Vikings

Tyler Linderbaum Is Bradbury 2.0. So Why Is He Projected To Go In the 1st Round?

Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Vikings fans are frustrated with Garrett Bradbury. I probably don’t have to tell you why, but in case you’re unfamiliar: Bradbury weighs too little, struggles with anchor in pass protection, and has worn out his welcome in Minnesota. So it’s natural to look to the draft for Bradbury’s successor. If Bradbury was a first-round miss, no worries, the Vikings fired the man responsible. Now that they have a real GM who isn’t a big dumb blockhead, surely, the first-round center solves our problem, no?

In this class, there’s only one center getting anything close to first-round consideration. That’s Tyler Linderbaum out of Iowa. If we are to compare the possible new guy to the old guy, let’s get a baseline. Here are Garrett Bradbury’s athletic testing numbers from when he came out in 2019.

In hindsight, you can see this athleticism bear out. Bradbury was undersized but had the explosiveness, agility, and speed to stand out in the run game. Still, weighing in under 300 lbs. should have been a much bigger red flag than it was to Rick Spielman and his draft team. These weaknesses were further highlighted in most of his scouting reports. From The Athletic’s Dane Brugler,

Undersized with a squatty frame … his lack of length and girth can be exposed vs. long-armed rushers … grappler at the point of attack, but not an overpowering blocker … will struggle in pass protection when he misfires with his punch, leaving him overextended and controlled … his inconsistent habits in pass protection leave him on the ground too much … will occasionally drop his eyes in space, allowing rushers to elude him … will fall off second-level blocks when he sacrifices his balance … didn’t play tackle or guard in college, and doesn’t offer position versatility.

Are you boiling mad yet? It’s regrettable that the Vikings had knowledge of how often Bradbury would be on the ground and bought in anyways. Regrettable enough that the party responsible, Spielman, wanders the ranks of the unemployed. Still, it’s not quite fair to just post Bradbury’s weaknesses from Brugler, so here are his strengths:

Quick off the ball, and flies out of his stance to reach the three-technique … excellent on-the-move run blocker with his ability to gain leverage, seal and create lanes … flexible hips and lower body to smoothly redirect and explode into defenders … displays impeccable timing on combination blocks … consistently climbs to the second level and removes linebackers from the play.

So, the pre-draft process pretty much nailed who Bradbury would be, right? Not quite. I have a confession to make here. I’ve lied to you. None of this describes Garrett Bradbury. These athletic tests and scouting notes are all part of this year’s reports on Tyler Linderbaum, with the name edited. Go ahead, go re-read it knowing what you know now.

It’s Linderbaum who weighed in at 296 lbs. at the combine (Bradbury weighed in at 304). Linderbaum has the uncanny ability to reach the three-technique, and it’s Linderbaum who has “inconsistent habits in pass protection” that “leave him on the ground too much.” Now, before I revealed that I had tricked you, what were you feeling? Was it a sense of regret eating at your soul? Did you just wish that the Vikings knew what Bradbury would be before they took him? Congratulations! They now have the ability to right this wrong.

Personally, I’ve never been as bothered by Bradbury as everyone else. I think he deserves a good portion of the credit for how excited you get about Dalvin Cook every year, and I think his pass-protection issues are concerning but overblown. I won’t try to change your mind on that, though. Instead, whatever you think of Bradbury, hang on to it, whether it’s white-hot hatred or not. Whatever you think of Bradbury, think of Linderbaum as the same guy.

Committing to four more years of a center capable of flashing in space may not be such a bad thing. It gives an offensive coach like Kevin O’Connell a powerful tool with which to stretch defenses spatially. That’s the way teams use centers these days. They’re not big giant maulers, they’re finesse pieces you hope you can hide in pass protection.

Still, it may frustrate you to watch your possible first-round draft pick get outmuscled by a linebacker often mocked in the third round.

The reach blocks Bradbury became famous for are certainly there. It’s a rare talent, and the Vikings wouldn’t lose it by moving from Bradbury to Linderbaum:

Linderbaum has all the same traits that give offensive tape junkies the meat sweats. Watching a picture-perfect snap and then a reach block halfway between the hash marks is very exciting. It’s the same thing that made Garrett Bradbury a first-round pick and has convinced Kevin O’Connell not to give up on him. But perhaps the biggest deal-breaker isn’t Linderbaum’s weight, it’s his length.

