Sometimes the Player of the Year winners come as surprises, honors bestowed upon players who came out of nowhere to dominate their particular position in a given season. That was not Tyler Linderbaum in 2021.
Linderbaum was (arguably) the best offensive lineman in the Big Ten last year (officially, Ohio State's Wyatt Davis won the award in 2020) and was likely to be selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft if he had opted to leave school early. He surprised many when he instead decided to return to Iowa for another season. But his return made him the no-brainer choice as the best offensive lineman in the Big Ten before the season began. And absolutely nothing he did over the course of the last three months did anything to alter that notion. He was the best lineman in August; he's still the best lineman in December. Now he just has the official designation -- as the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year -- to back up that claim.
Linderbaum is the ninth Iowa player to be recognized as the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, the sixth of the Kirk Ferentz Era at Iowa, and the second in the last three seasons (joining Tristan Wirfs in 2019). If my math is accurate, no Big Ten school has had more different players receive Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors than Iowa. Linderbaum's win also ties Iowa with Ohio State and Michigan for the most total Offensive Lineman of the Year Awards, with nine apiece (Michigan and Ohio State have each had a few players earn multiple Offensive Linemen of the Year Awards). Iowa's reputation as an OL factory is richly deserved. The illustrious Iowa company that Linderbaum joins with this award:
1985: Mike Haight
1986: Dave Croston
1992: Mike Devlin
2002: Eric Steinbach
2003: Robert Gallery
2009: Bryan Bulaga
2014: Brandon Scherff
2019: Tristan Wirfs
Unlike other Player of the Year honorees, there are no stats to look at that show off Linderbaum's dominance as an offensive lineman. There is simply the word of people who understand and analyze offensive line play -- who have gushed about Linderbaum's play all year along. Oh, and there are highlights, too. Highlights of Linderbaum turning into a human road grader and laying waste to defenders.
Watch the center on this play. It's Tyler Linderbaum. He's going to make a lot of money next year because of blocks like this. Linderbaum is the OL blocking #42. The LB and crowd were crying for holding. Grow up pic.twitter.com/6hTlSRjpn7— KP (@KP_Show) November 26, 2021
Nothing to see here but Tyler Linderbaum blocking a guy nearly 10 yards down the field pic.twitter.com/7oQttuQFP3— (@PhillieMVP) December 2, 2021
Linderbaum. pic.twitter.com/qgJS9phMea— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) November 27, 2021
Linderbaum was so good this year that Pro Football Focus didn't just consider him the best offensive lineman of the year in the Big Ten; they tabbed him the best offensive player -- full stop -- in the Big Ten.
Because, you know, he did stuff like this:
Tyler Linderbaum: 96.3 run blocking grade this season— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 1, 2021
Highest grade by a Center since 2014 pic.twitter.com/3K3zp70Bed
Which is evident when you watch the highlights above. Linderbaum is just next level. Iowa has had some very very very good offensive linemen during the Ferentz Era -- Gallery, Scherff, and Wirfs were absolute maulers and they erased opponents on a regular basis. But if you wanted to say that Linderbaum was the best offensive lineman of the KF Era, well, I wouldn't put up much of an argument. It's been a privilege to watch him lead Iowa's offensive line and wreck hapless fools game in and game out for the last few seasons.
Naming Tyler Linderbaum the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year was the abundantly obvious choice. But it was also absolutely the right choice and a honor that's completely deserved. Congratulations, Tyler.