Sports

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