The one team in this draft with no glaring need possesses a glaring niche.
The Bucs have constructed nearly an entire offensive line out of prospects borne from obscure colleges. Ali Marpet (Division III Hobart), Ryan Jensen (Division II Colorado State-Pueblo), Alex Cappa (Division II Humboldt State) and Aaron Stinnie (I-AA James Madison) evolved into NFL starters despite never being asked to pledge to the Power Five fraternity.
So who better to bring in than Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Quinn Meinerz, darling of the most recent Senior Bowl? What better setting for a Division III All-American — who couldn’t get a sniff from a major college while in high school — than a locker room teeming with behemoths bearing chips on their shoulder pads?
Makes too much sense.
“I was just always under the impression that if you’re good enough, they’ll find you,” Meinerz told BBC sports editor Rob Staton during a recent lengthy interview. “And I guess nobody found me coming out of high school. But it seems like everybody’s finding out who I am now.”
Reared in southern Wisconsin, Meinerz entered the NFL’s collective consciousness with all the subtlety of Cardi B lyrics. Despite working out at a new position (center) and not having played in an organized game since December 2019, he compiled a montage of maulings and pancake blocks during Senior Bowl practices.
He also shotgun-snapped with stunning proficiency after practicing mainly by hiking balls to a pizza peel situated atop a garbage can.
“That’s a hard skill, to snap a ball and get that snap hand back up in place and get somebody blocked,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy told The Athletic. “And he did it. It was really, really incredible. … He was phenomenal. I just can’t wait to see where he ends up in April.”
A literal backwoods training regimen — immortalized on YouTube — only has added to the allure of Meinerz, who received no Power Five overtures out of Hartford Union (Wisc.) High despite playing multiple sports and weighing more than 300 pounds.
He summered at a great-uncle’s fishing camp in Canada, engaging in a series of unrefined “workouts” such as carrying 100-pound propane tanks on his shoulder, hoisting wooden planks and doing biceps curls with water jugs. Sometimes, he’d take a bench and weights into the woods and do bench presses in a rustic setting.
“I would spend my summers up there doing a lot of fishing, and I wanted to be able to stay in football shape while I was up there,” Meinerz told Staton. “So I was able to ... be unique and creative with certain ways of working out, which was running on the logging roads ... setting up my weight set in the woods, and just carrying things.”
Toss in the crop top jerseys he normally brandishes (exposing his lineman’s belly) and his pet ball python (“Roomie”), and Meinerz is Paul Bunyan with forward lean and leg drive — a fledgling folk hero just waiting to be showcased by an NFL marketing department.
ESPN’s Todd McShay has Meinerz — whose school did not have a fall season — going to the Seahawks with the 56th overall pick in his latest two-round mock draft.
“He has the ability to move and finish drive blocks, and his pass protection is clearly improving,” wrote NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein, who compares Meinerz to Jensen. “He has the strength and demeanor to become an impactful starter in the near future.”
That demeanor is darn galvanized. This is one woodsman with an axe to grind.
Sort of like those once-unheralded grinders in the Bucs locker room.
“Coming out of high school, I was under-recruited, didn’t have very many options where to go to school,” Meinerz said. “So I have tons of chips on my shoulder, and I enjoy proving people wrong.”
April 29: Round 1, 8 p.m
April 30: Rounds 2-3, 7 p.m.
May 1: Rounds 4-7, noon
TV/streaming: ESPN, ABC, NFL Network
Notable: Bucs pick 32nd (Day 1), 64th and 95th (Day 2), and 137th, 176th, 217th, 251st and 259th (Day 3).
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