Extra Points: Scherff is this year’s safe pick

(SportsNetwork.com) – Odell Beckham Jr. was the NFL’s Rookie of the Year last
season and the Giants receiver was certainly the most spectacular freshman by
a wide margin.

But the best?

Only if you prefer the sizzle over the steak. The league’s top first-year
player in 2014 was really Dallas offensive guard Zack Martin, who garnered
plenty of hardware in his own right, earning both Pro Bowl honors and All-Pro
recognition as the final piece of the puzzle for what was the game’s best
offensive line.

Martin entered the ’14 draft process as perhaps the safest pick on the board.

“Is he a right tackle? Is he a guard? My answer … is he’s a football player,
and next season he’s going to start 16 games for somebody,” NFL Network draft
analyst Mike Mayock said before that draft.

Mayock is good at what he does but he’s no Nostradamus.

Martin possessed such rare position flexibility, if you wanted a guarantee on
Day 1 of last year’s draft, it was going to be death, taxes and the Notre Dame
product.

And even the guy who seemingly always makes the wrong decision — Cowboys
owner/GM Jerry Jones — made the right one, at least after his son strong-
armed him into it, by passing on the troubled Johnny Manziel and taking the
far less sexy choice.

With Tyron Smith at left tackle, Travis Frederick at center and now Martin at
right guard, the Dallas offensive line, which was one of the worst in football
a few years ago, is now one of the better position units in the entire league.

That lesson will likely be ignored by a lot of NFL teams, though, ones that
are a lot like teenage girls in that adjectives like “safe” are treated like
the plague.

Too many of us with kids understand their teenage daughter always wants the
bad boy. Conversely, plenty of clubs will head to Chicago on April 30 with the
misguided notion that an unassailable asset is somehow more limited than a
boom-or-bust type with once-in-a-generation physical gifts.

Assuming any second-year player will eventually end their football careers in
Canton is folly but let’s just say this, Martin is ahead of just about all of
his peers in that race and neck-and-neck with OBJ.

So who is the Zack Martin of ’15?

There probably isn’t one but the closest facsimile would have to be Iowa
offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, who starred in college at left tackle for
the Hawkeyes and could remain outside or move inside at the next level.

“I’m pretty versatile,” Scherff said. “I feel like I can play guard and tackle
— whatever they need. I’ll play wherever. If I get a chance I’ll just do my
best and play wherever.”

Even center?

“Sure,” Scherff answered.

Versatility has always been part of Scherff’s makeup dating back to high
school where he played quarterback on the football team and also dabbled in
basketball, baseball, track and tennis.

“I would consider myself a pretty good athlete,” he said. “Gave tennis up
sophomore year. I did three sports in the spring so I missed quite a few
track events or tennis events. So I gave that up and just played four sports.”

These days the Hawkeye State native is regarded by NFL scouts as a very good
technician who understands how to use his hands. He plays with good leverage
and knee bend, and was consistent as both a run blocker and pass blocker at
the college level, showing the strength to move the pile and the feet to set
up and anchor well.

There are plenty of other checkmarks in Scherff’s favor like the fact he
played in an NFL-style offense at Iowa, which has a history of developing very
good offensive linemen, along with a nasty disposition coaches look for in
their big men up front.

“(It’s) not only just football but I think (Iowa) coach (Kirk) Ferentz, he is
always stressing character, being a better man and academics,” Scherff said.
“You get punished, obviously disciplined if you’re not the kind of character
guy he’s looking for. If you get in trouble, he’s going to solve that problem
and make you pay for it.”

And the Iowa pedigree?

“I learned from Riley Reiff; he’s the Detroit Lions’ left tackle right now,”
Scherff continued. “He has taught me everything I know. And Matt Tobin, he
just went to the Eagles. So I played between those two guys and James Ferentz.
So it’s nice. It just speaks for coach Ferentz. All the coaches that have
helped me. Just trying to carry on that tradition.”

The one knock on Scherff is that he doesn’t have the kind of athleticism you
usually associate with a top-tier NFL left-tackle prospect, a reality that has
many assuming his ultimate home will likely be on the right side, either
inside or out.

“I don’t think there would be a challenge,” Scherff said of a potential move.
“I like run blocking. 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.”

If you look at the struggles tackles like Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Lane
Johnson and Jake Matthews have endured at times early in their respective
careers, perhaps NFL scouts are getting a little too caught up in the
athleticism part of the equation when it comes to projecting O-linemen.

Scherff will show up in the Windy City shrinkwrapped as a pro-ready prospect
who is far ahead of the game when it comes to technique. He’ll also leave as a
potential difference maker for one lucky team which doesn’t get caught up in
labels,

“Hard work pays off,” Scherff said. “You always want to be the best of the
best. You want to set your goals high.”

The Sports Network’s top 10 tackles:

1. – Brandon Scherff (OG, OT), Iowa

2. – Andrus Peat, Stanford

3. – T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh

4. – La’el Collins, LSU

5. – Jake Fisher, Oregon

6. – Ereck Flowers, Miami-Florida

7. – D.J. Humphries, Florida

8. – Ty Sambrailo, Colorado State

9. – Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M

10. – Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin