Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff has always been a bit of a freak athlete. As a high school sophomore, he played quarterback.
At 290 pounds.
“It was different,” Scherff said at the NFL Combine a week ago. “I was 290 pounds, and my center was like 190 pounds. So it should be flip-flopped, probably, from that. It was a good experience for me, I learned a lot, and I’m thankful for that.”
Scherff, who also played basketball, baseball, tennis and competed in track and field as a freshman at Denison High School in Iowa, passed for 1,200 yards as a sophomore but moved to tight end his junior season, when he recorded 200 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
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He finally found a permanent home on the offensive line his senior year, which prepared him for a career at Iowa, where he grew to 320 pounds, started 26 games over his final two seasons and won the Outland Trophy in 2014 as the country’s best interior lineman.
Now 23, Scherff — who possesses strong hands, a strong punch and is an absolute mauler as a run blocker — is widely considered to be one of the top linemen in the NFL Draft, a surefire first-round pick who could follow in the footsteps of Zack Martin, a college left tackle who was taken 16th overall by the Cowboys last season, moved to right guard and became an immediate Pro Bowler.
“I think it’s a question of a very similar conversation we had with Zack Martin last year,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “You could start at left tackle, probably be a good left tackle. You could start at right tackle, be a very good right tackle. As it turned out, he was an All-Pro year one at right guard.
“When I look at Brandon Scherff, I see a similar example … again, I believe he can play outside. However, I think his best position, because of his power, his toughness, his football sense, is inside. I think he’s an All-Pro guard. But that doesn’t mean he can’t play tackle in the NFL.”
Scherff’s power and explosiveness, particularly on his junior-year tape, make sense once you consider his weight-lifting achievements. A video of Scherff doing three reps of 443 pounds on the hang clean — an exercise that measures explosive power — went viral last summer, and Scherff now says his one-rep max is at an unconscionable 480 pounds.
That’s unique power, the kind that explains why Scherff said he had meetings with at least 21 teams at the combine, including the Chiefs, who pick 18th in the first round.
And while it remains to be seen where his best position will be — for all his power, Scherff has average arm length for a tackle and might not have the feet to stick at tackle in pass protection — he says he’ll attack a move to guard just like he’d attack an opposing defensive lineman in the running game.
“I don’t think there would be a challenge,” Scherff said. “I like run blocking. It would be a little closer. You’re getting a little help from the center also. I think it would it would be a smooth move for me. Like I said, I’ll be happy to play wherever they want me to play.”
Scherff’s pedigree does not hurt him, either. Iowa and coach Kirk Ferentz have done an excellent job of producing offensive linemen over the last 10 years; Baltimore’s Marshal Yanda, a third-round pick in 2007, is one of the league’s best guards, while Detroit’s Riley Reiff, a first-rounder in 2012, and Green Bay’s Bryan Bulaga, a first-rounder in 2010, have developed into solid NFL starters.
“I think it speaks for coach Ferentz and the coaching staff that he has there,” Scherff said. “I learned from Riley Reiff … he has taught me everything I know.
“And (tackle) Matt Tobin, he just went to the Eagles. So I played between those two guys and (Texans center) James Ferentz. So it’s nice … I’m just trying to carry on that tradition.”
Scherff seemed to be well on his way toward doing that at the combine. Although he only bench-pressed 225 pounds 23 times, that is not necessarily a true indication of power, and Scherff looked good in his movement drill before he suffered a slight right hamstring pull.
Scherff can still participate in Iowa’s Pro Day on March 23, but it was a reminder that teams will need to dig into his durability. He missed the second half of his redshirt sophomore season because of a broken right fibula and dislocated ankle, and tore the meniscus in the knee of the same leg in the second game of the season this year against Ball State.
But in an important indication of toughness — NFL linemen often play through injuries — Scherff had an MRI on the knee a few days later, a knee scope on Tuesday, returned to practice Wednesday and Thursday and played against rival Iowa State on Saturday. Despite his bright future, he risked his health to put it on the line for his teammates.
“You know, I owe something to my team,” Scherff said. “If I was able to play, I was going to play. They said (I could be back in) two weeks or three weeks, possibly. I said I felt pretty good Wednesday; can I throw my knee brace and helmet on and just do some drills? They’re like ‘Yeah sure, go ahead.’ Thursday I told ’em I felt fine.
“They said it was up to me. So I wanted to do that.”
Scherff’s performance was not quite the same after the injury; his Maryland tape, a 38-31 loss, was littered with some unusually rough plays for him. But when quizzed about the performance, Scherff made no excuses.
“I didn’t feel very healthy, but I’m not going to blame anything on that,” Scherff said. “What’s on tape is on tape. That wasn’t the best game. As a football player, you have throw that away.”
Especially when the larger goal was to be there for his teammates, something NFL teams will think highly of when evaluating his larger body of work.
“I love the game,” Scherff said. “I’d do anything to play.”