The Houston Texans went into the 2019 NFL Draft with a glaring need at offensive tackle. Despite picking up offensive tackle Martinas Rankin in the third-round of last year's NFL Draft, the Texans decided to go with not one, but two offensive tackles in the first two rounds of this year's draft.
The Texans double-dipped on offensive tackles in second-round by selecting Max Scharping out of Northern Illinois after selecting Alabama State's Tytus Howard in the first-round. Although another small school prospect, Scharping holds many traits that potentially ensure a smooth transition into not only the Texans organization but the NFL.
The NFL mentality for the game of football that players must hold is one that Scharping has carried since his high school days. Thanks to former NFL linebacker and defensive MVP, Bryce Paup. Paup was Scharping's high school head coach, and it was Paup who helped instill that mentality to be successful in the game of football.
"Obviously having a high school coach that played in the NFL at a high level and won the defensive MVP award was huge for our program," Scharping explained when asked about his former high school head coach. "He really set a standard of excellence at [Green Bay] Southwest, weight room-wise, just coming to practice on time, all that. And that helped going into college… He was building men more than even football players. I think that was very special."
Although carrying those standards to the college level, Scharping wasn't always sure of an NFL career. Before the Texans selected Scharping, there has not been a player out of the Green Bay public school system selected in the NFL Draft since 1988. That is when former Wisconsin quarterback, Bud Keyes, was taken in the tenth round. Throw in the fact that Scharping was set to play college football in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), one of the weaker Division I conferences in the FBS, the odds seemed slim. Regardless, that didn't mean much by the end of his sophomore year.
"I think after my sophomore year was probably the first time I really thought about it because I started getting some accolades after the season," Scharping explained. "Before that I was really just a starter on a MAC team and I didn't know how; I'd played against big opponents but obviously you don't know what people are thinking about you. I had heard some feedback… and it kind of lit a fire to compete at an even higher level in my last two years."
Scharping then went on to finish his Huskie career as a three-time All-MAC selection, a finalist for the William Campbell Trophy (a trophy recognizing high-level play along with academics), he was a semi-finalist for the Wuerffel Trophy (an award recognizing high-level play, academics, and community service), and starting 53 consecutive games in four seasons with the Huskies. Scharping gained valuable experience on the field and developed as a versatile lineman that caught the Texans attention during the draft process. Scharping understands the importance of versatility in the NFL, especially with a team like the Texans that values versatility on the offensive line.
"In the NFL you only get so many roster spots, so the fact that I can play right [tackle], left [tackle], guard … that will help me hopefully make a team…" said Scharping.
What makes the feat of someone being interchangeable across the offensive line so valuable is the fact that each position is more different than one would expect. Many assume that positions on the offensive line are easily interchangeable when that is far from the truth, especially when it comes to playing guard and tackle. When asked about what the challenge would be of moving back to guard, Scharping mentions the necessary change in physicality and mentality.
"It's a little bit more physical inside than outside," explained Scharping. "Tackle is more about speed and space, and inside you're strength, power, and you're in more of a phone booth… I think transitioning… you've got to change your mindset a little bit."
Although Scharping isn't expected to play guard any time soon, the ability to do so is impressive and provides value. On top of that, Scharping also holds the ability to play within multiple blocking schemes due to the offensive system ran at Eastern Illinois. Considering how the Texans like to run a mix of zone and power concepts in the running game, Scharping's versatility in this area bodes well.
"So, we basically had a little bit of everything…" Scharping said when explaining Northern Illinois' offensive system. "We were an inside zone, outside zone team. A big part as the inside zone, RPO type runs. Then our next, most popular run would be a power or gap scheme… We had some man blocking schemes as well, so we were kind of all over the board."
When piecing together all of the details, it makes sense why the Texans would draft an offensive lineman like Scharping; he checks off all of the boxes and then some. Scharping knows there is plenty of work to do when he arrives in Houston for rookie mini-camp.
"I think everyone needs to work on technique and fundamentals a little bit more," said Scharping. "Obviously NFL players are the best in the world here, so they're always working on little techniques all the time. You can always improve those.”