As Sam Gold breaks down, a reach advantage can win when you don’t have a size advantage. Linderbaum has no such access to those tools. That means he is just going to struggle against bigger nose tackles. It’s the way of the world. Let’s not daydream about packing 30 lbs. on a guy. That is, unless we give up on the notion of drafting him in the first round.

Linderbaum does have a couple of key advantages over Bradbury. Bradbury was 24 years old when he came out, while Linderbaum is only 22. It’s difficult to project a 22-year-old hitting a growth spurt, and Linderbaum only has two years of starting experience. Perhaps he has some room to develop better technique. Linderbaum also has better pass-protection footwork than Bradbury’s. These are details in the grand scheme of things, but worth considering.

To be perfectly fair to Linderbaum, he possesses potential that Bradbury does not. It’d be irresponsible to project any sort of improvement for 26-year-old Bradbury, but Linderbaum might get better. It wouldn’t be wise to bank on that, but there are techniques he can learn to overcome length issues. It’ll be harder to bulk him up, so if you’re drafting Linderbaum, you have to be okay with an undersized center. After watching three years of Garrett Bradbury, I venture a guess that you are not okay with an undersized center.

That leads to the central question of the article: Where would the Vikings take Linderbaum? To answer that, let me explain my process. I want to answer this question in a Vikings-specific manner. To a team like the San Francisco 49ers, who need a successor to Alex Mack and don’t have a similar alternative, Linderbaum makes a lot of sense. But Minnesota has a different roster composition. That means Linderbaum carries a different value to the Vikings than he does to the Niners, even if both teams have the same evaluation of him. And that’s okay.

Your answer is your own, but I’ll share mine. To me, drafting Tyler Linderbaum would be similar to extending Garrett Bradbury for three years. You’re just spending a draft pick to do that instead of cap dollars. Imagine the size of the extension Bradbury would get. It’s probably not huge, something like a two-year prove-it deal. Drafting Linderbaum would take the need for that contract off the books. So how much draft capital are you willing to spend to take a two-year prove-it deal off the books?

Imagine Bradbury travels through the fountain of youth, returns to age 24, and re-enters the draft. Where would you take him? Third round? Sixth round? Would you draft him at all? Would you take him in the first again and hope the coaches do a better job this time? Your answer shouldn’t be too different from where you would take Linderbaum. Maybe Linderbaum moves up a fraction of a round because of his age.

Drafting Linderbaum in the first round would be like sinking another first-round pick into keeping Bradbury. Worse, it’d mean spending a first-round pick to save two years of prove-it center money, probably well under $10 million a year. Even I, the last Bradbury fan, can see how asinine that would be. If the Vikings want to commit to undersized center play with elite reach-blocking ability and prowess in space that loses to long-armed nose tackles, they can do that much cheaper than Linderbaum. If I were to re-draft Bradbury like in the hypothetical above, I’d do so in the third round. That’s probably higher than your answer, which is fine.

That doesn’t mean I think Linderbaum is a third-round player. He’s 19th on Dane Brugler’s big board, which seems appropriate. He’d be a first-rounder if I were covering the 49ers. He’s a third-rounder to the Vikings. Because the Niners do not have the cheap and eerily similar alternative that the Vikings have, they’d be more motivated to spend on a player like Linderbaum. We have Linderbaum at home, and his name is Garrett Bradbury. If you think drafting Bradbury was a fireable offense, you shouldn’t want the new GM to repeat the same process.

Of course, that means I’m effectively robbing myself of any chance to get Linderbaum before he inevitably goes in the top 40. I’m perfectly at peace with that. It doesn’t even mean I’m committing fully to Bradbury. There are other centers in the draft that could provide a much-needed camp competition to the Vikings’ maligned center.

For an alternative, fellow Zone Coverage writer Tyler Ireland suggests Luke Fortner out of Kentucky. Fortner weighs about as much as Bradbury but has the length tools that Linderbaum does not. He doesn’t offer nearly as much upside in the run game, so he’ll almost certainly go after Linderbaum, but something tells me many of you will care about pass protection a lot more. He also offers guard flexibility. I don’t think Fortner should be above Linderbaum on anyone’s league-wide big board, and he almost certainly won’t go above Linderbaum. But I do think that’s a more logical move for the Vikings because it isn’t buying into the exact same skill set.

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