Two of the best left tackles in the nation will be on the same field Saturday when Iowa hosts Michigan. Michigan's Taylor Lewan has long been on the national radar, but Iowa's Brandon Scherff is a less publicized, but very promising, prospect.
Lewan (6-foot-8, 315 pounds) was a national top-150 recruit out of high school in the Phoenix suburbs. He surprised more than a few observers by returning to Michigan for his senior season. He was seen as a likely first-rounder in the 2013 draft, especially after the way he handled South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl. He plays with a mean streak that sometimes gets him into trouble and can physically overwhelm opponents. But he also has quick feet and is a good pass blocker.
Michigan has struggled to run the ball this season, especially in Big Ten play, and Lewan deserves some of the blame. But the interior of the line has been a mess, and the Detroit Free Press reported in late October that Lewan was grading out as the top offensive lineman in Michigan line coach Darrell Funk's 17-year career. Lewan also was grading out more than five percent higher than he did last season.
While Lewan was a preseason All-American this fall, Scherff (6-5, 315) wasn't even a preseason All-Big Ten guy. He was playing at a high level as a sophomore last season before suffering a broken leg and dislocated ankle in October. He is playing even better this fall, leading to speculation that he will leave early and try to become the fourth Iowa offensive lineman to go in the first round since 2004.
Before the season, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette that he has talked with Scherff about the NFL and compared Scherff's situation to the ones that faced former Iowa left tackles Riley Reiff and Bryan Bulaga, who were selected in the first round after declaring early for draft.
"It's realistic to think that could happen," Ferentz told the Gazette in August. "If he ends up in the same seat as Riley or Bryan, that's a good seat to sit in. You can't really make a wrong decision there.
"What I would say the challenge for Brandon is to get in that seat."
Most analysts seem to think Scherff is in that seat. But Scherff has brushed aside NFL questions.
"You really can't focus on that," he told the Gazette earlier this month. "You have to let the season play out. You have to put that aside and don't worry about that at all."
Scherff played guard as a redshirt freshman in 2011 before moving to left tackle last season, and he is especially proficient as a run blocker thanks to his strength. In July, Iowa posted a video on YouTube of a Scherff weightlifting session in which he hang-cleans 410 pounds three times.
While Lewan was a top-150 recruit, Scherff was more along the lines of a top-600 recruit. His college choices came down to Iowa, Iowa State and Nebraska. He decided to become a Hawkeye before his senior year in high school in Denison, Iowa, a town of about 8,200 in the western part of the state that's probably best known as the birthplace of actress Donna Reed.