‘I was coming back for sure’: Despite NFL interest, Tyler Linderbaum was set on returning to the Iowa football program

Linderbaum could have heard his name called in the NFL Draft this weekend, but opted to come back to Iowa for at least one more season, and maybe two.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum throws a block during a football game between Iowa and Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers, 26-20.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Daviyon Nixon, Chauncey Golston, and Ihmir Smith-Marsette are among the handful of Hawkeyes likely to hear their names called during the 2021 NFL Draft, which takes place this Thursday through Saturday.

Tyler Linderbaum could have been one of them, too.

Linderbaum, one of three Rimington Trophy finalists last season as one of college football’s most dominant centers, would have potentially been Iowa’s highest draft pick this year. The All-Big Ten performer was graded as the draft’s top center prospect by Pro Football Focus, and several other projections predicted that Linderbaum (6-foot-3, 290 pounds) would be a second-round draft pick.

But, despite a multi-million dollar contract (a second-round pick signs a four-year deal often in the $6-7 million range) on the table, Iowa City was just “a tough place to leave” for Linderbaum.

“There was not much consideration,” Linderbaum said on a Zoom conference Tuesday, referencing his thoughts of potentially leaving the Hawkeyes. “I knew I wanted to come back for at least another year, maybe two. I wasn’t ready to leave Iowa… There wasn’t much discussion with my family or my coaches. I was coming back for sure.”

The Solon, Iowa, native isn’t lying when he said there wasn’t much consideration on his part.

Linderbaum didn’t even request or receive feedback from the College Advisory Committee, which provides feedback to draft-eligible players on where they may go in the draft. Often, that feedback is what drives players to either declare for the draft or go back to school.

“I wanted to compete with my buddies,” said Linderbaum, who also noted his desire to get his enterprise leadership degree before leaving Iowa. “There’s a lot more to do, a lot more to improve on… I was coming back for sure.”

As a redshirt sophomore last season, Linderbaum was one of the Iowa football team’s offensive captains and a member of the program’s leadership group. On the field, he led an offensive line unit that paved the way for Iowa’s rushing attack, which averaged 4.62 yards per carry last season, the team’s best mark since 2008.

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Linderbaum is the type of player that makes his teammate, defensive lineman Noah Shannon, wake up on practice days and feel like it’s a game day at Kinnick Stadium. Shannon knows he’s going up against maybe the best center in the nation every practice.

Originally a defensive lineman for the Hawkeyes, Linderbaum is now entering his third year as Iowa’s starting center. And that experience isn’t going unnoticed.

“He’ll point something out that [Iowa’s first-year offensive line coach George Barnett] doesn’t see,” Iowa left tackle Jack Plumb said. “… In the huddle, too, he’s always talking about things and the alignments of the defense to help us get an edge pre-snap.”

Much like how former Iowa right tackle Tristan Wirfs faced lofty preseason expectations and was among the favorites for awards entering his junior year, Linderbaum will be the center of plenty of attention in 2021.

Linderbaum will likely be preseason All-American and All-Big Ten, as well as the favorite for the Rimington Award. Of course, Linderbaum brushed off this attention on Tuesday, saying he’s not interested in what people outside the program are saying about him or any hype he’s getting.

Being as mentally and physically prepared as possible on Saturdays this fall and leading Iowa’s offense up front is what Linderbaum is interested in.

Because Linderbaum didn’t stay in school to lose.

“He’s just one of the most competitive dudes I’ve ever met, whether it’s board games or it’s football,” Iowa guard Kyler Schott, who lines up to the right of Linderbaum on the offensive line, said. “He doesn’t want to lose. He hates losing… He comes in every day and wants to get better because he doesn’t want to lose at anything.”