The Buccaneers couldn’t be anything but pleased with the way their offensive line protected Tom Brady in 2020. With first-round pick Tristan Wirfs sliding into the right tackle position to join a starting line that included Alex Cappa, Ryan Jensen, Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith, things could not have worked out any better. After some early-season struggles, the unit did its job and kept Brady upright, gave him a clean pocket and allowed him to engineer a Super Bowl run.
Heading into the 2021 season, Tampa Bay’s starting offensive line looks the same as it did in 2020. Add in key depth pieces like Aaron Stinnie and Josh Wells and you have a pretty solid group. But in this month’s NFL Draft, the Bucs would be wise to add an offensive lineman with an eye toward the future. Perhaps they select one, allow him to serve as depth this year and get him in the starting lineup next year.
Someone who fits the profile of what Tampa Bay might be looking for is Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Quinn Meinerz, who is one of the hottest names at his position as the draft approaches. Of course, the Bucs have gone to the Division III well for offensive linemen a couple of times in Jason Licht’s tenure. First, it was Marpet in the second round of the 2015 draft, then it was Cappa in the third round of the 2018 draft. Both have developed into outstanding players in Tampa, which is why it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Meinerz in red and pewter this fall.
QUINN MEINERZ’S COLLEGIATE CAREER
Meinerz was on the football, track and field, and wrestling teams at Hartford Union High School in Wisconsin before his collegiate career began at Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Warhawks have seen all sorts of success over the years, having won six Division III national championships while earning four runner-up finishes between 2005 and 2019. As a freshman in 2017, Meinerz played in two games before redshirting. That year, he earned a spot on the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Scholastic Honor Roll.
The 2018 season saw him take on a larger role, as he started 14 games at left guard and played well enough to earn a spot on D3football.com’s All-West Region Second Team and the All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference First Team. He was a significant part of a Warhawk offense that finished first in the WIAC in scoring offense (39.2 points per game), rushing offense (240.5 yards per game) and total offense (435.8 yards per game).
As good as Meinerz was in 2018, he was even better in 2019—and he had the accolades to prove it. Starting 15 games at left guard, he earned first-team All-American honors from the Associated Press and the American Football Coaches Association while also picking up second-team All-American All-West Region First Team selections from D3football.com. On the team level, he was one of four captains and won the team’s Glen Wills Offensive Lineman Award and the Most Valuable Player award. The Warhawks went 13-2 and finished the season with a loss in the national title game, which turned out to be Meinerz’s final game at the college level. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the team’s 2020 season, and now the highly decorated big man is headed to the NFL.
(Watch the very first play of this highlight video and try not to yell “OOOOOOH”)
PRO DAY DATA AND ANALYSIS
“The darling of this year’s Senior Bowl, Meinerz has broken through and onto NFL draft boards despite moving up from Division III and having no 2020 tape. He flashed at times in 2019, but his tape was nothing like what we saw against upgraded competition across from him at the Senior Bowl. His hands have improved greatly and his movement appears to be much more efficient and powerful.”
Playing against next-level competition during Senior Bowl Week, he more than held his own, displaying exceptional strength and technique. As if that wasn’t enough for his name to skyrocket on draft boards, what he has done since has surely helped. Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Pro Day in early March was attended by 37 scouts representing all 32 teams in the NFL. Meinerz, despite not being fully cleared due to a fractured hand that he suffered in Mobile during Senior Bowl Week, was impressive. Weighing in at 320 pounds, he posted the following numbers (H/T Pro Football Network):
- 40-yard dash: 4.86 seconds (10-yard split: 1.73 seconds)
- Short shuttle: 4.47 seconds
- Three-cone: 7.33 seconds
- Vertical: 32 inches
- Broad jump: 9’3”
Interestingly enough, as Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy tweeted, the only offensive lineman to record a higher vertical at 320-plus pounds during last year’s NFL Scouting Combine was Tristan Wirfs, who of course is now with the Bucs.
