Once he signs, Wirfs’ four-year rookie contract will be worth roughly $16.3 million, according to Spotrac.com.
But while Wirfs became the 10th first-round pick of the 21-year Ferentz era, A.J. Epenesa was not the 11th.
The powerful defensive end, who like Wirfs left Iowa after three seasons, was still on the board entering Friday night’s second round. He was expected to be snapped up early, but certainly there had to be a little disappointment inside the Epenesas’ Glen Carbon, Illinois, home.
Still, the two-time first-team all-Big Ten pick can take comfort in this list of former Hawkeyes under Ferentz who were chosen in the second round or later: Aaron Kampman, Bob Sanders, Jonathan Babineaux, Marshall Yanda, Mike Daniels, Micah Hyde, George Kittle and Desmond King.