Because Meinerz was unable to lift at his Pro Day due to his hand injury, he decided to do so last week. And boy, was his bench press performance worth the wait:
This man put up 33 reps just one week after being cleared. It shouldn’t be surprising based on the raw power he has shown on the field, but it’s still quite the feat to come back so soon after that kind of injury and put up a top-five performance for 2021 offensive linemen on the bench. He has an impressive combination of size, speed, and power that translates well to the field. There were quite a few winners from the pre-draft process, but Meinerz was among the biggest.
WHAT HE BRINGS IN 2021
Despite playing guard at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Meinerz is projected by many as a center at the professional level. So, for the Bucs in 2021, he would provide some much-needed depth on the interior of the offensive line. Right now, the team obviously has Ryan Jensen slated to be the starting center, with Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa at the guard positions. Tampa Bay’s depth at the center position is non-existent, though.
So, in the event that Jensen went down or one of the guards missed time and Jensen had to slide over like he did last year, Meinerz would presumably be able to step in and fill the role. There’s sure to be a learning curve when it comes to his switch to center—along with the usual adjustment of going from Division III to the NFL—but being able to play behind a veteran who has had the career that Jensen has would only benefit him. We saw Cappa take his rookie season to learn and develop—we could see something similar with Meinerz.
The three-year outlook is where things get very interesting for Meinerz. His rookie season would likely see him in a depth role as he deals with the aforementioned transition to center and the adjustment to the NFL. Not to mention, hasn’t played football—outside of Senior Bowl Week—since the 2019 season. So, the step up into the pros may be an obstacle at first, but there’s nothing that would make anyone think that Meinerz couldn’t handle it pretty quickly. And he would have his first season to do so.
Now, if he can overcome all of the transitional challenges in 2021, the Wisconsin-Whitewater product could see an opportunity to step in and start for the Bucs in 2022. Jensen will become a free agent after the 2021 season, and if Meinerz has come along well, it would present the front office with a chance to move forward with a center on a rookie deal rather than one who is getting $10 million per year like Jensen currently is.
Considering the need to sign Chris Godwin long-term and keep more free agents on board heading into what may be Tom Brady’s final season in Tampa, this would perhaps be a perfect transition for the team. Costs will have to be cut somewhere, and this isn’t a bad way to free up some space. And as phenomenal as Jensen has been for the team in the last few years, he’ll be 31 going into the 2022 season. Choosing youth and a cheaper contract would seem like somewhat of a no-brainer, really. That is, of course, if Meinerz develops as expected.
If everything went according to plan, having a core on the offensive line that consists of Meinerz, Marpet and Wirfs sounds pretty fantastic. And given Jason Licht’s affinity for drafting small-school linemen, this is a selection that would seem to suit the Bucs very well. Given how well-stocked the roster is for 2021, now is a good time to bring in depth and develop it for the future. Meinerz fits the script perfectly.
Meinerz has seen his stock soar throughout the pre-draft process. Being a Division III prospect that wasn’t able to have a 2020 season presented quite the challenge, but when an opportunity presented itself in the form of a Senior Bowl invite, there was no looking back. Nowadays, he is looking likely to be a day two pick. There’s an outside shot that he lasts until the fourth round, but there’s simply no way he is on the board for very long if he makes it to day three. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has Meinerz as his No. 4 center in the draft class, while Pro Football Focus has him as the No. 2 interior lineman.
The NFL Mock Draft Database even shows that some have Meinerz projected as a first-rounder. It’s worth noting that a Sports Illustrated’s Ric Serritella mocked him to the Bucs at pick No. 32, while BucsWire’s Luke Easterling mocked him to Tampa Bay in the second round, as did Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds. There’s some smoke here…
ON THE CLOCK…
So, Bucs Nation: What are your thoughts on Jason Licht potentially adding another Division III gem to the Tampa Bay offensive line? Let us know what you think of Quinn Meinerz as a Bucs NFL Draft target by voting in the poll and discussing your opinions in the comments down below.
For Quinn Meinerz, the Buccaneers should:
…draft him on day two
…wait to see if he’s available in the fourth round
…take a better player earlier in the draft
…draft this position, but later than he is projected
…not draft this position group at all
116 votes total